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Omaha Magazine

Do Blondes Have More Fun?

Aug 22, 2023 02:54PM ● By Sophia Ridge
HErbie Husker history september 2023

Photos Provided by University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Herbie Husker Through the Years [6 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
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The Nebraska Huskers Twitter account tweeted a video in April that ended with two words:
“He’s back.”

At this point, fans should be accustomed to the ever-changing aesthetics of the Husker program. Yet, perhaps in a last ditch effort to bring back the nostalgia of a dominant the Husker Football era, a familiar face has returned with a makeover. 

Last year, the Huskers dumped their blonde-haired, blue-eyed prodigal son, Scott Frost, after a lack of results and added another to the athletic program—the revitalized Herbie Husker of the 1970s, slightly trimmed and adjusted for modern audiences. 

Change has always been part of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln athletic program. The Cornhusker program has faced numerous identity crises over its 133-year history, as the first mascot attests. Initially, UNL’s sports teams in the 1890s were dubbed the Old Gold Knights, yet the colors were too similar to the neighboring Iowa team. In 1899, UNL changed their school colors to scarlet and cream and Cy Sherman—a sports editor at the Lincoln Journal Star—took UNL’s team branding into his own hands by conceiving the name we all know and love: The Nebraska Cornhuskers. The first official mascot was introduced about 50 years later—a half-ear of corn mask that donned an outfit replete with green overalls. In 1960, possibly due to the unsettling nature of the half-ear of corn’s anthropomorphized facial features, the university decided to go with a human mascot that related to UNL’s agricultural roots.

Fast forward to 1973 at the Cotton Bowl in Texas where cartoonist Dirk West’s rendering, essentially, a caricature of a typical Nebraska fan, catching the eye of the UNL sports information director. A year later, the cartoon became Herbie Husker. The original cartoon included the same massive jawline and tufted light-colored hair, an ear of corn placed in the back pocket of his overalls which displayed the classic Nebraska “N,” and a football in his right hand while the left hand held up an “OK” sign. Later on, West would be asked permission to use his cartoon as the official school mascot, but West insisted on making some tweaks: one change applied to the portrait was a red cowboy hat, and the second was making the facial expression much less friendly with the addition of a taunting scowl-smile. And thus, the original Herbie was born. 

Husker fans might notice, however, that a very simple (but noticeable) amendment was unveiled as part of the good ol’ Herbie 2023 comeback tour. What once was an innocuous hand gesture had put Nebraska Athletics in a pinch—the “OK” sign of the classic Herbie was officially retrofitted after the gesture was deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League in 2019. This change was first applied to the post-2003 ‘modern’ Herbie, who sported a red polo and bluejeans in an effort to better represent contemporary farmers. 

“The concern about the hand gesture was brought to our attention by our apparel provider and others, and we decided to move forward with a revised Herbie Husker logo,” read a statement issued by Nebraska Athletics in 2022. “The process of changing the logo began in 2020, and we updated our brand guidelines in July of 2021. The revised logo is now the only Herbie Husker mark available to licensees.”

Now, the mascot holds up his pointer finger to signal that the Huskers are No. 1 (maybe this will finally be our year?). Regardless, this return to tradition coincides with yet another coaching overhaul—and tempered hopes that the dynamic, battle-tested Matt Rhule can similarly bridge modern Husker Football to the previous eras of gridiron dominance, if at least bowl contention.

And while the ’03 Herbie may have won the 2005 National Mascot of the Year award, there may be a kernel of wisdom in returning to the classic design. After all, ’70s Herbie looks a little hungrier, with the bulk to prove it—traits that hopefully translate to and inspire the Cornhuskers’ offensive line this season.  

The old, new Herbie Husker made his debut on April 22, ahead the 2023 Spring Game. And like the rest of Husker Nation, he’s a ride or die fan—straddling a “Husker” emblazoned chopper motorcycle to the roar of a packed Memorial Stadium.

“Herbie Husker has been one of the iconic symbols of Nebraska Athletics for nearly 50 years,” Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts said in a statement. “Our fans are passionate about all things related to the Huskers, and they have a particular fondness for Herbie.”

Alberts is right, but will the revival of this classic look herald a return to glory? Perhaps only Herbie knows… In the meantime, Husker Nation will have to tide itself over with the usual plate: (extremely cautious) optimism. And maybe for a side, something out of the orginal Herbie’s playbook—a pocketful of corn. 

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This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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