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The Truth, Mainly - 12/09/2002

Football news: an antidote to reality

It's last Tuesday morning and I'm in my underwear and fumbling about in the pre-dawn gloom to get the morning newspaper off the front porch. My eye catches a story taking up five of the six columns at the top of page one.

"Oh, no," I think. "The war's started. Bush is bombing Baghdad."

I'm not wearing my glasses yet, but back inside the house with the lights on, I can see there are three smaller photos and one larger one, separated by a big black headline that seems to be about an ax murderer on the university campus.

Bad enough, but at least we're not at war yet.

So imagine my relief when I get my glasses on and see clearly the photos and the headline. The three smaller shots are of assistant coaches, the larger one a picture of the head coach. The headline reads "Ax falls at NU."

It's about football.

The news of our forthcoming war against Saddam is on page three.

That is so Nebraska.

We must live in one of the few places where news of a forthcoming war gets relegated to the inside pages while the front page is dominated by this sensational football news: Coach Solich has fired three assistant coaches.

Stop the presses.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not making fun of the paper's news judgment here. Well, maybe a little bit. But I have no doubt that the vast majority of readers would rather read about fired assistant coaches than about the president's justification for going to war. I think it's nice that front-page football protects us from exposure to the Bush administration and other grim realities.

And, at least in Nebraska, football news sucks the oxygen out of the air around everything else that happens. Football news serves as an antidote to reality, and when reality is as grim as it is right now, that may be a good thing.

If we obsess about going to a war that seems partly about oil and partly about distracting us from corporate corruption and a lousy economy, we may become clinically depressed. So we think about football, and we're immediately immersed in comic relief.

For example: we all know deep down that for every football winner, there must be a football loser, and we all know that in a perfectly symmetrical universe, all teams would end up with 6-6 records. But with straight faces, we pretend to believe it's a vast calamity, a terrible fall from grace, a cosmic outrage, when the Cornhuskers go 7-6.

And the newspaper aids us in our pretending with its classy headline about the Colorado game: "NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT."

The line, I don't have to tell you, is from the beginning of Shakespeare's "Richard III" where Richard, debased in body and soul, contemplates usurping the throne of England—a shockingly wicked thing to do back in the days when kings were seen as worldly representatives of God, ruling by divine right.

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It's the perfect comic headline for the blasphemy of the divinely-appointed Huskers being assassinated by the satanic usurpers from Boulder.

Only in Nebraska—and I say that in celebration. Well, sort of.

Such glorious irrationality must be connected in some way to religion.

And football, as has been oft noted, is the state religion of Nebraska, and like most religions, it aspires to help us deal with our own mortality.

You say I'm going too far with this line of reasoning?

Consider, then, an enterprise in Georgia called Collegiate Memorials.

They sell coffins.

The coffins come in school colors.

You can get a Husker-red University of Nebraska coffin. The insignia inside the coffin lid is the one you see at all the football games: a big red capital "N" in the background, the word "Huskers" in the foreground.

The Georgia company designs coffins celebrating more than 40 colleges.

Which college do you suppose the first coffin was made for? Which school's coffin do you suppose is the best seller?

Not even close. We're Number One!

And I don't find that offensive. Well, maybe a little bit. But death, like the Bush administration, is a pretty grim subject, and I say anything that can lighten up the grimness is OK by me.

Big Red coffins might be a little crazy, but it's a benign craziness, hurting no one.

And it's a temporary diversion from the far less benign craziness of Bush's coming war with Iraq, a news story so depressing that maybe we shouldn't even run it on page three.

How about putting it in the classifieds? You know, in that little bitty type we'd never use for anything relating to the Cornhuskers.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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