LINCOLN, Neb. — Full disclosure: He misses the arguments. A little.
For years — decades, actually, generations, well before Gabe Rahn joined the fight — the debates would rage across the 712 area code, the ultimate hypothetical:
Nebraska or Iowa? Hawkeyes or Huskers? If we lined ’em up, right now, who would win?
“Because back when I was really young, we were in the Big 12, (Iowa was) in the Big Ten, so we never played each other, so we’d always argue for hours about who was better,” said Rahn, the Cornhuskers wide receiver who grew up in the little northwest Iowa burg of Le Mars — international headquarters of Wells Enterprises, makers of Blue Bunny ice cream and the Bomb Pop, some 177 miles from Lincoln and 297 miles from Iowa City.
“We’d have to say, ‘Well, we beat this team and they beat this team. And they beat you, so we’re better than you.’”
And the discussions would sort of end there.
For an hour or so.
At least, until another neighbor or relative came along and took a bat to the hornet’s nest again.
“Just arguing stats and how we’ve been playing lately, the records and the teams we’ve beat to see who’s better,” Rahn explained.
“But now we’re in the Big Ten, so now we obviously get to play each other every year and settle it on the field. So it’s fun.”
It’s different. He’ll say that. The great question vexing the western third of Iowa for decades — the times when Nebraska and Iowa didn’t play each other came in great swaths, a series dry spell that lasted from 1946-78, again from 1983-99 and again from 2001-2010 — has been answered, and definitively, since the Huskers began playing in the Big Ten in 2011. Nebraska has won three of the five meetings as conference brethren, including the first two tilts at Kinnick Stadium, site of Friday’s renewal of the Big Ten West’s newest border war.
“When did we get in the Big Ten? 2011?” Rahn asked. “Since my junior and senior year (of high school), you know, we started arguing less. Because it was like, ‘Well, can’t really argue.’ The last week of the season, we’re going to play each other. So you don’t want to (talk) too much, (in case) it comes back and bites you.”
A point that still gets raised, and fairly: The Huskers haven’t lost a game in Iowa City since September 1981, a 10-7 Hawkeyes victory that still stands as one of the landmarks in Iowa history, the pad that launched Hayden Fry’s first Rose Bowl team.
“I feel like, among, players, it’s more respect. We’re both kind of in the same situation. We’re both kind of the same team, you know? We have very similar playing styles and stuff like that.”
— Gabe Rahn, Nebraska wideout and Iowa native
Rahn, a junior health sciences major, was raised Big Red in Hawkeyes country, the son of a Huskers fan who was the son of a Huskers fan who was the son of …a Hawkeyes fan.
“I think my grandpa,” the wideout cracked, “was technically the rebel.”
Rahn walked on to the Huskers early in the fall of 2013, taking a redshirt, but didn’t see game action in 2014 and ’15. This fall, his first collegiate reception was a memorable one — a 35-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Ryker Fyfe in a 52-17 rout of Wyoming back on Sept. 10. A six-time Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll selection with a 3.829 cumulative GPA and an eye toward becoming a chiropractor, the Iowa native has appeared in five of the Big Red’s first 11 contests.
By his count, Le Mars is “probably 75 percent behind Iowa,” despite the closer proximity to Lincoln; the other quarter bleeds either Huskers red or Iowa State cardinal and gold.
“It’s all over,” Rahn said. “I wasn’t the only Nebraska fan in Le Mars, Iowa. We had tons of us. So it’s a big argument. It gets pretty testy, sometimes, arguing with each other.”
Even university ties run deeper than some family ones. Rahn’s high school sweetheart Emily — they’re engaged to be married next May — is in nursing school at the University of Iowa. He hops on I-80 and heads east frequently, even meeting ex-Hawkeyes tailback Jordan Canzeri over in Iowa City once, through a mutual acquaintance.
“That’s what told my fiancée this week, I was like, ‘It’s going to be crazy to go to actually play a game,’” Rahn chuckled. “I’ve been there so many times just to visit her, so I’m very familiar with Iowa City.”
Meanwhile, his older brother, Ben, as Big Red as the rest, just married into one of the biggest Hawkeyes families on the planet.
“It’s tough for my brother, because, you know, if we lose, he’s going to hear about it for a year,” Gabe noted. “So I hope to win for him, too.”
From 1982-2001, the second generation of Big Red dominance, the Huskers (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) won at least 10 contests in a season 15 times over a 20-year span. Since 2002, they’ve done it four times to Iowa’s five over that same stretch. A win at Kinnick pulls that mark even and keeps hope for an outright West title alive, pending the Minnesota-Wisconsin showdown Saturday.
“I feel like, among fans, there’s probably some hate there,” Rahn said. “I feel like, among, players, it’s more respect. We’re both kind of in the same situation. We’re both kind of the same team, you know? We have very similar playing styles and stuff like that.”
“I have a lot of people back home wish me luck all year — except when we play Iowa,” Rahn said, grinning. “I’m sure after the game, if we lose, I’ll get some texts.”