This column originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of Hail Varsity, the final issue after 11 years covering Nebraska athletics in print.
Bob Devaney coached Nebraska for 11 seasons. Our magazine covered the Huskers for 11 seasons.
I’ll leave it to you to decide who had the more successful stint. Sure, Devaney had the national titles and set Nebraska football on a 40-year path of nearly unparalleled excellence, but if you remove those factors, it’s pretty much a coin flip in my mind.
Hail Varsity’s 11 seasons didn’t overlap with Devaney’s, though we imagined what that would’ve looked like for a popular “What If?” feature one year. Visuals aside, 1962 would’ve been a great time to launch a magazine devoted to covering the Huskers. Nebraska was about to go from a historically strong football program to a championship program. Devaney would win 83.7% of his games, the 10th-best 11-year stretch in Husker history.
Oh, and total U.S. newspaper circulation when Devaney arrived in 1962—which I’ll use as a stand-in here as old magazine numbers are hard to find—was nearly 60 million. That’s a lot of people reading something they had to pay for.
When Hail Varsity launched in 2012, total newspaper circulation was down to 44 million and in 2022 it was closer to 20 million. On the football field, Nebraska would go 66-68 from 2012 to 2022 (.493), the 18th-worst 11-year winning percentage in program history. Last year was the first time that rolling average dropped below .500 since 1963, Devaney’s second season.
I don’t mention that to imply that if Nebraska football had been better maybe we could’ve sold more copies, and this wouldn’t be our final issue. Not at all. If you stop to marvel at anything here, it should be that a mere two games below .500 is one of the 20 worst 11-season runs the Huskers have had. Plenty of programs would take that as a low, and it was a privilege for us to cover all of it.
While we all understand the importance of football to the state of Nebraska, Hail Varsity was never a football-only enterprise. As one Nebraska staffer put it to a member of our team once, “We all know football drives the bus, but we appreciate that you got off every once and a while.”
That’s a loose paraphrase, but it meant a lot at the time and means even more here at the end of our print run. During our 11 years, we covered all 19 men’s and women’s varsity sports at Nebraska in a way that went beyond just reporting the results. Daily results aren’t of much use when you publish monthly.
We even hit a few club teams, like ice hockey, and had an exciting feature in the works on rodeo that, sadly, won’t be published in these pages. I hope it finds a home elsewhere. Really. This kind of coverage is expensive to produce, which is why it’s becoming harder and harder to find in a constantly shifting media ecosystem.
But we did it because we believed it was how it should be done. We got one Devaney, which is what I will now call any 11-year period, with that approach. That’s pretty good.
To be completely honest, I chose football as the lead-in here for a second reason. I really do think Nebraska football will have a good Devaney ahead. We haven’t seen this year’s Huskers play a game yet, but Matt Rhule and staff appear to have the detail-focused approach consistent success requires.
Anything can be a craft if you take it seriously enough, but only true craftspeople know that the entire process matters, from idea to execution to outcome.
I think Nebraska football has those people in place, the kind of people of who know doing things well is its own reward, even if you can never totally control the outcome.
That’s good. I’ll be watching. I need people like that in my life as I’m losing my direct connection to a handful of them after this issue.
They were my co-workers for one Devaney.