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Things I know, and things I think I know:

Bob Asmussen has a great sense of humor. That's important in his job.

After all, he's covered Illinois football for 28 years.

As a sportswriter for the Champaign (Illinois) News-Gazette, he's seen more than his share of mediocre teams, including the one he's covering this season.

You know, the one that rushed for 3 yards on 15 carries in a Sept. 17 home loss to Western Michigan.

The one with a high-profile former NFL head coach in Lovie Smith, but an anemic offensive line and generally substandard receivers and defensive backs.

The one with an overall shortage of talent and depth.

Yes, Illinois upset Nebraska last season, but is 1-2 entering Saturday's game at Memorial Stadium.

It must all look beautiful to Asmussen.

An Omaha native and former sports editor of the UNL campus newspaper, Asmussen underwent elaborate surgery in 2013 in the wake of a heart attack. During surgery, he had a series of mini-strokes, robbing him of his eyesight for about two weeks.

"I woke up, and I was blind," he told me Saturday. "I was, like, what's going on here?"

His eyesight is fine now. It's fine enough that he drove last week from Champaign to Omaha to attend to a family matter.

"I called my wife when I made it here (to Omaha) safely and told her, 'I can do anything,'" he said. "I pretty much believe that. I don't want that to sound like bragging. I just mean that if you try to do something, you can probably do it if you put your mind to it."

Asmussen, who turns 55 Wednesday, is as genuine as the winter wind roaring off Lake Michigan. He can be refreshingly blunt.

He's a family man — married to a reporter, and they have two teens.

He's a passionate newspaper guy who possesses a keen sense of fairness and more scruples than I could ever muster.

I really hesitate to personalize this stuff, but I do think about Bob sometimes because, well, I respect deeply the beauty of sport — not to mention the beauty of my wife, family, dog, cats, chickens and even the lunkhead opossum that occasionally camps out in our garage.

Bob's an excellent writer. I try hard to accomplish decent writing. But how would you write about sporting events that you can't see?

When I think about Bob, I think about that fear. But I also think about my good fortune.

When I think about Bob, and his temporary loss of sight, I consider all that I've witnessed first-hand in nearly 30 years in the business.

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I think about the sadness in Tom Osborne's eyes when he announced his retirement from coaching.

I think about super-charged Grant Wistrom flying around the end and making a beeline for the quarterback.

I think about the Rose Bowl in January of 2002, at dusk, the most picturesque football setting imaginable.

I think about the daunting enormity of the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Big Red swarm engulfing Northwestern's smallish Ryan Field.

Yeah, I think about UCLA cheerleaders.

I also think about things you might not think about — like Francis Allen's proud peacock strut when his Nebraska men's gymnastics team was winning national championships, and Terry Pettit flinging his clipboard toward the heavens right after NU won the 1995 NCAA volleyball championship.

I think about Alex Gordon roping line drives in a batting cage as a sophomore at Lincoln Southeast.

On and on.

So, yeah, I think about Bob sometimes, and his recovery.

Here's hoping he soon gets to cover a surging Illinois football program. He says Illini fans "desperately" crave a winner. And by winner, he means qualifying for bowl games for four or five straight seasons. That should be attainable, eventually.

"There's definitely a firm belief in (Smith)," Asmussen said. "You saw what he did in the NFL. People keep bringing up the 2006 Bears' Super Bowl team he coached. I think people like the idea of him. If you're a high school player who's really good, and you want to play in the league, who would be better to play for than him?

"It's hard to find anyone who says anything bad about him, outside of the (Chicago) media."

Smith did inherit a talented defensive line at Illinois, not to mention an excellent quarterback in senior Wes Lunt.

Asmussen sees reasons for hope. And that alone sounds wonderful to me.

* Make no mistake, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Lunt has a strong arm. He's thrown for 6,297 yards and 40 touchdowns in his college career, with 17 interceptions.

He's completed 59.4 percent of his throws, including 62.2 percent this season.

"He has a great mind for the game," Asmussen said. "He thinks through things, but maybe to his detriment. He might be one of those guys who worries too much and cares too much."

* We'll be talking quite a bit this week about Michael Rose-Ivey. He apparently will meet with media Monday. He will be praised in some quarters, excoriated in others. I want to hear what he has to say about his decision to take a knee during the national anthem Saturday night (along with teammates Mohamed Barry and DaiShon Neal) before I say too much about it.

* As for the opossum, let's not talk about it anymore.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

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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