Nobody says two Nebraska football coaching icons have to agree on everything.
Charlie McBride, NU's defensive coordinator from 1982-99, thought Bill McCartney's idea in the early 1980s was brilliant. McCartney, upon being hired as Colorado's head coach in 1982, circled the Huskers as the team to beat. It seemed pretty bold at the time, perhaps a bit reckless.
"I give him credit for having the guts to do it," McBride said this week.
I found it peculiar back then, the notion that a coach could create a rivalry with a simple declaration.
Tom Osborne felt the same way.
“But I think Bill came from that Ohio State-Michigan tradition," said the former Nebraska head coach (1973-97), referring to McCartney's time as an assistant at Michigan. "I think he just kind of assumed you had to have a rival to be a great team, and why he did that, I don’t know.”
“As time went on, it got a little nasty," he said of what indeed became a rivalry. "It got a little bit of our attention as a staff. But not much. It really affected the fans more than anything.”
Osborne, of course, speaks from a position of strength — he was 9-3-1 against McCartney — which perhaps explains his "But not much" comment. That said, the rivalry picked up steam during the 1980s, especially late in the decade as McCartney continued to stockpile talent.
He won only one of his first seven games against Osborne. But Colorado prevailed in 1989 while capturing the Big Eight crown. The Buffaloes, with the help of an extra down in a bizarre win at Mizzou, won the national championship in 1990, a season which they defeated the Huskers in Lincoln.
After Nebraska and Colorado played to a 19-19 tie in 1991, the Huskers hung a Halloween nightmare on the Buffs in the form of a 52-7 triumph in 1992, snapping CU's 25-game Big Eight unbeaten streak. NU fans roared for more that day in Memorial Stadium. There was blood lust in the air.
On a misty, 50-degree day, Nebraska outrushed Colorado 373-8.
“It’s always a temptation when things go your way to say, 'I told you so,'" Osborne said after that game. "But I’ve been at this long enough to know you better not do that because there is another day coming. And some passing team may beat the tar out of us.
“But for this climate, you’ve still got to be able to jam it at people some. Colorado has committed itself to the pass, and it may turn out real well. But today it didn’t.”
In 1994, as Nebraska rolled to a 13-0 record and Osborne's first national championship, third-ranked NU defeated No. 2 Colorado 24-7 in one of the most intense atmospheres I can remember at Memorial Stadium. McCartney retired after that season.
"I'd rather be dead than red," McCartney said Tuesday, dusting off old material during a guest appearance at the Buffs' weekly press luncheon.
The teams square off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Plenty of memories will rush back for fans of a certain age.
To be fair, McCartney's daring declaration in 1982 helped create many of those memories.
“Like I said, I just don’t understand it," Osborne said this week. "But if it served them well or him well, that’s fine. I didn’t think it made any difference. All that stuff kind of goes away when you kick the ball off. Then you’re just out there playing. I never paid much attention to it.”
McBride had another viewpoint.
“I thought Bill made a good move,” he said. “He was trying to create something that would help them recruit, something to stir excitement. I think he was trying to motivate. That was his thing. He’s a Grade-A motivator.
“Nothing surprises me with Bill,” added McBride, a CU graduate. “I’ve known him a long time.”
McBride agreed with Osborne that the rivalry became nasty over the years.
“I remember the time when Colorado guys got off the plane with all black T-shirts on and said, ‘We’ll show you who the real Blackshirts are,’ and that was a big mistake," McBride said. "They screwed it up.”
He thinks it was the 1994 game, although the years run together in his mind.
Bottom line, Osborne was more reserved than McCartney, certainly more conservative in his coaching approach. Tom essentially trained the fan base to be that way. Maybe that’s why McCartney’s declaration seemed peculiar to many Nebraska fans at the time. But McCartney's approach created intrigue, it was kind of fun, even if it ran counter to Osborne's style.
“I never believed in trying to pick out one opponent because if you did that, sometimes it took away from your focus and preparation on other people," Osborne said. "I always felt our rival was who we played that week because that was right in front of us, and that was the most important thing.
“But it may have served Bill well.”
Osborne has a good relationship with McCartney, one that dates to McCartney's days at Michigan.
“I know one time he had some deal where he wanted to jog a lap before a game in the mid-1980s in Colorado for a certain charity," Osborne said. "We jogged around the field and talked. I never felt any animosity toward him. My main thing was just more puzzlement over the whole (declared rival) thing. I just never did understand it because it was foreign to my way of thinking.”
What sort of impact did Colorado's rise have on Nebraska’s program?
“Not much,” Osborne said. “It was just a tougher game. They did have good players. As they got better, the games for the most part were closer.”
Osborne will be in Memorial Stadium on Saturday. You have to think he'll feel a surge of competitive energy when he sees those gold helmets, maybe a little more fire than usual.
Not that he'd ever admit it.