I can confirm that Fake Bo Pelini, who keeps anonymity to minimize distractions, appears to have an age between 10 and 100. He claims to have a job. We did meet in a Starbucks, which is perhaps unfair to him as it narrows it down. The Starbucks is somewhere between Newfoundland and Guam. He started his parody account on Nebraska football and other topics in late 2010, figuring it would last a week and a half, and now its wit and caricatured outrage has carried it into Twitter longevity.
Even the Real Bo Pelini played along.
Fake Bo Pelini’s account has thrived on even though since December 2014, the term “Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini” took on “former” as a modifier. Get F.B.P. — as I’ll refer to the man behind the account — talking, a development highly recommended, and soon he’ll go on about strata and rock and blips and shards. “It’s almost like strata and rock formations,” he said of Nebraska fandom. “It depends on the year you were born.”
While that may be true of other fan bases, at Nebraska it’s particularly glaring, and it’s a momentous week. Nebraska stands at a fresh 7-0, with a No. 7 ranking. It is about to play roughhouse road games at Wisconsin and Ohio State. It will do so while studied by a fan base that tends to know some facts.
In the 29 seasons between 1969 and 1997, Nebraska never lost more than three times, and it lost three times on only eight occasions. There were five national championships, even if one (1997) was a little cheesy as deity-coach Tom Osborne retired and saw his life plummet all the way to the feral dungeons of Congress. Not only that, but a team that did not win the national championship, that of 1983-84, probably was the second-best team of all of them, behind the frightening and extraordinary bunch of 1995-96, which took an excellent Florida opponent and treated it like a retriever treats a bowl of food, in a Fiesta Bowl not as close as the 62-24 score might indicate.
We all came to know Nebraska as dynastic.
In the 18 seasons following 1997, Nebraska has lost four or more times in 14 seasons, exactly four times each every season from 2008 to ’14, an arithmetical achievement.
In four of the 18 seasons, the losses either matched or outnumbered the wins, and while most fan bases might see 14 out of 18 as strong, this one sees 14 out of 18 not as outrage — it doesn’t really do outrage — but as something in the vicinity of blah.
This has set up a compelling case of rock and strata.
If you were born in the 1940s or 1950s, F.B.P. points out, you were a conscious adult, or close to it, once glory began. “This thing that grew over your lifetime,” he says. “Maybe it’s sort of grown and now it’s receding, like a natural life cycle.”
If you were born in the 1960s or 1970s or even early 1980s, “there was a time when this felt permanent,” F.B.P. says, referring to “the rightful permanent place of Nebraska being a national title contender.” He concludes: “Because you’re born into them being great, you just think that’s what the world is like.”
If you were born from the mid-1990s on, though, it’s something unforeseen. “Everybody in high school and college, pretty much, hasn’t experienced any kind of real Nebraska dominance,” F.B.P. said, so: “It’s really two fan bases now: the people who have experienced the ’80s and ’90s and the people that just hear about it, hear the boring stories about it, you know?”
That second group seems most poignant, even to the point of an F.B.P. term: “Mid-90s Nebraska Fan.” Mid-90s Nebraska Fan yearns for the mid-90s, and as Boyz II Men might say, it’s hard to say goodbye to the mid-90s. Like so many of us, Mid-90s Fan overlooks that from the seasons of 1987 to ’93, Nebraska lost seven straight bowl games and got widely accused of unforgivable slowness, before a four-season period of 49-2.
Even though a lot of Nebraska’s old advantages became everybody’s — recruiting, strength conditioning, televised games — Mid-90s Nebraska Fan looks at Alabama and thinks the right coach can solve all, F.B.P. said.
F.B.P. is not Mid-90s Fan.
“You kind of have to now decide and define what being a Nebraska fan means,” he said. “Because in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, it meant everything was focused on winning national championships. Like, ‘When is our next cycle going to be,’ when we could have a run to win the national championship. And you know, you can still have that as a goal, I guess. Every team can, you know, in 2016. But in terms of mental health as a fan, I’m not sure that’s sort of the best prescription any more for Husker fans.”
Realistic 2016 Fan thinks Nebraska could be like, say, Wisconsin: contend for the Big Ten, challenge for the College Football Playoff now and then.
Observant Nebraska fans — i.e. most of them — deduced that while the team went 6-7 last season, it lost winnable games such as on Brigham Young’s season-opening Hail Mary, enduring what F.B.P. enviably coins as “the blips and shards of randomness” of college football. A controversial win over Michigan State did matter.
Then came this season, which “shows that Riley can do the job” and “settles the program down a little bit,” F.B.P. says. Nebraska has beaten Fresno State, Wyoming, Oregon, Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. The win over Oregon looked rich until Oregon cratered, but Nebraska fans have had a peculiar experience. They’re 7-0, but they aren’t fools. They aren’t afraid to use the term “overrated” in their own fold, but lately, F.B.P. does spot “a little bit of buy-in.”
And: “I’m telling you, if Nebraska beats Wisconsin this weekend, people will need to get ready for full-blown Nebraska hype again. . . . I think that’s always there, waiting to be activated. It’s dormant, but it’s ready to go.”
That, in turn, will unearth another curiosity. Nebraska fans will speak of winning at Ohio State, but in a language foreign to Mid-90s Nebraska Fan.
“People would have said in the old days, ‘If we go into Ohio State, and play like we can play, execute, we’re gonna beat them,’” F.B.P. says. “Now it’s, like a torrential downpour and we play our best game possible and Ohio State has four fumbles.’ ” This, because: “Right now Ohio State’s better than Nebraska. That’s just the way it is. Yeah, that’s an adjustment. That’s different, put it that way.”
Soon after that, F.B.P. had to go back to work. He does seem to have a car, and the car does seem to have a color.