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All Points West: Close bonds might be the key to winning
October 29, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
I saw something floating around on Facebook that piqued my interest. At least it was something reasonable and relatable to my line of work as a part-time soldier. Jason Peter, a member of the 1995 National Championship team said he played for his brothers, referring to his teammates. His comment smacked of the close bonds infantry soldiers develop.

This theme of bonding also popped up in an ESPN special on Ohio State prior to the Huskers’ Big Ten West Division do-or-die against the Northwestern Wildcats. The game ended in a disappointing 30-28 loss. Nothing new. Nevertheless, the FB and ESPN stories were a sort of weird cosmic pattern of did you know.
I was just as devastated as the next fan about the two-point loss, after all the other four close losses this season. Even more painful was the statistic which said 13 points had separated Nebraska from an undefeated season. Prior to Saturday’s game, and all the hoopla surrounding the 1995 team’s 20-year anniversary, ESPN aired a story about the Buckeyes’ turbulent 2014 season, which eventually led them to a convincing win against the Oregon Ducks and a national title.

During the 2014 season, the Buckeyes’ coach Urban Meyer employed Tim Kight, a former pastor and consultant on small unit cohesion to motivate the Buckeyes after the loss of two QBs to injury.
Kight said, “If you asked the one thing that has powered this team’s resilience, they’d say it’s a brotherhood of trust, and we play for each other. They were taught that. That didn’t happen by accident.”

In a year prior to my arrival in Afghanistan in 2011, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was risking his life in the Korengal Valley, once referred to as one of the deadliest places on the planet. Going up against a group of well-armed and well-coordinated insurgents, he sprinted through enemy fire to get to his injured squad leader and bring him to safety. For his actions, he received the Medal of Honor.

Addressing the attention he received, Giunta said, “I’m not at peace with that at all. And coming and talking about it, and people wanting to shake my hand because of it, hurts me, because it’s not what I want. And to be with so many people doing so much stuff and then to be singled out – and put forward. I mean, everyone did something.”

As an Army field historian, I studied this tried-and-true method enough to know it works. However, in war, it’s life or death. In football, it’s just a game. Or is it? This is about team, and sticking together. Or, for players, has motivation morphed into reading press clippings, headlines and watching themselves on ESPN’s play of the day?

For those who have filled Nebraska’s roster since 1995, to hear about that team’s successes year in and year out, season after season, must reach the point of frustration for many players.
Those are some high stakes; some huge shoes to fill. Fans constantly comment on just how great Nebraska was in 1995 and during the Huskers’ other championship runs; five trophies points to a great winning tradition no one can deny. Yet, fans have treated just one to three losses a season as something completely unacceptable; it’s just not up to Husker standards. We should be winning at least the conference title every year, right?
Look, I care about this team, just as much as the next Husker fan. But to put that kind of pressure on some 18-year old fresh out of high school is ridiculous. As far as expectations go, it’s almost like telling a cub reporter at the Gering Citizen that I expect her to win a Pulitzer for news writing. Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

But like Giunta, we all have the miraculous ability to do something insane, and heroic. Why Giunta succeeded could have equated to a number of factors. But I can tell you, he wasn’t thinking Medal of Honor or God, country and family. He was thinking about his friend and brother in arms, a lot like Peter thought of his 1995 teammates.

Call it brain wash. Call it what you will. But without a cause, without a reason to fight, the Huskers might as well have stayed in the locker room Saturday.

The Huskers came out flat. They had no purpose. They were not inspired, at least not the way that said, “We need to win this game to salvage our season.”

On the opposite sideline, the Northwestern Wildcats coach was risking a flag on each bungled play his team committed. He was passionate about correcting his team’s errors. It was almost Pelini-esque, except for the fact that I think Coach Pat Fitzgerald was reminding his players of what the win would mean, not just the butt-kicking screaming that takes place in pre-season.

While many fans think Coach Mike Riley’s nice-guy approach works, I disagree, but in one small way. In the Army, we’re taught our actions can save or cost lives. I’ll make the message simple: If losing feels like a part of them is dying, that might be reason enough for the Huskers to do something crazy and heroic, something like what Wildcats’ QB Clayton Thorson did to them on Saturday.

Up Next: Nebraska takes on Purdue in Indianapolis. The Boilermakers were clubbed last week by the Wisconsin Badgers, 24-7. But don’t consider this one a walk in the park.
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