Nebraska Life Magazine recently did a feature and photo essay with Nebraska Husker football photos from myself and another photographer.
During the interview for that feature, I was asked about some of my most memorable games.
The obvious choice for me was the game after 9/11, the first national sporting event to take place after the attacks. Nothing will ever match the atmosphere and emotion of that game. After that game the next most memorable contests kind of all lump together in my mind.
That all changed at the Spring game, though.
If you know me, you know the disdain to which I hold the Spring Game.
I actively try and avoid it, almost as much as going to the dentist. The only time I attend is if there is a particular picture I need to go with the calendars I publish and I can’t wait until the season. Obviously, a new coach and rebuilt team fits the bill. The game also had the added bonus of a new Herbie.
The event was full of plot lines. New head coach Matt Rhule created quite a bit of fan excitement. The revamped Herbie was a story and created fan excitement, too, as did a dynamic new quarterback. But the long overdue return of Frank Solich was THE story, in many different ways.
Twenty years after departing Nebraska, Solich returned, and to the hope of many fans removed the “curse.” Twenty years later, I still debate Solich’s departure. I still am not sure where I stand on the decision to fire him. Do I think he was the coach to lead Nebraska to national championships? No, but weirder things have happened.
I think Nebraska was and is too big for his capabilities, but we will never know for sure. He did amazing things in Ohio and I truly think that was his fit both professionally and with his personality. He was, and still is, pretty reserved and prefers to be in the shadows not continually scrutinized. Ohio wasn’t a juggernaut where your every move was placed under the microscope.
What I do know is his sudden departure was not the Nebraska way. It was very clearly the start of a long program downfall. The beginning of the end of many Nebraska streaks and traditions.
Nebraska has been searching for its identity ever since No. 49 left the program.
What I got to experience at the Spring Game is, I hope, the beginning of the climb back to relevance, or at the very least a united fan base and athletic department that has an identity — win, lose or draw.
I got to watch on the sidelines as Solich was greeted by former players, coaches and fans, and greeted may not cover it. We are talking bear hugs by former players and genuine laughter, excitement and most importantly unity.
The more I watched, the more I realized, I don’t remember the last time I saw that, I know I didn’t see it when Scott Frost was here.
Coach Rhule seems to be saying and doing the right things and he seems genuine. Stopping the game and walking the “game” ball over to Solich was a nice touch, too.
Stopping the players from going to the locker room and having them greet and high five fans around the stadium was a nice touch that to me goes back to the days of Osborne and the man of the day, Frank Solich.
Welcome home, coach Solich. Here is hoping your character and integrity help us get going in the right direction.