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December 4, 2012

The day it all changed

December 12, 1997 is an important day in Nebraska sports history.

The diehards will tell you that is the day Tom Osborne announced his retirement from coaching. But for me and many of the Bluejay fans old enough to remember, it's the day basketball supremacy in the state turned the color blue.

I was the Sports Director at KPTM Fox 42 at the time, which meant that during the week I was pretty much a one person operation. There were so many storylines with the Osborne announcement the entire state was buzzing. Osborne out, Solich in and and where in the hell was Bill Byrne during all this? The former Nebraska A.D. was on the phone in Chicago. The last thing anybody from Omaha to Chadron was thinking about on 12-12-97 was the Creighton vs. Nebraska basketball game.

Why would you?

The Huskers had talent; Venson Hamilton, Tyronn Lue, Cookie Belcher. No reason to the think Danny Nee and the Huskers wouldn't stroll into Omaha and get their 8th straight win over the Jays.

12-12-97 was different.

Rodney Buford was a junior coming into his own and Dana Altman found the duo of Ryan Sears and Ben Walker to compliment Buford and built not just a team, but a dynasty that continues today.

Behind 29 points from Buford, 15 from Doug Swenson and 12 from Walker, the Jays out-shot, out-rebounded and out-hustled the Huskers for 84-73 win in front of over 8,000 fans at the Civic Auditorium.

12-12-97 is really the day it all changed. The Jays are 11-5 against the Huskers since that game and have won 10 of the last 13 matchups with their instate rival.

That season started a run of 15 straight postseason appearances for the Jays.

Creighton's attendance has skyrocketed to the 6th best in the nation while the Huskers could give away tickets and still not have the Devaney Center at half or three quarters full.

The Jays have had stability with coaches Dana Altman and Greg McDermott.

The Huskers have been searching for a needle in a haystack with Nee, Collier, Sadler and now their hopes fall on Tim Miles.

The Bluejays have had players like Kyle Korver, Nate Funk, Anthony Tolliver and now Doug McDermott.

Mikki Moore and Lue are as good as it gets for the Huskers since '97, and those guys are a generation ago.

Since 1997, Creighton has finished no lower than 4th in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Huskers on the other hand, consistently finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 and now the Big 10.

Listen, I'm not saying Nebraska can't win on Thursday, in fact the Jays haven't won in Lincoln since 2004. What I am saying is that win or lose, Nebraska is a Bluejay state when it comes to basketball and has been for a while.

And when your Husker friends ask you how and when it happened....just say 12-12-97.


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