Back in the middle of winter when we were all complaining about the cold, the Nebraska Danger reported to training camp under first-year head coach Pig Brown.
No one knew where this season would end. It ended Saturday night in the heat of summer when the Danger fell to Arizona 62-45 in Glendale, Arizona.
No shame there. The Rattlers haven’t lost a game all season and take a 15-0 record into the United Bowl July 12 against Sioux Falls.
It was a bit of an up and down season for Brown and the Danger. The team suffered close loss after close loss as the season rolled along.
Those close losses started the second week of the season with a 53-52 heartbreaker at Green Bay. A couple of weeks later, defending IFL champs Iowa edged Nebraska 58-55.
There was a 10-point loss at Arizona and a killer 57-56 loss at Sioux Falls in a game that a controversial pass interference call gave the Storm an extra play after time had run out, and of course they scored to win the game.
The next week, the Danger fell to Quad City 43-37 in OT when what looked like a possible game-winning touchdown was ruled incomplete after a review.
Much of those late losses could be attributed to a young football team with a young coaching staff. Brown says he learned a lot this season, as did first-year offensive coordinator Jameel Sewell.
You can see the difference in clock management late in games. The Storm, under long-time head coach Kurtiss Riggs, always seems to have the ball with a chance to score on the last play of the half or of the game.
But the Danger coaching staff grew as the season went along. Damon Ware, the lone veteran on the staff, saw it from Brown and Sewell, both IFL Hall of Famers, along with first-year assistant Xzavie Jackson, who will likely get inducted into the IFL Hall of Fame at some point as the league’s best-ever pass rusher.
“These guys were great, great players, Hall of Famers, so they have all the accolades you could ever want,” Ware said on the postgame radio show Saturday after the loss to Arizona.. “But there is a learning curve of being on the big stage in such a competitive league.
“We learned early. Jameel did a great job this season. Coach Brown did a great job just continuing to build a culture with a lot of young guys. I’m proud of those guys. Their careers have taken off. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
The IFL schedule makers didn’t do the Danger any favors either, sending the team on the road to face Sioux Falls, Arizona and Iowa — the three top teams in the league — in the final month of the season.
“Probably the biggest thing is we had the toughest schedule in the league,” Ware said. “I mean nobody played a tougher schedule than we did down the stretch all the road games against all the top teams, and we were able to come out with a lot of wins and a lot of confidence.”
The Danger took a three-game winning streak into the game at Arizona Saturday night. Nebraska downed San Diego 54-46 and Iowa 46-40 on the road to end the regular season before downing Green Bay 45-40 in the first round of the playoffs.
But the loss to Arizona still stung.
“We were able to win a game on the road in Green Bay against a team that was playing very good football at the time,” Ware said. “We’re really happy, but again it’s always disappointing to lose a game when you get so close to the championship game. But our fans should be proud. We’re proud as a coaching staff and our team should be proud of what we did the second half of the season.”
It’s hard to say what the Danger will look like next season. Some players have gotten invitations to try out for the new XFL. Those players may not be back next season.
But there are so many young players on the roster, and some of those will surely return for 2020.
“If you look at the rosters and how many teams have more veterans than we do, I mean everybody does,” Ware said. “We have our few veterans that played well, but we went with a lot of young guys and developed our guys and built our own culture.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done. We just have to get back to the drawing board for next year, continue to recruit in the off season and find the guys that play Danger football. We’re not going anywhere soon.”
Brown and Sewell played for the Danger when it went to three straight United Bowls back in the middle of this decade. They know what it takes and they know how to get there.
So after showing some great promise, the Danger and their fans can fall back on that old saying made famous by Cubs fans and often uttered in May or June.
Just wait till next year.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.