LINCOLN, Neb. — Throw us a bone here. Annoying sibling? Mouthy cousin? Cubicle pest? Lodge taint?
How does the typical Nebraska Cornhuskers fan see the typical Iowa Hawkeyes acolyte — assuming he or she sees them at all?
“You’re next-door neighbors,” former Cornhuskers defensive lineman and Iowa native Henry Waechter told Land of 10.
“You want to be better than the neighbor, you know? You just do the best you can. It’s like any game — you don’t want to lose. (But) when it’s close to home, it’s a tougher loss.”
Last Black Friday, the next-door neighbor invited your family over for drinks. Then he spray-painted your truck, gave you a wedgie, served you fruit punch from old cat food tins and shaved your dog.
Iowa 40, Huskers 10. If it weren’t for the final whistle, Akrum Wadley would still be running, free and clear, to the kind of daylight reserved for Monaco at sunrise.
“They won, and they had bragging rights,” said Waechter, a giant with friends on both sides of the Missouri River line, whose path to Lincoln stretched from tiny Epworth, Iowa, 16 miles west of Dubuque, via Waldorf University. “If we won, we had bragging rights.
“That’s the big thing, to have the bragging rights. Because you get to see, when it’s your neighbor, you get to hear about it more and more than you do if they’re from three states away.”
Enter Brian Ferentz, striding fearlessly up to the cave, poke-poke-poking the sleeping bear. With a mallet.
— Christopher Heady (@heady_chris) May 4, 2017
“I’m thinking of (a school) a little bit west of Omaha that talks about their (NFL) pipeline,” Ferentz told the Hawk Central podcast last week. “And I think they’ve had like two guys drafted in two years, so I’m not sure how much of a pipeline the coaches have contributed to.”
First off, it’s five guys. Same as Iowa.
Here’s a box of oily rags, a gas can and a box of matches, Brian. Go to freaking town.
Because this thing — Nebraska-Iowa, Iowa-Nebraska — needs fire.
It needs a shot in the crown jewels. It needs more than a Friday kick and a sponsored trophy that celebrates the noblest of the human condition.
It needs venom.
It needs spite.
It needs bile
It needs … hate.
Nebraska and Iowa play for heroes. Very cool.
Wyoming and Utah State play for a rifle.
“The rivalry’s there,” said Waechter, pronounced Wax-ter, whose nephew Brett was a part of the Hawkeyes football program until late last fall. “But you’re still treated good. That’s the good thing.”
Civility is a lost art, especially where sports are concerned. Nobody wants this bad boy to become Dodgers vs. Giants, or Newcastle United vs. anybody.
But a rivalry takes at least one level — often a level buried miles deep, but a level nonetheless — of respect between the two parties. And there are times you wonder just how genuinely mutual this particular relationship is, at present, nights you wonder if 1981 never left the damn building.
One of those nights landed last month, when the Lincoln Journal Star surveyed 3,082 Cornhuskers fans on topics from what constitutes a successful season (62 percent chose “Winning the Big Ten West,” so no pressure, Mike Riley) to the importance of the Memorial Stadium sellout streak (“Must do everything to keep it alive,” said 74 percent).
‘I’d argue that there’s the thing where you want to try to beat the best.’
— former Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive linemen Henry Waechter on why Big Red fans view Wisconsin as a bigger rival than Iowa
But our personal favorite was Question 9. Of two choices, Iowa or Wisconsin, which program did Huskers faithful consider to be Nebraska’s biggest rival now?
It was a rout.
The vote went to the Badgers — with 79.99 percent.
Look, we get it. It’s like The Wall in Game of Thrones. The Big Red haven’t won in Madison since 1966, and the Big Red have found a way to win everywhere.
Once Nebraska entered the league fray in 2011, the Badgers have appeared in four Big Ten championship games to the Cornhuskers’ one — and in that sole berth, Nebraska got obliterated by Wisconsin in Indy, 70-31. Bucky is 5-1 against the Huskers in all meetings over the last six years and winners of four straight in the series.
But … 80 percent?
“I don’t know,” Waechter said with a laugh. “I’d argue that there’s the thing where you want to try to beat the best.”
Huskers faithful like to measure their program against Ohio State and Michigan. Iowa fans like to measure their program based on how much it drives Nebraska faithful completely bonkers.
“They get upset about it,” said Waechter, one of only a handful of ex-Huskers to score in a Super Bowl — his sack of Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan in the end zone in January 1986 capped a historic 46-10 Chicago Bears rout. “But they get upset about losing other games, too. Iowa’s been a big part of that. You can’t fault them for that.
“Iowa’s got the same thing against Wisconsin. They want to get the kids that Wisconsin recruits, to beat them. You want to say, ‘We’re going to put people in the NFL,’ and ‘We’re (building) a good team and doing the right things.’
“And I think Coach Riley’s doing the right things, because he’s getting some more (talented) kids — he’s just got to get it all together. Hopefully, he can. I think he’s going in the right direction.”
The next step: Getting the guy on the other side of the fence to shut his trap. It’s a long way to November, still, so keep your neighbors close. And your mallets closer.