Senior Captain Taylor Martinez no leader

If Nebraska coaches or players have a question or need advice on what they need to do in order to win each and every football game they ever play, there are thousands upon thousands of unpaid advisers more than willing to provide their tutoring services. They never ask, so you have to assume the unsolicited advice is neither wanted nor heeded. Why? Well, because they wisely consider the sources. And that’s a piece of advice everyone would be wise to note. Always consider the source because messenger makes the message – NOT the other way around.

For instance, if the guy at the end of the bar advises you to, say, wager every penny of your latest hard-earned paycheck on the outcome of Sunday’s Oakland Raiders game, don’t make the phone call before you check the source. What information led your potential new found wealth consultant to provide such a tip and where did he acquire his or her knowledge? Is he or she – let’s stick with “he” – a current or former NFL coach or player? Or was he just a pretty decent player for the JV back in the day?  Does his research extend into the Oakland locker room or front office? Or is that end of the bar just close enough to the TV that he can hear the announcers? Or does he like the Raiders because silver is his favorite color? One should find answers to these and many, many other questions prior to phoning a friend and following your bar bud along – down? – his path to economic prosperity.

Bo Pelini is highly unlikely to take the advice from Husker fans who are experts at being Husker fans. Like you, I am an expert at being a Husker fan. Hence, I tend also to reside in the past because the other neighborhood isn’t well-kept. I can make that observation after watching a team give up 38 unanswered points in a 20-point loss to a decent but hardly great UCLA team in front of the biggest crowd in school history. I’m not qualified to advise Bo Pelini on what he should’ve done differently to avoid that collapse. Or the similar one last year in LA. Or the one at Ohio State. Or the one in Indianapolis. I’m just a Husker fan, so I care too deeply and follow it too closely. And I remember what I see.

I’ve paid close attention since the dawn of the 1980s and remember the legends – Gill, Frazier, Crouch, of course, to name just a very few – were legends not only because they were fast or could throw, but because they led. You didn’t have to be in the huddle to know they were great leaders – it was visible to the naked, untrained eye when they played and also when they spoke. And it wasn’t following their many triumphs when the leadership was most evident. It was when they lost. Leaders hurt when they fail. You can see it on their face.

I think of 1986 and all of Nebraska had is collective heart pulled from its chest yet again by Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners. You know the record – if not, look it up.

Anyway, I vividly remember seeing linebacker Marc Munford on TV for the post-game interview. Couldn’t tell you what was said, but the tears in his eyes told the story. He had 16 tackles in a performance forever regarded as one of the greatest ever by a Nebraska player. It was the pain he obviously felt, though, that stuck with me way back then. I shared it, too.

Fast-forward 27 years. If Saturday’s loss caused the same pain to the captain of the 2013 Nebraska team, it was hardly evident. Taylor Martinez has been criticized for everything from his throwing motion, to his footwork, to his fumbles and untimely interceptions. Unfairly criticized, because when you check the sources, you find they don’t know a single thing about playing quarterback at Nebraska. He’s worked his butt off to improve footwork, release and all mechanical elements of his position. And he should be commended.

I’m critical of Taylor Martinez – and his coach for putting him in charge – because either he doesn’t hate to lose or he’s incredibly adept at hiding his pain. In either case, a team’s fight can only reflect the perceived fight in the heart of its captain. After the UCLA debacle, Martinez casually told reporters he didn’t know what happened and slipped out of the room and took in the Husker volleyball game.

Only a shockingly inept leader engineers an 18-point lead, allows it to turn into a 20-point loss and does so completely devoid of emotion. Martinez has flashed anger before, but only in the interview room, in defense of his personal play. And that’s bound to happen again now. The Pelini and Martinez “us against the world” routine is coming to a TV near you. And suddenly, it’s the reporters and their stupid questions and Nebraska fans and their ridiculously high expectations that are the enemy. That’s a disingenuous deflection of Pelini’s own culpability in the four-year flop that is the Taylor Martinez era at Nebraska.

Nebraska fans have been guilty in the past of being overbearing – it was shameful what Scott Frost and Jamal Lord went through – but they rightfully expect better than this. Expecting your senior quarterback to sustain an 18-point lead and show just a hint of killer instinct isn’t an unfair expectation. Neither is expecting him to hate losing.

For Pelini – nobody questions his passion – but he needs to be held accountable for stitching a “C” on Martinez’ chest and selling him as a leader.

Sure, Husker fans are hardly qualified to give football advice. But we know it hurts to lose, or at least it should.

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