|All Points West: Huskers gaining winning mindset|
|November 11, 2016 Frank Marquez|
It’s a single word. Just one word. Yet, it carries so much weight.
History contains so many moments. Take the Miracle on Ice, when the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s hockey team won the gold medal in Lake Placid after beating Finland, toppling the Soviet Union, which had a boatload of NHL talent, 4-3, in the first game of the medal-round.
Then there was Holly Holm’s kick to Ronda Rousey’s head in November 2015. The mixed martial arts fighter faced undefeated Rousey (12-0) in UFC 193, and flattened the champion in the second round, the foot slap heard around the world. Holm stayed on top until March, when the bantam weight title switched to Miesha Tate.
In 1983, the sixth-seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack squeaked by opponents in dramatic fashion to make it to the Sweet 16 in the Big Dance. There’s a reason the NCAA Tourney is called March Madness. Saying anything can happen is an understatement. In the final against the then powerhouse Houston Cougars, with Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler of the famed Phi Slamma Jamma, Coach Jimmy Valvano’s Wolfpack won the comebacker and the title. The winning shot was a buzzer-beating dunk by Lorenzo Charles, off an air ball from 30 feet out by Dereck Whittenburg.
Across the pond in England, soccer fans had to do a double take to realize Leicester City Foxes overcame 5000-to-1 opening day odds to win the premier League title, which has no sports comparison. Really. None. In a league dominated by Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, the Mirror said Simon Cowell was more likely to become Britain’s next prime minister at 500-to-1.
And, what the Chicago Cubs did in a few weeks of the World Series for Major League Baseball was also improbable. They came back from a 3-1 deficit to triumph over the Cleveland Indians, who many experts believed were the much stronger team, and that Chicago’s curse would continue. Yet, I had more faith than some Cub’s fans who had watched the first four games go by in misery. They already had decided this was not their year. They were wrong, I was right; probably much to their delight. Well, obviously to their delight. The celebration along the parade route and at Wrigley Field drew an estimated 5 million people – officially the seventh largest gathering in human history.
Now that we’re well into the college football season, and halfway through the pro season, with basketball starting up, we count underdogs surprising fans from day one until the final whistle. In the college ranks, the Penn State Nittany Lions upset the seemingly unbeatable Ohio State Buckeyes, who were also tested by Northwestern and Wisconsin. In the pro ranks, Bill Belichick’s embattled New England Patriots worked through QB Tom Brady’s absence while the helmsman served out his 30-day suspension for deflate-gate. The Pats are 7-1 sitting at the top of the American Football Conference East Division, crushing the Buffalo Bills, 41-25, taking revenge on the only team to beat them so far. The Pats were blanked by the Bills, 16-0 on October 2.
But not impossible.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers second loss of the season to the Buckeyes at the Shoe in Columbus was a 62-3 blowout. With the loss, the Huskers have to take this embarrassing defeat in stride, and learn from it. More so, they need to fix their minds on the rock-solid goal of getting to the Big Ten Championship on December 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Not so improbable. That means, Nebraska needs to do its part, and take care of business by beating Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa. Meanwhile, the other 7-2 team in the West Division, the Wisconsin Badgers would need to falter, either against Illinois, Purdue or Minnesota, with only the Gophers having a real chance of doing that.
But think, Nebraska wasn’t even in the playoff conversation at the start of the season. Neither was Wisconsin, and no one would have ever thought the Michigan State Spartans would have fallen so far and so fast. In the East Division, we’re certain to see either Michigan or Ohio State replete with Blue Chippers and bragging about how during the season, they blew the competition away. Odds side with the East. Maybe.
A nagging feeling tells me to get ready for improbable. Wisconsin is wearing down, and Nebraska, given the ability to fight, will bounce back from the loss at Ohio State, just like Tommy Armstrong returning from the hospital after being knocked out of the game last Saturday, when Nebraska was successfully moving the ball.
As much as analysts and prognosticators try to figure it out through scientific methods, reviewing a list of factors, pros and cons, comparisons, bottom line, it’s what’s in players’ heads that often decides the game. Coaches, including me, have preached, if you can see yourself winning, if you can envision crossing the goal line and scoring a TD or getting a sack, you’re going to do the little things to get you there. You’re going to win.
For underdog fighters, like Nebraska, nothing is improbable.