Nebraska football fans proudly bear the mantle of the "greatest fans in college football" and walk beneath gates proclaiming the same.

Yet, during last Saturday's nationally televised game against Northern Illinois, swaths of those fans booed a bunch of 18- to 22-year-old men at halftime. After the Huskers' stunning 21-17 loss, plenty more fans spouted off, calling for the jobs starting quarterback Tanner Lee, head coach Mike Riley, various assistant coaches, Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst and seemingly everyone short of Li'l Red.

Disappointment after a 1-2 start is certainly merited. This season's results aren't consistent with the annual high expectations for Husker football.

But allowing the resulting frustration to rumble into a cloud of negativity, in turn, could very well hurt the program these same fans profess to love - regardless of the fates of Riley, Eichorst or others - by scaring away potential recruits and staff members.

To many, Husker football is Nebraska's chief export on a national scale. The football team's prominence and history of success is a justifiable point of pride in the Cornhusker State, from Agate Falls to Falls City.

Cheering for opponents as they walk off the field, win or lose, is a hallmark of Memorial Stadium. That courtesy should extend to Nebraska's players, too, regardless of the result - but it didn't on Saturday.

In the Big Eight Conference days, Nebraska fans believed they existed on a separate moral plane than the perceived hooligans at Missouri and Colorado, who became synonymous for poor sportsmanship toward Husker fans and players.

Pushed by a 3-6 record in the last nine games, Nebraska fans are nearing the ledge of a pit, one occupied by the fans they look down upon for similar behaviors.

Husker Nation needs to look only across the Big Ten Conference to see a rebound from a slow start, fan angst and a coach on the hot seat is possible. Penn State started 2-2 in 2016, only to win the conference title and play in the Rose Bowl.

The Huskers may or may not succeed in 2017, but fan negativity doesn't win football games.

Nebraska fans will never accept mediocrity from the team, but they must not become mediocre fans themselves. Questioning and disagreeing with the choices made by Husker players, coaches and athletic directors aren't wrong. Nor is dissatisfaction with results.

Yet, neither the crescendo of boos nor growing calls for a head or two to roll befit a program with Nebraska's pedigree and pride. Instead, the best advice for fans to get through a difficult stretch can be found in the fight song they hope to sing plenty of times on Saturdays in fall: "We'll stick together in all kinds of weather for dear old Nebraska U."

Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, another Lee Enterprises publication, Sept. 21