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Peterson: Like Nebraska? Even an Iowan can come around

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

OK, so I’m impressionable.

All it took was a coffee mug to reverse my longstanding loathing of the Nebraska Cornhuskers into a Facebook “like,” which is far removed from love, but Facebook put some oomph into an otherwise noncommittal word.

Even though I have lived in Illinois for more than 30 years, I still consider myself to be an Iowan, who happened to be born in Minnesota. I graduated from Central Lee High School in Donnellson, Iowa, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I became strong in Iowa, throwing around bales of hay. I got my start in the newspaper business in Iowa.

I’m a Hawkeye.

And Hawkeyes don’t like Cornhuskers. And Iowans don’t like Nebraskans, in a moderate Midwest sort of way. It’s not like we would attack Cornhuskers, but we might be prompted to say, “Hawkeyes rule, Cornhuskers drool!” in a confrontation outside the football stadium.

I was fine with my dislike of Nebraska, until my growing-older son announced he was going to attend the University of Nebraska to study political science as a doctoral student. It has something to do with the style of political science that is taught there.

And once I got up off the floor after falling out of my chair, I tried to be supportive. But I was told by my growing-older son that he would root for Nebraska when the Cornhuskers played the Hawkeyes. And that stung. That’s serious.

I mean, what’s a Cornhusker? My closest frame of reference was the Cornjerker, as in the Hoopeston-East Lynn High School Cornjerkers. And I had no idea what a Cornjerker was when the Harvard Hornets played the Cornjerkers in 1985 for third place in the boys basketball state tournament. The Cornjerkers beat the Hornets to win the consolation title.

I covered that game for the Harvard Herald, and it wasn’t until this week that I found out – for the record – what a Cornjerker was. That definition is courtesy of Thad Matta, men’s basketball coach at Ohio State University, which played Arizona last night, trying to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA basketball tournament. He’s come a long way since 1985.

“A Cornjerker is a very powerful warrior-type person who back in the days before they had combines and things, kids would walk the fields and jerk the corn off stalks and throw it into a trailer, so therefore it came to be the Cornjerkers,” Matta told WBNS-TV in an interview two years ago. And I’ve come to find out that Matta was born in Hoopeston, and he was a senior on the Cornjerker team that beat Harvard. In fact, he was one of the top three players in the state that season.

I’m not sure how he gets warrior from yanking corncobs off stalks, but that’s for the farm report. At the very least, it cannot be easy work.

A Cornhusker is a step down the production line in the corn harvest from days gone by. The cornjerkers may have pulled the cob from the stalk and tossed it in the wagon, but it was the cornhusker who got the cob ready for market by pulling the leaves off the cob to expose the field corn, which was thrown into another trailer to be taken to market.

If you have husked sweet corn for dinner, you can consider yourself a cornhusker.

But my growing-older son is a capital “C” Cornhusker, attending school in Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska? Really? The only worse school would have been Iowa State University in Ames. He has grandparents, and aunts and uncles and cousins in Iowa. He went to high school in Iowa his freshman year. Nebraska?

But before the school year began, he brought me a coffee mug. A heavy, slightly oversized, black ceramic mug, with the University of Nebraska emblazoned in crimson over the raised emblem “Dad.” Gee, thanks. I’ll choke my coffee down.

But over the past seven or eight months, I have used the mug nearly every day. Talk about brainwashing, or behavior modification, or the sneaky type of political science my son is learning.

I like the color, I like the weight, I like the feel. And, hush my Hawkeye mouth, but I like the University of Nebraska. Not when the Cornhuskers are playing Iowa, but I was pulling for them in the Capital One Bowl against Georgia. And I’m pulling for the Cornhusker women’s basketball team to beat Duke on Sunday in the NCAA Sweet 16 game.

I’m impressionable. All it took was a mug that I used every day since last summer to give me a jolt in the morning. I’m a changed man. And I am a Cornhusker fan, except when the Hawkeyes are in contention. Egad. What has become of me?

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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