While Nebraska football finished its 2021 campaign with a disappointing, yet predictable collapse against Iowa, the Huskers’ loyal fanbase did catch the attention of national media.
Not many 3-8 teams could still bring out more than 86,000 fans, the day after Thanksgiving, for a game against an opponent the Huskers have lost to seven years in a row, but Nebraska’s fans pulled through.
However, this impressive turnout is always accompanied by plenty of users believing that there isn't anything better to do in Nebraska. Just look at the replies underneath any acclaim for Nebraska fans and it’s clear that Nebraska’s stereotype as a barren wasteland with only corn, cows and a giant football stadium is quite prevalent.
As an out-of-state student, I have heard a wide variety of responses from people after telling them I attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Many ask how I am dealing with the colder weather. Some mock our football team’s failure to make a bowl game for the fifth straight year. Others kindly remind me that the “N” on the football team’s helmets stands for “(k)Nowledge.”
Yet the most common response to my Nebraska education is that the state is just plain boring. What else is there besides football and cornfields? Larry the Cable Guy, perhaps?
As someone from Kansas, I am used to these stereotypes, but somehow they seem more prevalent from my experience in Nebraska. Even the “there’s no place like home” comments have easily been replaced with “There’s no place like Nebraska.”
While TikToker @2tg may have placed the Cornhusker State along with the likes of California, New York and Florida, the inclusion had many people wondering why the bro tried to sneak in Nebraska given its perception of insignificance.
In fact, the Nebraska Tourism Commission recently acknowledged these stereotypes with its 2019 tourism slogan: “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” The campaign described the state as “that odd kid who didn't say much in school, slightly peculiar, maybe. But when you took the time to get to know him, turned out he was pretty interesting.”
It is far easier to humor the state’s nationwide stereotype than to truly change minds, but I do believe the Nebraska Tourism Commission — whose job is to make Nebraska seem less like that odd kid in school — may be selling themselves short.
Nebraska is certainly a state with a strong agricultural heritage and unyielding support for its football team, but the state is home to so much more. As a Husker, I may be a bit biased, but many of these stereotypes can be put to rest with just a little bit of census data.
It is not my place to say what types of people are and aren’t boring in this article, but a general rule of thumb is that the more people a place has, the less boring it is. Many things are said about New York City, but boring sure isn’t one of them.
So let's see how Nebraska stacks up with the rest of the Big Ten Conference in terms of population.
Lincoln is the third-largest city of the 14 Big Ten college towns spread across the Midwest and Northeast. Yes, this data alone doesn’t tell the whole story, as universities such as Northwestern are located in suburbs like Evanston, Illinois (population approximately 75,000), which are part of larger urban areas like Chicagoland, Illinois (population approximately 9.5 million). However, this fact is a great thing to share if any Hawkeyes try to make fun of the barren wasteland west of the Missouri River.
If we want to take this one step further and look at entire states with Big Ten universities, it’s worth noting that Nebraska has two cities with a population of over 290,000, while Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey each only have one. Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines, only has around 210,000 people.
To be fair, these other states all have a greater population density than Nebraska, but even if we just look at the number of people living within 60 miles of the Big Ten cities, Nebraska still ranks above other Big Ten West foes.
Illinois and Iowa rarely get made fun of for their backwoods locations, but they are objectively more isolated than Nebraska. Over 1.2 million people live within 60 miles of Lincoln, while fewer than one million live within 60 miles of Iowa City, Iowa (University of Iowa) and Champaign, Illinois (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), according to Free Map Tools.
Some may argue that all these Nebraskans are just real life versions of Herbie Husker. However, this is not exactly true according to the 2010 census, which found that roughly 26.9% of Nebraskans live in rural areas, making Nebraska the 23rd most rural state in the nation. Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa all have higher rural population percentages, which would make them more fitting of Nebraska’s stereotypes.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a high rural population, and rural Nebraskans contribute greatly to the state’s economy and culture. “Nebraska Nice,” which also happens to be an old state tourism slogan, seems to be a real thing based on my two years here, and many other large urban areas lack the sense of community Nebraska has.
Still, those discounting the state’s loyalty to the Huskers as a result of there being nothing better to do lack a strong argument, especially when the argument comes from other parts of the Midwest.
However, a little bit of census data will do nothing to end Nebraska’s long-standing stereotypes, but it certainly provides a stark contrast to the endless cornfields and backwoods hicks that are commonly associated with the state.
Honestly, Nebraska is not for everyone, but if that’s the case, then neither is the rest of the region.
Brian Beach is a junior journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.