Magazine: SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SEPTEMBER 29, 1997
Section: COLLEGE FOOTBALL
BY ICING WASHINGTON, SCOTT FROST TOLD NEBRASKA FANS WHO HAD BOOED HIS SIGNAL-CALLING: CHILL OUT
Paved with russet-colored bricks, the central quadrangle at Washington is known on campus as Red Square. That may explain why Nebraska looked so at ease in Seattle last Saturday. After all, Cornhuskers football evokes the old Soviet Union.
There's Nebraska's nickname (Big Red) and the five-year plans that most Huskers players follow. There's the relentless monotony of the Huskers' stolid and anachronistic offense. There's the revered but mysterious leader, coach Tom Osborne, whose every practice remains closed as tightly as his mouth. "I know Tom," Washington coach Jim Lambright said jokingly last Friday. "And I know how he loves to babble on and on in those long, in-depth interviews." Indeed, after fielding a single postgame question on Saturday, Osborne inquired, politely but impatiently, "Anything else?"
Yet the Cornhuskers didn't simply resemble a former superpower last week: They showed that they still are one. Having failed to three-peat as national champions last season, their first with quarterback Scott Frost at the offensive controls, the Huskers came to Washington off a pair of unconvincing triumphs. "Two mediocre victories against two subpar teams," said senior defensive end Jason Peter of wins over Akron and Central Florida. "I'm sure people think the only reason Nebraska is 2-0 is because it schedules subpar opponents."
Subpar Central Florida was leading the Cornhuskers 17-14 in the second quarter on Sept. 13 when, unthinkably, many card-carrying Nebraska fans effectively revolted. Frost, who had sat out the Cornhuskers' previous series, returned to the huddle and heard what were believed to be the first concerted boos ever directed toward a home player in Memorial Stadium's 74-year history. "It's been very distressing to me, when all Scott has done is the best that he can," said Osborne last week. "He's on a scholarship worth $7,000. This isn't a pro quarterback."
Try telling that to every Husker Bob and Bobbi in the state. Frost's first sin was to attend Stanford after an all-state career at Wood River (Neb.) High, which he describes as "90 miles down the interstate" from Lincoln. He transferred to Nebraska in 1995, but the following season, his first as the Cornhuskers' starter, Nebraska lost as many games--two--as it had won national titles under previous quarterback Tommie Frazier.
So Frost wore a baseball cap tugged low on his forehead as he circulated on campus last week, though the lid hardly rendered him incognito. "Lincoln is a small town," he said. "People recognize you everywhere you go."
He had just emerged from his 11:30 a.m. philosophy class, and he spoke, as you might imagine, rather philosophically. "You can count on both hands the schools where fans expect a national championship every year," Frost said. "Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Nebraska. Beating our rivals is great, but the fans aren't satisfied unless we win a national championship."
As the Cornhuskers huddled before kicking off on Saturday, Peter, a Nebraska co-captain, shouted a reminder to his teammates. "Don't forget!" he yelled, struggling to be heard in legendarily loud Husky Stadium, which is often called the House of Pain. "We're Nebraska! We won back-to-back championships! We dominated college football in the '90s!"
And just like that, the Huskers were back, like it or not. "Love us or hate us," as Peter would later put it. Frost ran for touchdowns of 34 and 30 yards on Nebraska's first two possessions--he finished with 97 rushing yards--while backfield tanks Ahman Green and Joel Makovicka rumbled for 129 yards apiece on the option and up the middle. In a style frighteningly redolent of seasons past the Big Red rolled over Washington 27-14.
"A lot of people wrote us off this year," Frost said afterward. "I'm not saying we're home free now. But people definitely have to watch out for us." With games remaining against Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa State, Nebraska is poised to be unbeaten heading into its Nov. 28 showdown at Colorado.
Offensively, Nebraska punched the ball through the Huskies' line like a pill through foil packaging. Frost played flawlessly before a crowd that included his parents, Nebraska alumni Carol (a former Huskers track star and coach) and Larry (a former Huskers halfback), and his older brother, Steve. On defense the Huskers played as Peter had hoped they eventually would this season. Which is to say, "Eleven men on every ball, like a pack of crazed dogs."
Peter spoke, too, of the media's peculiar fascination with Nebraska, the need to rip not only the Cornhuskers but also the state. "I laugh at the Nebraska jokes," Peter said of one Seattle columnist's hatchet job, which had been reprinted in the Lincoln Journal Star. "They settle me down. They're entertaining. But when people say that Coach Osborne will do anything to win and that all his players are criminals, that bothers me." (Jason's brother Christian, a Cornhuskers star in '94 and '95, was convicted of third-degree sexual assault while at Nebraska and suspended from the team.)
The truth is, these Huskers have endured a mere three arrests in the past 18 months. Another truth is that of late, the Cornhuskers' biggest critics have been the so-called Nebraska faithful. "Some people are going to have to eat their words about our offense," defensive end Grant Wistrom said after the Huskers rushed for 407 yards and 23 first downs last Saturday against a defense that had held its first two opponents--BYU and San Diego State--to a rather stingy total of minus-five yards on the ground. "Especially some of our fans."
Roughly 10,000 Nebraska supporters made the trip to Seattle, and countless new fans and friends would no doubt await Frost back in Lincoln. "I really don't care," he said when that was put to him after the game. "The friends I want--and the friends I have--have been my friends through everything."
Moments later he made for the exit. On this day Frost was hatless, and when he stepped into the sunshine, a red sea of Cornhuskers fans crowded against a barricade to reach for his hand. "Way to go, Scott!" several people shouted, but Frost never reached out to any of them, never looked up, never broke stride. He didn't acknowledge a single cheering fan among the 100 or so who lined the path to the team bus. He just kept walking, briskly, until he reached his family, which silently engulfed him in an embrace.
PHOTO (COLOR): Frost (7) runs the option to perfection, pitching to Green (30) as Jason Chorak makes a jarring hit.
By STEVE RUSHIN
****** Copyright of the publication is the property of the publisher and the text may not be copied without the express written permission of the publisher except for the inprint of the video screen content or via the print options of the software. Text is intended solely for the use of the individual user.