- Forever Red: More Confessions of a Cornhusker Fan by Steve Smith
There is no place like Nebraska. Or so goes the official fight song of the University of Nebraska. And so opine the 85,000 fans—more people than live in the state’s third largest city—that pack Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium every Saturday in autumn and the hundreds of thousands of additional faithful across the state and elsewhere rooting on the Cornhuskers (American) football team. Steve Smith is one of these red-clad devotees, since his very first experience watching the Huskers square off against the University of Iowa in the fall of 1980. Forever Red is Smith’s attempt to explain just what the football team representing Nebraska’s oldest and largest university—and the only one that fields a top-tier football team—has meant to him and to the entire state.
Updated from an earlier version of the book published in 2005, Forever Red is the latest entry in the genre of the sports fan memoir, a literary subcategory popularized by British author Nick Hornby with his book about his devotion to London’s Arsenal (European) Football Club, Fever Pitch (1992). Smith’s tome continues in that tradition, devoting each chapter, like Hornby, to the recounting of his memories of a single game and the role it played in his life in that moment. Collectively, these reminiscences tell the story of the author’s own coming-of-age. But they do much more than that, creating a portrait of the culture and identity of the American Midwest—and the State of Nebraska, in particular—as well as providing keen insight into the experience of the twentieth-century American male. And because his fandom coincides with an era of historic transition in the organization and consumption of American college football, 1980 through the present, Smith’s book also provides unique perspective on how the nation’s relationship with the game has changed as steadily increasing attention to the national landscape of the sport has replaced the regional focus that persisted for much of the twentieth century.
At its worst moments Forever Red is still easily some of the most personal, honest, and insightful sports writing produced in this past decade. At its best—such as when the team’s 1995 Orange Bowl victory and first national championship in the author’s lifetime gives him occasion to reflect on the bond between a sports team and its fans, or when the retirement of long-time head coach Tom Osborne turns into a meditation on the author’s relationship with his father—Smith’s memoir can be quite lyrical and touching.
While it defies either categorization, Forever Red is probably better classified as “sports literature” than “sports history.” It would, nevertheless, prove useful to the sports historian as a primary source, a first-hand document of the late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century college football fan’s experience. Light and readable, it is further recommended to the lay sports book enthusiast, particularly college football aficionados, Midwesterners, and especially residents of Nebraska, a state that, as Smith’s tome convincingly suggests, is truly like no place else. [End Page 247]