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So, you say they are ripping away the blackshirts, only to give them back when each player deserves to wear them? If this type of move hadn't been done before, I would probably be jumping up for joy. A "reality check"? Hardly. What this represents is symbolism more than anything and symbolism is just that. It doesn't mean a thing unless there's something behind that symbol, so you have to ask, what good will this "act" accomplish?
Last year, you heard it 6 different times after losses. Somewhere, someone said that this loss was a "smack in the mouth", a "reality check", an opportunity to enjoy that all important "gut check" that gets teams going, makes them rise to the occasion so that this won't happen again.
6 times. I would say 7, but after the Ole Miss loss, there were no more cliches that even fit, except maybe the fat lady having sung...........twice.
Nebraska already got one of those this year prior to the Longhorn game, the debacle that was the fourth quarter against Missouri. In just a quarter's time, Nebraska gave up 27 points and proved that against Mobile quarterbacks, NU wasn't any better than it had been the previous year.
The blackshirts rebounded quite nicely though as they got to another mobile QB, Reggie McNeal and had him startled and shaken before his legs ever got moving in the first place.
So, you say that this team does respond to those oh-so-valuable times when faced with extreme adversity. Well, they had better, because this team didn't need to give their blackshirts to anyone, because against Texas, they were already thoroughly undressed.
After Nebraska fans had been swimming in confidence all year from a defense reborn, even the fourth quarter against the Tigers didn't prepare them for the absolute beating they took down in Austin. Shell-shocked and exhausted from never being able to get off the field, the defense could get to their man, but couldn't do anything after that.
If this were last year, I would laugh at this little maneuver. It would have almost been certainly inspired by "others" that are no longer present, ever present in trying to motivate their team with symbols, sayings and mottos rather than just getting after them to do what had to be done.
The fact that a player suggested this removal of sorts, that has to sit a bit better. I mean, if coach Pelini would have taken them away, that's no big deal. It took Pelini almost until the beginning of the season to hand them out in the first place. Have no doubts that while this tradition that is the blackshirts is almost an epic saga for Huskers and those following the team, for a man one year into his tenure, it's a shirt and it's not the right darn color to boot.
There's simply no way that Pelini can appreciate what the blackshirt tradition means, so he can't be faulted one bit for not gaping in awe at the mere sound of the name. So, with that being said, a player saying that the defensive symbol of greatness should be removed and then, re-earned, it does add more merit to the act in the end.
What then can this accomplish for the team? Will it make them better? Of course not. If that makes them better, than they weren't doing their best in the first place. What it should do or is expected to do is re-light that fire that wasn't even a bic-sized flame as they were walloped by the Longhorns this last weekend.
A spark if you will. A kick in the rear or a reminder. Whatever it takes to bring back that intensity, but of course, remind them to wrap up.
Again though, it won't make them better. Light that fire, stoke that flame and ok, you've got your defense back, but don't kid yourselves in thinking that even a re-energized and focused team could have beaten Texas this last Saturday. Tackling was an issue, yes. Coming out flat? Yes, but with the way Texas played that day, send Nebraska down there ten times and they would be coming back to Lincoln with one, maybe two victories.
Texas was simply better.
Nebraska doesn't face Texas again this year though and that's good news for a team trying to reinvigorate the soul. There's Kansas, Colorado and Kansas State, all winnable if Nebraska's defense shows up.
There's no secret that where there is a win for the Huskers, you'll see a defense that did their job, because the offense just isn't going to do the trick. Inconsistent and at times, totally ineffective, the blackshirts, as they have done, will determine just how far this team goes.
Quite honestly, there's only two reasons why I didn't just dismiss it as futile when I had heard the blackshirts had been removed. One, it was a player that wanted it to happen and two, Bo Pelini is the D.C.
The significance behind each is that with a player doing it, it's a little symbolism in itself, because if a coach has to motivate a player when they hit the field at this level of play, that player needs to find the nearest bus home. And, because it's Pelini, if this deal doesn't work out, he'll be the first to buy them a ticket.
Last year, you could have gotten away with a little tirade, a chant of something dramatic and if it didn't work out, go on another tirade and well, just say something else.
Pelini isn't about words, at least not in saying what has to be done or what they are going to do. Hence, I have a feeling, symbolism means about as much to him as what color of jersey you are wearing when you practice.
It means something to the players though, but how much, we are about to find out. Think about it for a second. They gave them up or at least, a player suggested it and everyone went along, willingly or not. Pelini literally holds the meaning of the blackshirts in his hand right now. If he just gives them all back before the KU game, the act of giving them up in the first place will have meant nothing. Heck, if they all get them back after the KU game, that could diminish the act as well.
When you award those shirts back to the players who handed them over in disgust at their lackluster performance, that will tell everyone just how much that "blackshirt" means.
I say wait until after the Kansas State game, because that's when NU will face yet another mobile QB and be under similar pressure as they were down in Texas. It's a home game, so that helps, K. State not having won in Lincoln since the late 70s, but if your fear is a mobile QB, than base getting those coveted jerseys back on beating the kind of QB that has burned you twice already.
If the act is going to mean anything at all, there has to be a price. And, while I think Pelini wouldn't care if you wore pink just so long as you stopped the offense you were facing, I'm sure he recognizes the importance behind the criteria in giving them back.
The old saying goes, it's not the clothes that make the man, but the man that makes the clothes. It's corny and without a real situation to apply it to, essentially worthless. There has to be something there for the saying itself to mean anything at all.
It took a complete and physical beatdown in Austin for the defense to give their blackshirts up. What will it take then before they think they deserve them back?
The answer will come from Pelini and melodramatic as it may be, after it's all said and done, when he gives them back could end up determining what they are worth in the end.
Someone just put a price on a tradition older than any current player for NU. Now, we'll see what the value of a blackshirt really is.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619