LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Longtime Nebraska football fans Karen Shelton and Sue Schrader arrived at Memorial Stadium eager to show their support Saturday for embattled coach Bo Pelini.
The sisters wore matching T-shirts proclaiming “I’m a BOliever.” A couple of hours later they walked into a stadium where there have been 329 consecutive sellouts since 1962. The words “Through These Gates Pass the Greatest Fans in College Football” are etched above each entrance.
The loyalty of Cornhuskers fans was tested after 2-year-old audio of Pelini’s expletive-filled rant against fans was leaked to the Deadspin.com sports website on Monday.
In interviews with fans before the game against South Dakota State, some were offended and said the tirade was a continuation of a pattern of bad behavior by Pelini. Some took the forgive-but-won’t-forget stance. Others said they weren’t insulted and pointed out Pelini’s words were spoken at an emotional time and during what he thought was a private conversation.
All 10 fans said the person who leaked the audio showed bad form.
Pelini apologized in a statement Monday, again during the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference on Tuesday and in a letter to fans that was posted on the athletic department’s website Friday. University administrators said Wednesday they were putting the matter to rest.
Shelton, who has been attending games since the 1960s, said she didn’t flinch after listening to the audio.
“Gosh, we all make mistakes,” Shelton said. “My biggest thing has been, if people could read our minds, a lot of us would be in trouble.”
Fans stood, clapped and cheered — as usual — during the team’s traditional entrance and pregame tunnel walk.
The Deadspin audio caught Pelini, minutes after a 34-27 come-from-behind win over Ohio State in 2011, speaking off air with Husker Sports Network play-by-play man Greg Sharpe and an athletic department staff member.
Pelini criticized people who left the stadium in the third quarter, when the Huskers trailed by 21 points. Pelini repeatedly used expletives while talking about “fair-weather” fans and how the day was coming that he would be gone and he wondered how the team will fare without him. He also used profanity while criticizing two Omaha World-Herald sports writers.
“I still think he’s a good coach,” Schrader said. “It’s too bad that it came out, but in my estimation, it was somebody who wanted to ruin him and I think it was to ruin his career. They’re too cowardly to come forward, which is pathetic.”
Tim Lippincott of Papillion, who has had season tickets for five years, said Pelini’s rant caught his attention but he wasn’t insulted. He said he was surprised Pelini had such a negative attitude after his team made the biggest comeback in program history to beat the Buckeyes.
“I would think he would be so darn high about, ‘My, gosh, look what our guys did,’” Lippincott said.
Whether the rant stays in fans’ memories depends mostly on how Pelini’s team fares this season.
“If we win around here, you can about do anything,” Lippincott said. “I hate to say that, but as long as you’re not doing anything illegal, if you win, you can forgive a lot of things.”
Pelini’s temper has been a topic of conversation in these parts since 2003, when he was Nebraska’s defensive coordinator and tried to confront Kansas State coach Bill Snyder for running up the score after a 38-9 loss. Since he returned to Nebraska as head coach in 2008, he’s had a number of memorable sideline blowups caught by TV cameras.
Brian Rank of Omaha said he has no problem with Pelini’s job performance but was offended by the audio.
“I’m a firm believer in the fact everyone can make a mistake and should be forgiven,” Rank said. “My concern is there is a pattern. The guy is a hot head. We all knew that. We thought we kind of liked that. Now it seems we’re realizing that hot-headedness doesn’t match with Nebraska values.”
J.R. Durbin of Louisville said he’s sure many passionate fans have used the same language as Pelini when expressing displeasure with the coach, his assistants and players.
Durbin’s wife, Linda, said “it’s the kids we support” and she and her husband will always be Husker fans.
“He’s a great man. He’s a good coach,” Linda Durbin said of Pelini. “Everybody has things they regret. Done deal. Over and done with.”