Coping with Football

I'm sorry for your losses

I received an email this week from a Husker fan who’s struggling to process last week’s gut wrenching overtime loss to Michigan State. We all deal with sports sadness from time to time, so Larry speaks for all of us.

Dear Faux,

The Huskers came really close to winning a meaningful game last week, yet we still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Is it time to give up?

Larry D.

OK Larry,

I know you’re hurting, but let’s be real. You are not giving up on the Huskers, you are not quitting college football, you are not doing anything that remotely resembles those things. That is not how this works.

There are certain habits that human beings can conquer with enough focus and resolve, like smoking or drinking or watching nonstop videos of skateboarding accidents. But college football is not on that list.

The door to college football swings one way, and once you’re in, you’re in. Larry, you’ve signed a lifetime contract which will only be terminated when you are. For the rest of your life, even when you’re mad at the Huskers you will schedule your autumn Saturdays around their games.

Why does college football have this hold on us? Scientists have been studying this for decades, but I believe it’s because the season is just too short. I mean, it feels like the season just started but it’s almost half over. We anticipate our favorite sport’s return for nine agonizing months, and then we are tossed a dozen football games for our trouble. That’s it. A year has 15,960 hours; a college football team’s clock is running for only 12 of those.

That’s not nearly enough action to satisfy our football cravings, and so every moment of every game is blown out of proportion, each touchdown and fumble and missed field goal feels like a life-changing event.

No, Larry, you aren’t going to give up on your team, because you can’t. But this doesn’t mean you are doomed to a tortured existence when your team is in a cycle of struggle like the Huskers are in. You just need some coping mechanisms to get you through the rough parts.

Coping Mechanism #1: Focus on the Big Picture

As much as I hate to say this, the Huskers were never going to win a championship in 2021. That’s just not what this season was ever about.

This season was always about showing progress, about producing a body of work that gives the fans a reason to believe. The final win total will be important and qualifying for a bowl game would be great, but this season is mostly about cobbling together some momentum to propel Nebraska forward into 2022.

Because the season as a whole is what matters, there’s no reason to get too hung up on any one game. Don’t get me wrong — beating Michigan State last week would have been fun. But a single loss doesn’t ruin anything just like one win won’t solve anything.

The wins are just building blocks. If we don’t get one this week we’ll try again next week.

As we’ve discussed, the great teams are forced to live and die with each game, but that isn’t where Nebraska is right now. Until that glorious day returns, relax and keep the big picture in mind.

Coping Mechanism #2: Focus on the Little Picture

When I was growing up a good friend of mine was a very bright, extremely unmotivated C+ student. The potential was there, but something always got in the way of his good grades — forgotten assignments, missed classes, naps. The occasional flashes of brilliance were undercut by little mistakes that added up. In the end his GPA was an inevitable, maddening disappointment to his parents.

The 2021 Huskers are that kid. They have enough talent to win some big games, but something always gets in the way. False starts and turnovers and weird punts always seem to arrive at exactly the wrong moments. The results are inevitable, maddening and disappointing.

There is a path to success for a team like this, though. Because they have the raw materials to succeed, they don’t need to improve their good qualities so much as they need to eliminate their bad ones. For the Huskers to make the honor roll they don’t have to get more As and Bs, they just need to stop posting Cs and Ds.

This Husker season is about eliminating mistakes. A clean game would be a victory in itself, no matter the final score.

So Larry, I want you to inject some zen into your Husker watch parties. Learn to notice and appreciate what’s not happening.

It’s kind of like when a fussy baby finally stops crying. You might not immediately notice the silence, but after 5 minutes you realize that there’s finally some peace in the house.

Husker football will be like that, Larry. One of these days Nebraska will go an entire game without a false start penalty. When this happens I want you to be the first to notice, and broadcast it loudly and proudly to everyone you know. No matter the score, that game will be a victory.

Coping Mechanism #3: Use a Filter

Larry, you probably don’t even realize how much time you spend on the Huskers this time of year. When you’re not scrolling Husker Twitter, listening to sports radio or monitoring message boards, you’re explaining to your friends and mailman and steering wheel what the Huskers need to do to beat Northwestern.

You may not even remember a time when you didn’t fully immerse yourself into the Nebraska football season. It probably feels like the only way to be a Husker fan.

There is a different way though, Larry. A more peaceful and healthy way. But first you must accept a simple truth: Sports exist to serve you, not the other way around.

Believe it or not you can limit the amount of Husker information that enters your brain. You have more control over this than you think. In the current messy state of Husker football there is generally just as much bad stuff to consume as good, roughly as many touchdowns scored as touchdowns allowed, about as many losses as wins (God willing). And there’s not a thing you can do about any of it.

But you can filter out the negative noise before it enters your system.

Here’s what I mean. After a win, by all means watch the postgame and devour the message boards and stay out late with friends watching replay after replay. That’s the fun part of college football.

But after a tough loss, activate your filter. Choose silence.

As soon as the game is over, turn off the TV. You don’t need to watch that postgame nonsense. And don’t bother with social media — there are bad people on the Internet waiting to hurt your feelings. Go to a movie, play some tennis, walk a dog. The negative noise following a loss detracts from your life and you’re not obligated to absorb any of it.

College football, like any hobby, is supposed to add net joy to your life. By limiting your exposure to the bad parts of the Husker experience you can make sure you end up on the right side of the equation.

If you were really into macramé, you wouldn’t spend a week knitting a sweater for an owl, would you? No, because that would be pointless and boring. You’d make a cozy blanket or some funky socks or whatever macramé people make. A hobby is supposed to be fun and add value to your life.

Same goes for college football. When your team is in a phase where it’s creating more pain than joy, use that filter to tip the balance back in your favor. Take in the good stuff and ignore the bad.

One shiny day in the future, when the Huskers are once again winning games and competing for championships, you can tune your brain back in to the 24 hour Husker Channel. Until then, pick your spots.

Larry, I wish you good luck the rest of the way. Focus on the big stuff, the little stuff an the good stuff. You can make it through this.