Hey, #Belding, go shoot your hopes and dreams . . .

You’ll have to excuse Nebraskans for terrible bracket performances this year.

See, we’ve been through the lifetime of a first-time driver since the last time Nebraska’s basketball team reached the NCAA tournament. That’s 16 years.

The last time the Huskers played in the tournament, diapers were made of cloth and the only way to get a close shave was to go to the barber.

OK, it hasn’t been that long. But cellular telephones were a luxury that only the likes of Zack Morris could afford. That blond Tom Cruise.

So pardon Nebraskans for pinning their hopes and dreams on the reconciliation of 16-consecutive hopeless springs. It’s not our fault that we didn’t understand Mr. Belding’s call for us to shoot our hopes and dreams had nothing to do with making our picks.

Or anything in the real world, for that matter.

But not only were the Cubs fans of NCAA basketball given a reason to come out of our basements for the first time since Y2K scared us downstairs, we were lured in even further by the Creighton trap.

Yep, our little brother — the one with the good job, the pretty girl, the sweet cars, the cool neck tattoo and the vacation home in the Ozarks (because, you know, the Ozarks are the coolest place in the world to Nebraskans) — was going to be waiting for us in round two (Oops, it’s the third round now). And, if we played our cards (or basketball) right, we’d be able to steal his cars, sweep his pretty girl off her feet and laugh at his stupid neck tattoo.

We never thought they were cool to begin with.

Of course we were going to pick Nebraska to beat Baylor. Asking us not to would’ve been like asking Jem not to be truly outrageous.

Nobody would dare do that.

So we all picked the Huskers, thinking that — despite the ghosts of tournaments past that fueled losses to Pennsylvania and Xavier and one of those stupid New Mexico teams — the idea of a Nebraska-Creighton matchup in the NCAA tournament was not truly outrageous.

Going a step further, even if our brains told us otherwise, how could we pick Nebraska to lose to Creighton? Even if they did meet, and Doug McDermott scored 137 points to lead Creighton to a win, the mirror would have served as a haunting reminder of that our image bears more of a resemblance to Benedict Arnold than Jason Priestley.

Oh, right, it’s not the ’90s anymore. Priestley isn’t America’s heartthrob.

Sixteen years, man, give me a break. I don’t even know what a Justin Bieber is or if I really need Miley Cyrus detection for my computer. I am — we are — stuck.

But after Nebraska beat Creighton and then topped the same Wisconsin team it got past in the season finale to secure a tournament berth, we’d no longer be stuck. We’d be in the Elite Eight — where anything is possible.

But, as Nebraska coach Tim Miles slowly exited the arena following the oddest ejection in the history of Nebraska basketball, we realized our bar was too high. We had forgotten that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Yep, we got ahead of ourselves. We put Facebook before MySpace. MySpace before Hotmail.

We jumped on Twitter, told the world of our greatness and forgot to use a hashtag. Didn’t even know what hashtags were, most of us thinking they were the cards used  by customers at herbal medical outlets in neighboring Colorado.

And here we are now, staring at a bracket was shattered when Nebraska was penciled into the Elite Eight but could still be saved by the fact that Mercer is written into the Sweet 16.

It’s kind of like that new Alanis Morrisette song. What’s that called?

Oh yeah, Ironic. That one.

Yep, kind of like that.

Not really, but kind of.


Croutons, lard and rotary phones (Madness)


I’m going to step back here — get a little less serious.

Frankly, I’m not a serious guy. I’m so not serious that I find it difficult to believe any parents would name their son Frank Lee.

I also don’t understand a salad without croutons. Lettuce is OK, but the crunch factor provided by croutons is a must.

No croutons in your pantry?

I might let you slide with some crumbled crackers or Doritos. But not both.

And do people even have pantries anymore? Are they like rotary phones?

You know, grandma displayed them both with pride — her polished phone and her spotless pantry.

“Need to make a call?” she’d ask. “Come watch me methodically turn the slotted wheel on my phone.  Need a snack? I might have some Werther’s Originals in the pantry. Follow me while I grab them and point out all the other healthy options available to you. Just be careful not to knock over one of the 10 buckets of lard on the floor. I need that stuff.”

Pantries, rotary phones and lard. How I miss you.

When the three of you were a part of my life, everything was so simple. And croutons were always around.

That’s not the case anymore. Somewhere between He-Man’s final battle with Skeletor and Ruby’s last straw being pulled when Max left his right slipper in the kitchen, the world turned its back on croutons.

No, I’ll never get over it. But I will try and move on.

I’ve been trying.

But when something doesn’t go my way, my blame finger (left pinky) always points at how the world discarded croutons without regard. The world — and its lack of respect for a crunchy salad — is always at fault.DSC_0386

So, world, when I look at my NCAA tournament bracket, I blame you.

You’re the reason I didn’t go with my gut when I saw North Dakota State’s insanely high field-goal percentage matched up against an Oklahoma team that tends to rely on the 3-pointer too much. You’re the reason I let the Sooners slip through, thought they had favorable matchups through the rest of their region and would sneak into the Final Four. You’re the reason my bracket is busted.

Yep, Day 1 of the tournament, and I’m done. I’m like a crouton in a low-carb salad.

And that makes me sad.

The rest of my bracket is kind of nice to look at. My highlighter has touched the paper many more times than my Sharpie, meaning I’ve picked more games correctly than incorrectly.

I’ve nailed a couple upsets — both of which were the product of hours of studying, number-crunching and team-by-team comparisons. Ain’t no luck in my bracket, Andrew.

Name’s not Andrew? Then go watch the Indianapolis Colts. That’s right, my sentences all make sense.

They haven’t been croutoned, rotary-phoned or larded. Also haven’t been edited — like my tournament picks.

Wow, full-circle. That’s how I just brought it — like a cheerleader dominating the regional championships.

Too bad my regional championships will include, at most, seven teams and a thick blue line from the tip of my Sharpie. And we all know thick blue lines aren’t very good on the offensive glass, which is one of the keys to winning basketball games in March.

It’s also a key to winning games in November. Other months, too.

Like October or July or April or any month a basketball court is filled with players who are wearing shoes and dribbling balls — a condition that might require medical attention.

I’ve heard it’s caused by an abundance or lard, overused dialing fingers and crunch-less salad. Furthermore, there are no known cures.

And the best way to control it is to let the past go, forgive the world for its dismissal of your favorite salad topper and slide into a basketball-induced March coma.

When you wake up in April, the dribbling will still be there. But the madness that comes with it will nearly be gone.

Because, as sure as lard and rotary phones — and recognized through the lyrics of a band named after a state divided between three teams — dust is less common in today’s wind than yesterday’s crouton.

Or something like that.

Jason Collins shouldn’t have been the first (reprise)

When Jason Collins publicly announced that he was gay, I posted my feelings on my company’s website. Those feelings — since removed from the site — haven’t changed today, a day after Collins officially became the first openly gay athlete to compete in any of the four major professional sports.
When the post was first questioned and then pulled, I was hurt. But I think, selfishly, that hurt was based on my pride rather than in the knowledge that words supporting a group of people fighting for equal rights were ignored; silenced.
Nearly a year later, I realize that my company had the right to remove the post. That’s part of the freedom of speech we all cherish — the part that allows us to disagree with the beliefs of others.
But I’ve agonized over the post’s removal — knowing that my words might have helped a struggling young man or woman coming to terms with a sexuality that may not be accepted by family and friends. Living in one of the most conservative states in the country, I think that’s especially true. Saying homosexuality is frowned upon here is a mild understatement. I couldn’t imagine agonizing over whether to be true to myself or do what it takes to gain acceptance by my peers, my family and my community.
I’ve never had to hide my eye color or my height or my shoe size. Never had to lie about my hair color or any other part of my genetic being, let alone my sexuality.
Yet, instead of standing for what I believed, I sat quietly and gave more power to those opposing voices. Those oppressing voices.
I did nothing to advance civil rights. And by civil rights, I’m not just referring to the rights of people who are attracted to the same gender, I’m referring to the rights of all Americans.
Because unless every one of us has access to those inalienable rights we’re promised, none of us do.
I know this is long overdue, but given Collins’ return to the court for the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday following Michael Sam’s recent announcement — and the subsequent story of Eric Lueshen and his Nebraska football teammates — the timing couldn’t be more right.
So here’s what I had to say on April 30, 2013. Like I stated before, my feelings haven’t changed.
Let me preface this with an acknowledgment – an acknowledgment that my walk through life has been full of hiccups, falls, mistakes, poor decisions and epic failures.
But they’ve all made me stronger, and they’ve helped forge my relationship with God – a relationship that continues to evolve every second of every day.
And it’s because of that relationship that I’m completely dumbfounded by the contempt toward homosexuality.  Contempt is too mild a word.
It’s the hatred that dumbfounds me. The anger projected toward people whose day-to-day decisions have no bearing on the lives of those holding the projectors.
I stand behind Jason Collins’ decision to come out as the first openly gay athlete on the active roster of a major professional sports team. That’s who he is. There should be no reason to hide that.
And I, personally, see nothing wrong with a man (or woman) living in a committed, homosexual relationship.
Someone who is gay is no less gay than I am tall. It’s genetics, not a sin.
But that’s my faith. My faith.
By that, I simply mean that each of us owns our own faith. Our relationships with God, with Jesus, aren’t defined by the doctrine of a particular denomination or the beliefs of other men. They shouldn’t be.
And, just like anything else that is unique to a single person, we’re all going to disagree about interpretations, which is exactly what we’re reading in the modern Bible — interpretations of text written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
I’m not versed in any of those languages, and I figure the same can be said for most of us. We’ve relied on others to translate, interpret and modernize.
And we’ve concluded, right or wrong.
I believe the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was meant not to condemn homosexuality but to illustrate the perils of arrogance, lack of empathy, greed, apathy to the poor, etc.
Besides, casting judgment upon others for what I perceive to be a sinful lifestyle will do me no good as those who I’m judging won’t have to look too far to find my missteps.
But, seeing as how I’m not looking to start any sort of Biblical argument, I digress.
Sports, whether we like it or not, has always built bridges.
From Jackie Robinson to the post-911 New York Yankees, the simple act of swinging a baseball bat has gone a long way toward opening doors or healing scars.
Does that mean sports is always right?
Of course not.
But it has its moments.
And I believe that Collins’ decision is one of them.
But in a nation whose roots are as deep in escape from religious persecution as they are in the creation of fair taxation and equal opportunity, it’s sad that it has to be such a big deal.
And it should have happened long ago.
The United States – a melting pot – promises to be a beacon of light for people throughout the world who are looking to better their lives. Yet, within the confines of this nation, so many are unable to truly live their lives because of an attitude established in the mid-1800s that’s gained momentum ever since.
And that’s where the biggest problem is.
Civil rights should not be political. They should be accessible.
I should have no right beyond the right of another citizen, and that citizen should carry no more rights than I. It seems so simple.
So why isn’t it?
Ignorance? Fear?
Perhaps, but I truly don’t know. In the grand scheme, I know nothing.
But my presumption is that God, as our maker, has more of an understanding of human nature than any psychologist has had or will ever have. And my limited scope of psychological expertise tells me that nobody likes to have the beliefs of others thrown at them.
Nobody likes to be told what to do. The fact that we don’t have to is the basic beauty of our nation.
Aside from the obvious — you know, like murder — we are supposed to be free to do as we please. We are supposed to be free to love who we want to love or to work how we want to work.
To practice the faith we choose to practice.
And that’s not just our right as American citizens, it’s our God-given right as human beings.
And I believe our God-given duty as human beings isn’t to berate others’ behavior from the falsely claimed thrones we sit upon as Christians. Instead, I believe our God-given duty is to use the opportunities that present themselves to introduce others to a compassionate Christ.
To a man who taught his disciples to love their neighbors. A man who taught us that our actions toward the least of His brothers were actions aimed at Him.
I believe that history will remember Jason Collins as an integral part of the latest phase of the civil-rights movement. He’ll be remembered along with the likes of Jackie Robinson.
And sports will again have helped lay the foundation for an overdue societal change.