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Religion in Nebraska

Words of Wissman

By Sean D. Wissman

"God is a alive and well," he told me, leaning over the bar, "and his name is Tom Osborne."

Tuesday afternoon, Kansas City Municipal airport. I am soaking my frustration over a delayed flight at one of those kitschy Cheers-imitation restaurants, when approached by a sun-burnt, 40ish man named Frank, one of the 60 or so Nebraska fans passing through the airport after their trip to Miami and the Orange Bowl. He is in a good mood, as his abrupt introductory remark indicates, and I am pretty pissed off. Believing cheer to be infectious, I decide to partake in a little whole-some midwestern badinage.

SDW: If Tom Osborne is God, who is Newt Gingrich?

Frank: His right-hand angel.

SDW: If he is his right hand angel, who is Turner Gill?

Frank: Point taken.

SDW: What was it like, really?

Frank: Amazing. One thousand miles from Lincoln. A sea of Red. 30,000 fans. In-frickin'-credible. And we even won.

SDW: And you got a tan.

Frank: Yeah? Well, that was beside the point. I was there on business.

SDW: At the same time as the game? That's convenient.

Frank: No, Nebraska football is my business. For 20 years now, I've been following them. Been to all but three games in the last 15 seasons, nine Orange Bowls included. Had a cousin who used to date Dave Remington [former all-American center].

SDW: Dave Remington?

Frank: Yeah, I also own the sweatband Dean Steinkuhler wore in that '82 loss to Penn State.

SDW: Lovely. Anyway, that was a little before my time.

Frank: Nope, it was a game for all-time. Best-game ever. We lost, of course, but what can you do? Todd Blackledge, before his Chiefs days.

SDW: Okay, '83 team, '94 team. Who's better?

Frank: '83. Without a doubt. Greatest team in college football history. Miami got lucky--they always do.

SDW: But if God is Tom....

Frank: Even God loves the sinners.

SDW: Miami, sinners? Okay--I answered my own question. But still, since when is a decent passing game a passage to purgatory?

Frank: It's not, it's just all the other stuff. You see, my theory is that Nebraska was running all those years just to give the other guys a chance. Doctor Tom was just trying to make it easy on them. He is a merciful man.

SDW: Obviously more merciful than Joe Paterno. Come on, between you and me, you know Penn State's better. More points. Bigger victory margins. Better opponents. Uglier uniforms.

Frank: God, they are ugly uniforms aren't they?

SDW: Isn't that "Tom" instead of "G..."

Frank: No, I do think that Penn State deserves to be rated high, but it just isn't Nebraska.

SDW: How do you mean?

Frank: We earned this one. 23 years of good, old-fashioned hard work--by players and fans. It was our turn. Sort of like the Republicans.

SDW: Ahhhh. I see. It's just like Bob Costas said after the game. This wasn't just about football, it was about a way of life. It was about a whole community of midwesterners coming forth, overcoming perceived evils and taking what's theirs?

Frank: Yeah, and Miami sure beats the hell out of Kearney for the holidays.

SDW: Point taken.

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