The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were playing the University of South Alabama Jaguars in their season opener three seasons back.
The type of game a college gridiron powerhouse typically selects so they can start their campaign with a guaranteed victory. Except at half-time Nebraska led by just 14-7. The offense was sputtering without Maurice Washington.
A highly-regarded sophomore running back and kick-off returner, he was suspended as he awaited trial on felony charges in a revenge porn case involving distributing a video of an underage girl being sexually assaulted.
“We’re not running the ball very well right now,” admitted head coach Scott Frost in a half-time interview on ESPN, and, lo and behold, Washington was immediately restored to the line-up for the third quarter.
He carried the ball six times for 39 yards, caught a pass for 13 more, and Nebraska ran out 35-21 winners. Like so many in the college game, Frost chose to do what was best for his team rather than to do what was right.
Washington later pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to 30 days in jail plus two years’ probation. By then, he was no longer at the university.
Frost is the character leading the Cornhuskers into Dublin to take on the Northwestern University Wildcats at the Aviva Stadium next week.
If Aer Lingus and the litany of other corporate sponsors involved in this shindig wanted to give Irish sports fans a taste of the authentic college football experience, in all its exploitative, chew-these-young-men-up-and-spit-most-of-them-out glory, they have chosen wisely.
With a rabid fanbase, Nebraska is an institution with a proud history of winning (although not lately) and an equally hard-won reputation for often doing the wrong thing when it matters most.
When the current coach was a redshirt quarterback in 1995 (sitting out the season because he transferred from Stanford), Lawrence Phillips, then Nebraska’s best running back, broke into Frost’s apartment and dragged his own ex-girlfriend, Katie McEwen, down three flights of stairs by the hair before smashing her head into a mailbox.
Phillips served a six-game suspension but was back on the field for the business end of the campaign to help them win a national championship. Of course.
The university is currently on probation for violating NCAA rules last year, Frost himself is waiting to serve a five-day ban this season for his part in that debacle, and the newly-arrived offensive co-ordinator, Mark Whipple, was suspended from a previous job for comparing a foul committed against one of his players to “rape”.
According to the festivities schedule around this game, there will be a Cornhuskers’ pep rally at Merrion Square in Dublin on Friday next involving cheerleaders and the school band. No word on which coaches or players will speak but here’s hoping that Ron Brown takes the microphone at some point.
A loquacious character who has served Nebraska in various capacities on and off for decades, he delivered a rousing speech to a Lincoln town council meeting a while back in which he railed against an attempt to introduce laws to prevent discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
“As it says in scripture, homosexuality is a sin,” said Brown. “The real question I have for you all is, ‘What does God say?’ Ultimately, if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus and you don’t really have a Bible-behaving mentality, really anything goes. Ultimately speaking, at the end of the day, it matters what God thinks most.”
When Frost took over Nebraska in 2018, Brown, despite his well-publicised homophobia, was one of his first hires.
Imagine what the offensive analyst (his current and most apt title) will make of spending time next week in the progressive country that was the first in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote?
Tourism Ireland once made a beautiful video promoting and celebrating that fact to an international audience, the same body is now one of those involved in bringing Brown and his employers to Ireland.
After four mediocre seasons, 15 wins and 29 losses, the beleaguered Frost agreed to take a 20 per cent pay cut last year, bringing his salary down to a mere $4 million.
That number is not out of the ordinary in the college game even if his parlous recent record as a coach makes him look grossly overpaid. Especially considering how much his players – who are now permitted to make a little money from their name, image and likeness (NIL) – earn by comparison.
For putting their bodies on the line, incurring concussions that will haunt them for decades and physical injuries destined to disfigure their dotage, all but the biggest stars will trouser around $4,000 for the season. Less than half what their boss gets for a single day’s work.
There are sound financial reasons for bringing this match to Dublin. The Nebraska faithful will travel in great numbers and spend hugely. The live television broadcast will include sumptuous shots of scenic Ireland and inevitably twee shamroguery to boot.
Cameras will no doubt capture Cornhuskers cavorting merrily along Lansdowne Road wearing the commemorative leprechaun merchandise already being flogged online.
The only question is if any of them will be the same “fans” who told three of their own black players they should be lynched for kneeling in protest before the national anthem back in 2016.
Céad míle fáilte indeed.