They started loading up the big truck Wednesday. You never left for a conference game on a Wednesday back when Monte Selden first began driving the big truck that, even in the leanest of times for Husker football, draws triple takes and inquiries from strangers.
Not when you only had to get all that Husker equipment to Lawrence or Manhattan or Ames by 10 a.m. on Friday.
But Thursday morning, when Monte answered his phone, he was on the road and well into the journey with two of his cohorts. He didn’t say whether red pants or white pants were packed behind him, but he did say he was 50 miles west of Youngstown, Ohio. “I’m going to take a picture of the Youngstown sign,” he said with a laugh.
The truck had started on its journey at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Fuel stops are fun. “It draws a lot of attention.” Everybody always wants to know: Where’s this big truck with five national championship trophies painted on it going?
The answer this week is something that would have made a Nebraska fan’s jaw drop five years ago when the Huskers first announced their intentions of joining the Big Ten. No one could have known then that Monte would kindly answer “New Jersey” to those strangers.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s something new.”
It’s a whole new world from when Selden Trucking, based out of Shelby, first took over the job of driving the Husker equipment to one road game a year in 1996. By 2005, Monte’s company was handling the job every road game.
The truck has left on Wednesdays before. It left on a Wednesday to get to Miami earlier this year. It left on a Wednesday for the game at Fresno State a year ago.
But those weren’t conference games like this one.
There is often nostalgia expressed by Husker fans about those old Big Eight trips that are no more. People who went to a lot of road games knew the names of streets in those Big Eight towns, where the best greasy food was, where to park the car, and which games to take a rental with out-of-state plates. (Looking at you, Boulder.) If a game at Kansas State or Kansas or Iowa State kicked off at the right time of day, you could make the trip while still sleeping in your own bed on Friday and Saturday nights.
And there was some waxing poetic about the good ol’ days this week when a Journal Star blog asked various questions about how people feel about their team playing a conference game in New Jersey compared to those Big Eight campuses so familiar.
One of the questions: Does Nebraska being in the Big Ten feel normal now?
“No, it never will for me,” replied Husker fan Gene Finke, who was against going to the Big Ten from the start. “Hard for an old guy to change.”
“Nothing feels normal yet,” added another fan, Allen Cohrs, who used to go to one road conference game a year in the Big 12 days but has been to none yet in the Big Ten.
Certainly the league change has more often made Husker fans have to search out plane tickets than road maps if they want to go to a road game.
“Of the reasonable driveable games, only Iowa and Wisconsin have any appeal,” wrote Cohrs. “Tickets are more expensive. Illinois and Purdue — are you kidding? Some of the other road trips are appealing, but you need to fly and that has become very expensive.”
It is an opinion he hardly holds alone. But lest you think this is going to be all about how the old days were so much better, there are Husker fans who admit they’ve warmed to these Big Ten matchups more than they might have even guessed.
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One fan commented how he believes it now allows Husker fans to see more interesting regions of the country. Another said opposing Big Ten fans have generally been as respectful, if not more, than at some schools in the Big Eight. You can probably correctly guess the schools he cited.
Another fan, Jerry Davis, admitted: “I never thought I would stop watching Big 12 games because I loved them so much, but I hardly ever watch one anymore. I hunt down a Big Ten matchup nowadays. … Frankly, I prefer the style of play in the Big Ten over the Big 12 now.”
Gordon Vavricek of Fremont said the Big Ten feels plenty normal to him. “I wish they had done it 30 years sooner. When Bob Devaney came to Nebraska, the Big Eight was viewed as inferior to the Big Ten,” Vavricek wrote. “I still think the Big Ten is more prestigious than the conference that Nebraska left.”
He doesn’t watch the Big 12 hardly at all anymore, except for the Oklahoma-Texas game. “What do I care about TCU and West Virginia?”
Granted, Vavricek is in the crowd that feels conferences are better keeping at 12 teams or fewer. When the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten brought the league to 14 teams, it made it even harder for Husker fans to form connections with other teams. NU played Michigan in 2013, for example, but doesn’t have the Wolverines on the schedule again until 2018. And though this is Nebraska’s fifth year in the conference, it still is yet to play a football game against Indiana.
“How far do we want this to go?” Vavricek wrote of a league so big, but added, “As Nebraska was the newest member before Maryland and Rutgers, how much should we complain? Maybe fans of the other 11 schools weren’t all that happy to get Nebraska, either.”
Responding Husker fans understood well the financial benefits of expanding the league to New Jersey and Maryland, and the added TV money, but Steve Dedrickson also felt "it only watered down our league."
“With 14 teams the league is too large,” he continued. “You lose your rivalries when you don’t play the other teams in your conference on a consistent basis.”
But Dedrickson also noted the Big 12 with TCU and West Virginia doesn’t really feel like Nebraska’s old conference anyway.
Another fan, Tony Durr, said he also finds himself watching the Big Ten way more than he might have guessed. But he still will get caught up in a Big 12 game, and realizes he sort of misses it. Those relationships were built over many years and those feelings don’t just leave.
Teams such as Iowa State and Kansas, Durr pointed out, felt “like the little brothers you would root for when you weren’t playing them.” He hasn’t had that feeling about any Big Ten teams yet. (Perhaps in part because Nebraska isn’t currently in a position to look at anyone as a little brother.) But maybe that will come, he thinks. Maybe.
Noah Emery doesn’t mind life in the Big Ten because he lives in South Bend, Indiana. Already been to Husker games at Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan.
And Matt Reynoldson has found Big Ten ball more palatable than watching the “egregious lack of defense” in the Big 12. “I also haven’t accepted the fact that Baylor — Baylor! — is actually good now.”
A whole new world.
Roll with it.
“I’m more excited about this,” Monte said as the truck worked its way closer to New Jersey. “Missouri, Oklahoma State, yeah, it just got boring. Baylor. Nothing there.”
The trip covered almost 1,300 miles in less than two days. Monte's crew was where they were supposed to be by Friday morning. Never bet against the Husker truck to make good time.