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All Points West: Huskers leave nothing to chance
September 23, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Anyone who knows Nebraska football, knows that on game day, all the Huskers raise their hands to tap a lucky horseshoe that hangs above the doorway as they exit the North Stadium.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Huskers continued this tradition as they made their way onto the field.

According to sources, it resided in the South Stadium locker room before the 1973 season, during Bob Devaney’s time as coach. When players moved the horseshoe to the doorway leading out of the remodeled North Stadium locker room, where the revered Tunnel Walk begins along a stretch of red carpet, Tom Osborne had taken over as head coach. In his first game, not a man of superstition, Osborne didn’t want to allow opposing team, UCLA, to have any luck. The outcome, a 40-13 victory, and auspicious start to Osborne’s coaching career.

According to one story about the famed emblem’s origin, the horseshoe was found in the dirt during construction of Memorial Stadium in 1923.

The horseshoe is known as a protective symbol in Egyptian culture, and also appears in Islamic art, as a charm that protects against evil and brings good luck. In Celtic folklore, “Horseshoes were doubly frightening to the little people (goblins and fairies) because they looked like the Celtic moon god’s crescent,” Donald E. Dossey wrote in his book, “Holiday Folklore, Phobias, and Fun.” Yet, another tale throws into the mix, Dunstan, who nailed a horseshoe to the devil’s hoof causing him great agony, using this chance to imprison him. Upon the devil’s release, he vowed never to return. As a reminder, Dunstan, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 959 A.D., hung a horseshoe over the door. In western culture, the horseshoe, if found and worn, brings 10 times the luck of one for sale.

To retain luck or good fortune rests on how the horseshoe is displayed. Popular belief holds that a horseshoe with two ends pointing up keeps luck from falling out, while others have said the two ends should point down to shower luck onto anyone who walks through a doorway under which a horseshoe hangs. Nebraska’s horseshoe points up.

Whether it had anything to do with luck or home field, this past week, the Nebraska football team returned to the AP and Coaches polls at No. 20, breaking back into the top 25 since December 2014, after losing in the Holiday Bowl to then ranked No. 24 USC Trojans, 45-42 – a long dry spell if you’re talking post-Tom Osborne era. Through last season, fans have held their breath with Frank Solich, Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and now Mike Riley.

I’m sure that at some point, these coaches felt they needed some luck, if not all the luck they could get in trying to satisfy the demanding nature of a winning tradition. The multiple last-minute losses of last year, probably gave Riley and the anti-superstition lot some food for thought. Or, maybe, they simply wrote off these strange endings to conclude: “Oh, well, that’s just the way the ball bounces.”

Yet, anyone who has played sports, or been around sports, knows the feeling you get when you know you’re going to win – right place, right time, right frame of mind, and maybe the coach just happens to say the right thing to get that hair on the back of your neck to stand up. Take the ESPN College Game Day discussion about top teams. After Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit picked the Oregon Ducks to beat Nebraska last Saturday, Lee Corso, a well-respected mind in college football, said, “Not so fast my friend. To win this game, Nebraska must win the turnover battle. This is a tough game to call because Oregon is a tremendous football team, but not so fast – Nebraska’s home field wins it.” I think Corso might have had one of those feelings.

Nebraska fumbled the ball once on a backward lateral pass by QB Tommy Armstrong, probably an ill-advised play in the red zone. The Huskers were marching toward pay dirt in the first half. Then Oregon scored on the following drive. Sure, factor in skills and the week’s preparation, ironing last year’s wrinkles, and execution, one might say luck had nothing to do with it.

But during Nebraska’s final drive, down 32-28, a number of things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. Armstrong had Cethan Carter, Devine Ozigbo, and Jordan Westerkamp, oh, and his own legs, which earlier in the game had cramped. So then, surprising to us all and shocking to the Ducks, Armstrong capped the brilliant game-winning drive by tucking the ball and running the last 34 yards for a TD, more than making up for a single turnover, and almost certainly locking up victory. Contrary to Corso’s statement, Nebraska lost the turnover battle, and still won. Also, credit the Black Shirts for doing their job in stopping Oregon during its final opportunity to score with 2:21 left to play. Ducks QB Dakota Prukop, a Montana State transfer, lost his composure. During the eighth play of the drive on fourth and long, with 49 seconds left, he was sacked by Kevin Maurice, who in my mind, should have been awarded half the game ball.

In analyzing the tangibles, Nebraska minimized errors, kept the ball longer, had the edge in first downs, but one thing doesn’t add up: Oregon had more total yards. Nebraska had more than 100 yards less on the ground, and more through the air than the Ducks (consider Oregon is from a pass happy PAC 12 conference), which traditionally has not been Nebraska’s strength, even in the first two games of this season.

Nebraska heads to a 1-2 Northwestern Wildcats team at Ryan Field next week. Last year, the Cats edged Nebraska 30-28. Preseason predictions said Northwestern would win again against the Huskers, but analysts and odds makers said Oregon would win, too. Coming off the high of a triumph over Oregon, could lead to a letdown, or worse a meltdown. I’ll take it as a good omen that Riley beat his old nemesis (Beaver nation must have been out of their chairs) and Nebraska will continue to build on a good thing. Expect the Black Shirts to snuff out any signs of life in the downtrodden Cats, and Armstrong to keep his wits about him.

And, if they think it might help, the Huskers might want to consider taking the horseshoe with them. If it’s not about luck, leave nothing to chance, and everything on the field.
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