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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Heavy Soul Interview: Tom Shatel (Part I)

**NOTE: You can read the second part to this interview here.

With the Huskers' season opener this Saturday, we wanted to step up our output and content here on the ol' Heavy Soul. To go along with The Tunnel Walk, MIB has gone to town with his "Reasons to get excited/be worried" pieces, along with the mascots and punters--and it is evident that people out there appreciate the efforts.

Another way we wanted to enhance the content was kind of a random thought that we had--we thought it would be cool if we interviewed someone that was somehow involved with sports in The Good Life, particularly Nebraska Football. Naturally, the first person we thought of was Tom Osborne. Unfortunately, he was not available.

However, the second person we had in mind not only was available, but provided us with such a great interview that we had to split it into two parts (the second running tomorrow).

Tom Shatel, the lead sports columnist for the Omaha World-Herald (and author: you can buy his book Red Zone: The Greatest Victories in the History of Nebraska Football here), has been observing and offering unique insight of Nebraska sports since 1991. Originally hailing from San Diego, Shatel attended Missouri and has worked with the Dallas Morning News, the St. Louis Sun, and the Kansas City Star. Shatel also served as the President of United States Basketball Writers Association (Andy Katz is the current president, if that gives you an idea of the prestige of that position).

Shatel's columns have become a "must-read" Sundays after Husker games (especially last year), and holds the extremely high honor of being labeled as Heavy Soul's "Favorite Sports Columnist."

Tom was gracious enough to take on over 30 questions as posed by contributors of Heavy Soul, and answered ALL of them. Today's topics will cover questions involving Nebraska Football past and other sports topics. Tomorrow will focus on the 2008 Football Huskers, as well as questions pertaining personally to Shatel. So without further ado, let's get on with the interview.

Heavy Soul: From the standpoint of you being a member of the media, what are some of the initial differences you see in covering the Huskers (i.e., the Pederson/Callahan regime vs. Osborne/Pelini)? Any big differences for you personally?

Tom Shatel: It's more genuine, open, honest. You don't feel like there's an agenda. Callahan really didn't have time for small talk, although he and I had a good relationship. There just wasn't much conversation and Bill could be hard to find. Bo is your next door neighbor. You feel like you could invite him over to the driveway for a beer and talk about how the kids are doing in soccer.

HS: When you walk around the Athletic Department offices at NU, do you see any tangible differences since Tom Osborne came back around?

TS: I didn't walk around the offices much before and I don't now. When I've been up there, people are happier, smiling, looser. So, to answer your question, it's night and day.

HS: When Steve Pederson was hired, did you ever hear things "off the record" that would have led you to believe he was arrogant as he turned out to be? On the other hand, do you think that he just had a personality that came off as arrogant, but in reality he was a decent guy (we're trying to leave you an out here, if you can't tell)?

TS: Nobody had a clue this was coming. Nobody. We were all geniuses who thought it was a brilliant hire because of the Nebraska ties. Nobody knew SP had changed, somewhere since leaving Nebraska, and was trying to change the image of the program.

Heard a good story once, from someone close to SP, someone in the department. He said that Pederson grew up in North Platte with a small town Nebraska chip on his shoulder. Didn't like the hard work Nebraska image, the farms, the corn, all the way down to the walk-on program. This person said Steve had stars in his eyes, thought Nebraska should be big time and more like California or New York. That made a lot of sense to me, after the way things went.

(Editor's Note: We have heard the same thing, and it breaks our little North Platte hearts.)

HS: Is there anything more to the story of the now-infamous Frank Solich decision to start Bobby Newcombe over Eric Crouch? We all know that Crouch went back home, and Solich essentially recruited him back to NU. Anything else left out of that story?

TS: Eric basically grew up without a dad. Millard North coach Fred Petito became like a father to him, that male figure he could talk to. I think when Eric thought he should be starting over Bobby, he snapped, went for a drive and found the person who he could open up to. That was Coach Petito. I think it may have crossed his mind to leave. I think it was more he just needed some time to get away and figure it out. Eric would be the first to admit he's made some mistakes, grown up, would do some things different. I don't think it was more than the scenario I described, I really don't.

HS: What do you think is the most controversial event that has taken place during your time covering Nebraska sports?

TS: Lawrence Phillips and nothing else is close. That divided Husker Nation more than anything that has happened in my 17 years here.

HS: What do you think is the best quality of the Husker Fan? Worst?

Passion. That stadium will never be empty. If someone doesn't win, he'll be fired. That's a fire that never, ever goes out.

HS: How likely do you think it is that Nebraska will get a basketball practice facility? And how likely do you think it is that Lincoln will build an arena in the Haymarket?

TS: There will be a basketball facility but it will wait until after the city of Lincoln figures out if it's going to build a new arena, which will come up next spring. I have no idea on the likelihood of the arena passing. I would guess it's pretty good because of the overall entertainment value and, like Omaha with the Civic, the options available are old. We'll see.

HS: Here's a tough one, and one we know that you've discussed from time to time in your column, but here it goes: Do you really think it is OK for people who wear their Scarlet and Cream during the fall to switch over to that ridiculous royal blue in the winter? Most of the contributors here are from North Platte, and none of us understand this phenomenon. We feel that you pick your team, and you stick with your team. Obviously, there are many people in Omaha that do not. Do you think it is because Creighton games have become an event being in the Qwest Center? Or is it legitimate?

TS: I don't care if they switch over, and I understand why it happens, but don't tell me it's a real rivalry. You wouldn't see anyone in Alabama who is a Bama football fan and an Auburn basketball fan. My feeling is, there are 8-10,000 Creighton hardcores, win or lose. Once Doc Sadler gets it going, and going good, a lot of that blue will turn back into red.

HS: More basketball: How much fun is it to interact with Doc Sadler?

TS: He's been awesome. It's like working with a family member. Too easy. Don't tell my boss.

HS: Follow-up: who is the funniest person you've ever covered?

I can't think of a lot of comics but I would probably say Johnny Orr or Billy Tubbs when I was covering Big Eight hoops in KC. They would literally say something funny every interview.

HS: Do you think Omaha could support an NBA team?

TS: No. Season tickets at $60 each, $10 parking, $10 beers, you name it. We're too cheap. And we're a college/big event town.

(Ed. Note: He's right, dammit. I'd give anything for that not to be the case, though.)

HS: 1997 Cornhuskers vs. 1997 Wolverines: Who wins?

TS: I think it's a very good game, closer than either side wants to admit. My tiebreaker, as a bitter Charger fan, has always been this: Nebraska beat the heck out of Peyton Manning and the 1998 national champion Vols; Michigan barely beat Ryan "Cryin''' Leaf. End of story.

HS: Designated hitter vs. having the pitcher bat?

TS: I'm a National League guy.

HS: Do you like the Cubs' chances to win it all this year?

TS: No. Like my friend Chicago Bob says, talk to me after the last out of the World Series. There is something different about this Cubs team, though. I won't try to explain.

HS: Who is the greatest athlete of the past 25 years: Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods?

TS: MJ but only because Tiger's body of work isn't near done.

HS: Who would win in a drink-off: Coach Devaney or Coach Pelini?

TS: Devaney, by 10 shots and a pitcher.

That wraps up Part I of the interview. Come back tomorrow, where we'll have his responses to Part II, with topics ranging from what he thinks will surprise Husker fans this season (hint: it's not good), his favorite Omaha resturaunts, and the moment Tom officially felt like a Nebraskan.

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Fantastic stuff.
Shatel on our blog...a beautiful thing.
That was awesome, wish I could have helped with the questions.
Sorry dude, we just threw the questions together quick as to make sure we got this out before the game on Saturday.

Hopefully your questions will be answered with tomorrow's "Part II."
I can see crackin' the top 50 in the near future...here's to dreams. (How's that for an old blog reference?)
What's the old blog reference--tha brotha commenting??


Is your brother still coming to town this weekend?

(Sorry for this having absolutely nothing to do with the post.)
that is was really good..."Devaney, by 10 shots and a pitcher." Classic!!!!
I'm a Creighton fan and I can assure that if Creighton even had a football team, I'd be a season ticket holder and dispise the Corn. Have you ever even been to a Creighton basketball game? Do you know what if feels like screaming with 17,000+ fans in one of the toughest places to win in the nation.Not to mention one of the best and most consistent in the country.Have fun husking corn. Creighton will always be the premier basketball program in the state of Nebraska.
Are you kidding me? How about knowing what it feels like to be screaming with eh, 80,000+ fans in one of the toughest places to win in the nation. 17,000 show up for our practices. You're adorable.

And one of the best and most consistent programs? Really? No, really? When was the last Final Four? Elite 8?
I've been to one of your games, and I've also been to the Staples Center and the Great Western Forum for Lakers games...let me tell you, there's plenty of similarities with the fans, minus the celebrities, of course...fans showing up half way through the 1st half, not coming back from half time until 10 minutes on the clock in the 2nd half. Yeah, it's a social event 1st, and a basketball game 2nd. I think Shatel hit the nail on the head when he said 8-10,000 die hard Creighton fans...maybe you're one of them.
Oh yeah, and that was a bracket buster game when you lost to Drexel! Drexel!!! Go play in a big boy league and be consistent. Oh wait, Dana tried that once.
Great stuff! Shatel perfectly articulated the '97 Huskers over Wolverines argument as well, I think those bowl games were good indicators of the superior team.
Agreed, tdale. Tennessee was clearly a better team than Washington State that year. I mean, it's not even close.

And to the person who posted about Creighton...I'd hardly call the crowds at the Qwest Center "screaming" fans. I went to 4 or 5 games last year, and there are many, many times you can hear a pin drop in there. And "one of the toughest places to play in the nation?"

Maybe you should get out of Omaha every now and again. I don't think anyone is putting "Qwest Center Omaha" in a list that includes Rupp Arena, Allen Fieldhouse, Paully Pavillion, Cameron, etc. In fact, I can think of 5 places in the SEC ALONE that has a better environment times two compared to Creighton games. Get a grip.
overall pretty good interview. I haver always enjoyed Tom's first down and second guesses. While i don't always agree with his views, i still respected his opinions. THe only thing i disagree with in this interview is his NU v CU rivalry. If you ever see the NU or CU message board you would see that it is one. Funny thing i am an UNL grad of 06'. Lived on campus, and only mad it to 2 NU basketball games. the NU v CU games. On the other end, i didn't miss one CU game home game in my 5 years there. Overall great interview. i will be sureto book mark your blog and check it out from time to time.
I posted this in the comments for Part II, but this is the post where Shatel is getting (unfairly) killed in the way he answered the Creighton question.

Two things:

1. There seems to be a lot of confusion--not surprisingly, from Creighton fans--that this is a blog written by "a bunch of guys in North Platte, who cares what they think?"

First of all, appreciate the elitism.

Second of all, if you took all of, oh, two minutes, you'd figure out pretty quickly that everyone who contributes to this blog live in Omaha or Chicago.

Thanks for reading.

2. This is clearly a site that writes with a Nebraska slant, because we're all Nebraska fans and almost all of us are UNL grads. Why in the hell would we ask questions about Dana Altman?

We don't care about Creighton. But--as we have established--living in Omaha and being surrounded by Creighton fans every winter, this changing of school colors confuses us. We get that you don't have a football team, and I don't really blame Creighton fans for hitching onto the Nebraska football wagon. We'd do the same thing. But the hatred for Nebraska basketball and all the smack that is talked makes ZERO sense to us. None. It's ridiculous.

Whatever, this argument is totally played out and in retrospect, we're not really sure why we even posed that question. But props to T.S. for answering it honestly and, in our opinion, correctly.
The man in Black obviously doesn't know the difference between basketball and footbal. And by the way Creighton was 13th in attendance last season, and 15th this year. The same as Nebraska in terms of national attendace for their sport. By the way, why are you even downing the attendance record for CU; you do realize that Nebraska is lucky to get 10,000 for a game, right?
Uh, well, I thought it was pretty clear that I was comparing Creighton crowds to those of top college programs and the SEC. Pretty sure I didn't mention Nebraska.

Tell you what: go to a Kentucky game. Any Kentucky game. Then realize how weak Qwest Center crowds are.
By weak do you mean by attendace?... then go to Michigan or Ohio State, and if you mean weak as in not loud, then go play at SIU where we play every year; the toughest place to play in the country.by the way i thought you would like this..."I’m five feet away from (referee) Gerry Pollard calling timeout, and he can’t even hear me. That’s an unbelievable environment, one that’s a credit to what Coach Altman has created here. When you come here, you have to play your best." - Chris Lowery, quoted by Steve Pivovar, Omaha World-Herald (Jan. 22, 2007)
You were trying to be funny when you said that Southern Illinois is the toughest place to play in the country, right?



CU BJ fans are so f'ing delusional....seriously i get more satisfaction after a NU win over CU in any sport than i get from the football team pasting the original CU.
SIU doesn't think SIU is the toughest place to play in the country.
Why are we talking about Creighton?

We have way more important sporting events going on this weekend, like the first weekend of the US Open. Oh, there's football, too.
Hey losers, maybe if you guys got out of North Platte and the hick country once maybe you would see that there is more to this state than Fusker football. You guys need to take your lips off of Bos ass for once and realize Fusker football sucks. Anyone can win in that shit hole of a stadium you have.
Why dont you losers play come actual competetion once in football, you morons always take the easy way out and schedule a bunch of no ones and then get your asses beat in the little 12. I love it.
Wow, HS has actual serious documented haters. Impressive fellas.

Also, great score w/ the interview. Very entertaining read.
Awesome. It is amazing how some people come up with cool ideas.
There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don't know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game.

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Really informative and intelligent post, it is very amazing information to know about, thank you for the stuff.
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