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
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
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.