Steven M. Sipple: Little Jack's day in sun good elixir for cynics

2013-04-07T23:45:00Z 2013-04-19T18:40:04Z Steven M. Sipple: Little Jack's day in sun good elixir for cynics JournalStar.com

Things I know and think I know:

Bo Pelini isn't perfect. Nor is his program. Too many moving parts to expect perfection.

Where there are people, there is imperfection.

And sometimes our imperfection is startling.

Former Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice no doubt has redeeming qualities. We shouldn't forget that. But his stunning imperfections, as seen on video last week, created a crisis that reached the highest levels of the university and stunned the sports world.

Auburn, meanwhile, continues to reinforce the notion of a culture of corruption in college football. Last week came allegations of players getting paid, players receiving grade changes to stay eligible and rampant drug use.

The alleged Auburn mess doesn't look quite as bad as the Nevin Shapiro matters at Miami. Or tattoo-gate at Ohio State. Or the inconceivable sex scandal at Penn State. The list goes on, and we become increasingly cynical about college sports.

If you're like me, you look for balance. You continue to seek out the good in big-time college athletics. In a big-picture sense, young Jack Hoffman's moment in the sun Saturday provided a welcome dose of balance, an elixir for cynics.

The 7-year-old cancer patient's dash to the end zone, with his helmet turned slightly sideways, meant a lot of things to a lot of people. We'll remember the scene for years to come. It cast Nebraska football in a very favorable light nationally, in a manner that felt as real and wholesome as a cold glass of milk.

Something ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt tweeted struck a chord:

"This week in sports was garbage. A 7 year old named Jack Hoffman & Nebraska reminded us why we love them. Salute to both…"

Van Pelt's "garbage" line referred to Auburn and Rutgers. Perhaps Nebraska football fans should take a moment to thank their lucky stars that their main concerns right now are the front seven on defense and too many turnovers.

It could be much worse. Ask the athletic director at Rutgers. Wait, he resigned. Never mind.

Auburn, which only three seasons ago won the BCS national championship, should brace for continued withering attacks by all sorts of pundits. Just wait until the almighty talking head Jay Bilas has his say. He may call for the heads of half the university administration.

The media can be awfully haughty and quick to condemn. Many of us tell coaches and athletic directors how to run their programs even though we haven't run so much as a 7-Eleven. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's our job. But I digress.

I've long admired Nebraska football for holding firm to standards and values that allow it to avoid the sort of scandals that crop up fairly routinely elsewhere. Has NU been perfect? Absolutely not. But you never see the NCAA having to come in and put the hammer down.

Pelini doesn't claim perfection in his program. But he is proud there is no hint of scandal, and that off-the-field problems have become few and far between. A healthy culture has taken hold, he says.

Pelini places heavy emphasis on academics. Always will. He ultimately wants to show a program can win big without lowering standards. I hear from plenty of folks who have reservations about his approach. They care little about academics. That always amazes me.

Ah, but even the most cynical Nebraska fan had to appreciate Saturday's Red-White Spring Game — everything from the involvement of several ex-Huskers (a nod to tradition) to Pelini enthusiastically leading around a teen, Alexa, his job shadow for the day.

The program seems to be on solid ground. With good people running it. Nah, it's not perfect, but it perhaps felt that way for those 60 seconds that little Jack was racing toward the end zone, the entire team trailing.

"That was a moment right there," Husker radio analyst Matt Davison said as the scene unfolded. "Wow. Goosebumps."

Thanks, we need those on occasion.

* My favorite play of the Spring Game? Glad you asked. It was Tommy Armstrong's option pitch to Imani Cross that went for a 12-yard touchdown. It was an athletic QB making a well-timed pitch to a trailing big back. Delightfully old school.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Cross would look awfully good behind a fullback in a power-I formation.

* Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst shook a few hands in the press box. He is very unassuming, low-key. Yeah, as advertised. I'm guessing Husker fans appreciate that. I know I do.

* You have to like Louisville to beat Michigan, right? The Wolverines are too young, right? I keep thinking that. I keep thinking wrong. I'm done picking against them. Michigan 75, Louisville 73. Wolverines will do what the Fab Five couldn't.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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