Who’s to say? You might be driving down Bugeater Highway today if not for that mustachioed sportswriter of yesteryear.

Charles Sumner Sherman was what his parents named him, but Cy Sherman is how his byline read in the Lincoln newspaper.

Cy Sherman was in the newspaper biz for almost 60 years, the sports editor of the Lincoln Star for 31 of those. His opinion was strong (his column was titled “Brass Tacks”) and so was his influence.

The newspaper once labeled him the “dean of American sportswriters,” and Nebraskans knew him by another title: “The father of the Cornhuskers.”

If you’ve ever wondered who was behind the Cornhusker nickname, Cy’s your guy.

Sherman started calling  Nebraska’s football team the Cornhuskers in stories in 1899, back when hardly anyone was calling them the Cornhuskers.

Before the 20th century, the Nebraska football team took the field under a wide collection of nicknames, ranging but not limited to the Rattlesnake Boys, Tree-planters, Antelopes and Bugeaters.

Where’d Bugeaters come from?

Veteran Husker writer Mike Babcock offers an explanation in his book “Stadium Stories: Nebraska Cornhuskers.”

During a drought in the 1870s, an East Coast reporter wrote that since bugs devoured all the crops, all that was left for Nebraskans to eat were bugs.

Not everyone was amused by the nickname. As Babcock noted, the university newspaper (it was called the Hesperian Student back then) wrote after a football win over Iowa in 1894 that  “we have met the ‘cornhuskers’ and they are ours.”

If there was any sarcasm intended in those words, Sherman didn’t care.

Cornhuskers. He liked it. His constant mentions of the Cornhuskers in his stories in 1899 — along with a campus crusade by a journalism professor named Alvin Watkins Jr. — provided the heavy push to establish the nickname so familiar today.

The student yearbook changed its name to the “Cornhusker” in 1907. The state legislature deemed Nebraska “The Cornhusker State” in 1946.

The nickname found its way onto T-shirts, menus, banks, bars, the lips of politicians wanting to jazz up a crowd.

Nine months before the presidential election, Barack Obama made a campaign stop in Omaha. His first two words to the crowd? “Ah, Cornhuskers.”

So, yeah, the name’s taken off.

The “N” Club, usually reserved for Husker letterwinners, even made Sherman an honorary member.

Besides helping provide the Cornhusker nickname, Sherman was also of great influence in establishing The Associated Press football poll in 1936.

Don Becker, a 1955 Husker graduate, knew Sherman and a few years ago wrote a tribute piece to him in Nebraska Magazine. Becker’s mother was a housekeeper for the writer for many years.

Becker recalls Sherman as someone who was tell-it-like-it-is tough.

“As a youngster I often saw him chomping on a cigar, green eyeshade on, typing away to meet a deadline,” Becker wrote. “Looking back it could have been a Spencer Tracy movie. … All that the scene needed was a voice off camera yelling ‘stop the presses.’ ”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 473-7439.


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