For only the second time ever, Nebraska and Purdue met today on the football field.
The first time was in 1958. Purdue shut out Nebraska 28 – 0.
That was then. This is now.
In case you hadn’t heard, Purdue is not currently a football powerhouse. They have been in the past. They might be in the future. But right now they are a team with a lot of hard work in front of them in order to be taken seriously as a Division I contender.
That’s okay with me.
I’ve been a Boilermaker for 8 years now. I have several Boilermaker degrees. I have Boilermaker offspring. I have Boilermaker friends. I have Boilermaker colleagues. I have Boilermaker gear. I tend to be a faithful fan, especially when it comes to football. So I can be patient and gracious while this Boilermaker football team works hard to rebuild itself.
In other words, I’m a genuine Boilermaker fan.
But there is this: I am also a 4th-generation Nebraskan. 5th if you count all those Wendell boys and Pearson girls who arrived long ago from Sweden and then decided that the difficulties often associated with extended families could be avoided if the three Wendell brothers each married one of the three Pearson sisters. It was so entirely practical. (And, one hopes, eminently romantic.)
So though I am at present a Boilermaker, I was first born a Nebraskan. And when someone is born a Nebraskan, it doesn’t matter if they live in the state for 3 years, 30 years, or until their last breath. They are in some inexplicable way a Nebraskan through and through.
So though I own lots of Black and Gold gear, I wore red to today’s football game and felt neither out of place nor traitorous. It would have been impossible to feel out of place – even in the home-seating sections – because there was red everywhere I looked. It would have been impossible to feel traitorous – even when cheering loudly for Nebraska – because I didn’t wish any ill-will on the Boilermakers. In fact, I cheered loudly for both teams – even though there wasn’t anything like an equitable distribution of cheering moments between the two teams.
At the next Boilermaker home game, I will be wearing black and gold. Proudly. Even if the team struggles with growth-and-development pains. Even if the team doesn’t win. Even if the team stumbles and falls on its way towards what I hope will be excellent awesomeness.
But at the next Nebraska-Purdue game, I will be wearing red. In Lincoln. Along with pretty much everyone else. Because no matter how long I live in West Lafayette, or how many degrees my family accrues at Purdue, or how deeply my Boilermaker friendships run, or how often I don Black and Gold for various competitions, underneath it all there is still something about Nebraska that runs very, very deep. It can’t be explained. It just is.
And that’s very okay with me.