A guy in jeans and a T-shirt was sitting in his Chicago-area basement Monday night, eyeballing two screens and playing two roles.
His TV showed college football's national championship game, and he watched it as Michael, an Omaha native and a sports fan.
The iPad on his lap carried his running Twitter commentary, and he tweeted as the sports world's current favorite caricature — @FauxPelini.
Then came the night's best play, at least on Twitter.
The man Michael spoofs each Husker game as an ugly-sweater-wearing, cat-holding, loud-mouthed lug — the very man who had barely acknowledged the Twitter parody before — finally met him on his turf.
Bo Pelini reached out across the Twitterverse and grabbed Faux Pelini.
In words forwarded more than 10,000 times, picked up by news outlets and seen by who knows how many people, Bo zinged Faux.
@FauxPelini ok enough is enough... I want my cat back. You've had her long enough!— Bo Pelini (@BoPelini) January 7, 2014
@BoPelini OK don't be mad but I haven't seen her since Thursday. WAIT DIDN'T CARL LEAVE TOWN ON THURSDAY— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) January 7, 2014
“I want my cat back,” the real Nebraska football coach tweeted at the fake one. “You've had her long enough!”
The message flashed onto Michael's iPad, and the lifelong Husker fan could not believe it. Apparently his tablet couldn't believe it, either, because right after the Bo tweet, Faux's iPad crashed. But the words showed up long enough.
“I saw it was him,” Michael said in an exclusive interview following the Tweet Heard 'Round the World.
I've been dying to tell you about Faux Pelini without completely unmasking him.
He said he doesn't want to fully identify himself. He agreed to talk with me if I presented him here by his middle name, his adopted city and a couple of other details. They're all real — I know his younger siblings.
He was born and raised in Omaha. He went away for college and jobs and planted roots as lawyer in Chicago. He's married with children. He's a little younger than Bo, who is 46. He likes sports in general and describes himself as a “hard-core” Husker fan.
“I listened to every game on the radio before they were all on TV,” he said, “then watched every game on TV with my dad and uncles and, you know, everybody.”
His ultimate Husker moment?
“The Matt Davison catch in Missouri in '97. I was actually there. I was actually near that end zone.”
For any sports fan, Twitter is the best way to armchair quarterback. You and your followers can share real-time reactions that can take the form of pithy one-liners. In fact, given the 140-character limit, the social medium is all one-liners.
The immediacy and brevity of Twitter have spawned parody accounts that satirize both real people and fictional characters like Harry Potter and Darth Vader. The funnier the parody, the more it gets noticed and the more people follow it.
Michael's Pelini parody was born in 2010. Twitter was on the rise, and parody accounts sprouted. Michael wanted to scratch his inner comic itch. The Husker fan found a perfect alter ego in the colorful Nebraska coach.
The Huskers had just wrapped up a tempestuous season that included Bo screaming at quarterback Taylor Martinez on the sideline at Texas A&M. Inspiration struck.
|Bo vs. Faux|
|Comparing their social media stats*|
|Follows||Kirk Herbstreit||Pope Francis|
|Larry the Cable Guy||Stephen Colbert|
|* as of Wednesday evening|
He sent his first tweet under the handle @coach_bopelini and was stunned to gain 100 followers within a few days.
Some months later, Twitter told him to change his handle or knock it off. It's OK to parody real people as long as you're ultra-clear about the pretense.
A follower in Washington state suggested “Faux” and thus came to life @FauxPelini.
The account exploded in the past year. As of Wednesday evening, it drew nearly 70,000 sets of eyes — more than the real coach.
If you follow Faux, you know this about him: He blames Carl Pelini, Bo's brother and former Husker assistant coach, for just about everything. He talks a lot about his khakis. He asks the pope for intervention.
To capture the temperamental Pelini persona, Faux often tweets in capital letters and without much punctuation.
His Twitter profile picture is a genius stroke of irony. Maniacally angry fake Pelini is portrayed in a turtleneck sweater and holding a fluffy cat.
Michael got the doctored Pelini-cat photo from a Twitter follower in 2011. That photo is so popular that, over Christmas, Faux aficionados printed it out, framed it and gave it as gifts.
Michael's Faux life consumes Husker Saturdays. He tweets religiously during games and less regularly at other times.
He says his colleagues at work don't know about his hobby, but his close friends and family do.
But it can get confusing.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I get too much into Faux Pelini mode.”
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
When he sends text messages in all capital letters to friends, they'll say: “Dial it down, Faux.”
Michael will neither confirm nor deny that his alter ego drives his wife nuts.
Their weekend getaway to New York City in early November was interrupted by the Northwestern game. They were at dinner with his wife's sister. Michael surreptitiously watched the Huskers on his iPhone. But then came that Hail Mary pass delivering a last-second Husker win.
“I said, 'I'm sorry — I gotta go,' ” Michael said.
And like Superman heading to a phone booth, Michael became Faux and started tweeting.
He regrets angering some Husker players early on. He does not regret his merciless skewering of Carl Pelini.
He has been surprised at his following and has enjoyed the ride so far — especially Monday night.
When Bo's tweet flashed on his screen, Michael ran upstairs and told his wife and school-age sons. They laughed.
“Is he mad?” asked one of Michael's boys.
Michael's iPhone lit up. Texts from friends. Phone calls. Some 39 minutes later, he tweeted his shock: “Did I die”?
If Pelini ever leaves the Huskers, Michael will probably leave the Pelini voice.
As Bo goes, so goes Faux.
After a tumultuous season in which Bo Pelini's job was in question, the coach got his bowl trophy. And Faux got his own prize.
Michael could think of two other people he'd love to hear from.
“The pope. And Ndamukong Suh,” he said. “If they tweet me back, I will consider my work done.”