LINCOLN, Neb. — It’s an odd feeling to watch someone melt in front of the world, as Bo Pelini did in the shadow of Nebraska’s first football loss to Iowa at Memorial Stadium since 1943.
It’s a little surreal to see a person come unglued in hat-swinging, word-slinging ways alike.
The No. 1 topic among ’Huskers coming into Iowa’s dominating 38-17 win Friday was the job status of Pelini — and there was no close No. 2.
In Iowa City, the eighth win of the season felt like a moment to cue the Hallelujah choir. In Lincoln, eight wins feel like the Titanic crashing headlong into the Hindenburg in the middle of the Three Mile Island parking lot.
When asked about his future with the Big Red, Pelini bristled as he sprinted toward his own shade of red: “If they want to fire me, go ahead.”
What’s that phrase again? Oh yeah … be careful what you ask for.
Iowa City sits 300 miles away from Lincoln, but it might as well feel like 3,000 miles in terms of the disparity in expectations.
If Nebraska wins its bowl game, it will be the sixth consecutive season under Pelini with at least nine victories. Remember, though, that this is the program that unceremoniously escorted Frank Solich to the U-Haul after winning nine times.
The loss itself was one thing, but the screaming, baseball cap-abusing manner it unfolded on national television held all the subtlety of hurling a sledgehammer in a library on a quiet, winter afternoon.
When ABC’s sideline reporter asked Pelini at halftime about a pair of Iowa interceptions, he barked: “What kind of question is that?” without breaking stride.
In the time it took for USATODAY.com to label it “the grouchiest halftime interview ever,” Pelini already was orchestrating a press conference highlight (Nebraska fans, substitute word: lowlight) to trump it.
Pelini was flagged for a third-quarter, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he whipped his hat in the face of an official. The blur that buzzed by the official’s face, seemingly as close as a straight-razor shave, helped Iowa convert a field goal and build a 17-10 lead.
A tantrum that would make a preschooler blush only was matched by Pelini’s response when asked about it afterward.
“(The ref) said I got too close to him,” Pelini said. “I thought that was a chicken *&%# call. Excuse my language on that, but I had never seen anything like that before. I’ve done a lot worse than that.
“I saw (Iowa coach) Kirk Ferentz on the other side acting a lot worse than I act. I didn’t see a flag come out on him.”
Pelini, fuming at the time about a pass interference call on the ’Huskers, was far from done.
“The bottom line is they knew they blew the call. They blew it,” he said. “They blew that call over there on third down. Everybody in the stadium knew it. They just didn’t man up enough to pick that flag up.”
A few minutes later, Pelini blamed media speculation about his future as a distraction that “hurt our football team. Let’s call a spade a spade.”
In a matter of minutes, he jabbed at Ferentz, officials and the media — a trifecta as impressive for its efficiency as its comprehensiveness.
It was a fitting curtain call — and let’s be honest, it will be the upset of the college football season if it isn’t — for a coach who once f-bombed his own fans in an audio recording unearthed earlier this season.
This isn’t a patient place, Lincoln.
Solich was fired a day after the regular-season ended. Ditto that for Bill Callahan, whose ouster in 2007 came a day after the season’s dust had settled.
Meanwhile, Ferentz calmly continued his best impersonation of the tortoise overtaking the hare. Back-to-back wins against Michigan and Nebraska — blue bloods, no matter the fortunes of any given season — have positioned Iowa for something sunnier than almost all imagined.
Instead of Texas, Iowa now has Florida on its radar. Tampa, here they come?
Possibilities abound. And why not? Iowa stopped a fake kick for the first time in, what, the last six tries?
Eight wins in one locker room, however, created equal doses of angst and anger. Even as wide receiver Kenny Bell pledged to play for Pelini “against Satan himself,” it felt less likely that matchup or any other would materialize for his coach — at least in a Nebraska hoodie.
Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles summed it up best.
“That’s the nature of the beast here,” he said.
The fire-breather, too often and too publicly for Big Red’s liking, has been its own coach.
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller