Back in the calm of early August, back when everyone was 0-0 and there was a little more time to tell stories, Mike Riley told with fondness the tale of two years he spent coaching football in San Antonio.
Working in a start-up league owned by the NFL, Riley was the head coach of the San Antonio Riders. His staff consisted of six people. The shoes for players were obtained from a gymnasium in San Marcos, Texas.
Coaches watched film and ate popcorn. So much film. So much popcorn. Few complaints. They used a mirror to draw up plays. That was good enough.
"It was a great life," Riley said of those years, from 1991-92.
Part of that life was a coach named Paul Chryst. He coached the wide receivers for the Riders. And the running backs. Oh, also the tight ends.
As Chryst told it this summer at Big Ten Media Days, he was "shoveling snow" when Riley called and asked him to join him in San Antonio. It was a foot in the door to the profession that Chryst won't ever forget.
“From that (job on), I think Mike was a factor in every job that I got. So huge,” Chryst said this summer. “You get hired off what you’ve done and what you’re learned, so I think he was a factor in every job after that."
Riley hired Chryst as his offensive coordinator at Oregon State in 1997-98, as his tight ends coach with the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001, and again as his coordinator when he returned to the Beavers in 2003-04.
Even when they weren't on the same staff, they'd get together each summer at Riley's home in San Antonio for several days and just study football.
Compute all that as we arrive to a Saturday where each coach really needs to beat up on his friend for a day.
Riley, in his first year at Nebraska, is off to a 2-3 start. Chryst, in his first year at Wisconsin, is sitting at 3-2. And after each suffered stomach-turning losses last week, both teams' Big Ten West Division hopes are hanging by a thread with another loss Saturday.
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"The game is not about us," Chryst said this week.
"I'm proud to be a coach, and I learned a ton from Mike," he added. "But I think one of the things that we both have in common is the game is — we respect the game and truly respect those that play it, and our job is to help them play it. So I don't feel like it's me against Mike. It's not."
Riley said there will be excitement about coaching against his old friend, but he didn't spend a lot of words on it during Monday's news conference at a time when the state of his team's mental and physical being is the biggest worry of locals after the program's worst start since 1959.
"It’s a pretty unique situation for as long as we’ve known each other," Riley said.
He left it there.
Whether it's Chryst or whoever on the other sideline, Riley knows the Huskers need to keep the focus on improving their own work.
Chryst was even asked by Wisconsin media this week how he felt Riley would handle such a passionate fan base as Nebraska's when there are struggles.
"They are (passionate), and we've got passionate fans, and you love that. That's what makes college football great," Chryst said. "But no one is going to put more pressure on themselves — the most pressure I feel is from me. I think the most pressure — I don't want to speak for Mike, but I know, I've been around him, and it's just that we're doing our job, and our job is to coach the players we have and help them grow and develop."
Chryst, who knows Riley better than almost anybody, added one more thought.
It's a thought Nebraska fans hope is proven true this weekend.
"Mike is at his best when people might think that it's hard times."