The Small, Safe World of UCLA Football

Bruin Blue with another Sunday gem. -N

After the USC game last night, the postgame commentators were excitedly talking about how USC held its destiny in its own hands; and how if they won out, they would get to play in the National Championship game. That may or may not be accurate, but the Trojans certainly have a real chance to legitimately contend for the national title in their final game, for the fourth year in a row. I watched the Florida-South Carolina game yesterday; and while I do not care about the ultimate fate of those two programs, I found it a thrilling game, with Spurrier doing a brilliant job against a more talented team, but with Meyer finally holding on to win, giving Florida a real chance to play for the title. That's what makes college football so thrilling--the battle of great coaches, teams fighting for a championship bid. It's why you watch every Saturday of every year.

For UCLA, of course,the stakes are not nearly so high. The UCLA world is not like the world of USC or Florida or Ohio State or Texas or even West Virginia or Boise State. UCLA just won a nice game which evened its record at 5-5, 3-4 in the league. That victory was greeted with jubilation by many loyal Bruin fans, who either do not remember, or do not care to think about, what it is like to be a significant college program. For those other schools, 5-5 is like a nightmare; they can't wait for the season to be over. For UCLA, it is a reasonable showing in one of its many "rebuilding" years; and the excitement grows about another possible cut-rate Bowl bid. At least there's no such thing as a "lost season" at UCLA, which apparently cherishes every winning campaign, no matter how slight.

Of course the fans are entitled to get excited about the Oregon State win; but it just points up as well as anything the nature of the program and the fan base. I thought of listing all the teams in the country which have zero, one, two, three or four losses thus far, but I will forbear. Let us just say that the list is very large. Losing five games in a college season is disgraceful for any program which likes to consider itself significant; but somehow many of the UCLA fans have now devolved into thinking that it actually is pretty good, hence the newfound excitement. If they asked the fans at any one of thirty other programs what they would think about a five-loss season, they would reply that they would be very upset. But at UCLA, it's not so bad. Actually, when you consider the records of the last eight UCLA seasons, you can see why. 4-7, 6-6, 7-4, 8-5, 6-6, 6-7, 10-2, 5-5. That is abominable for any major college football program, but UCLA fans still maintain their baffling patience and sanguinity, which of course is a major part of the problem.

When you have a really good program, and you strive to win championships, you face disappointment and hurt. I know a USC fan who said it will take him years to get over the Texas loss. I don't think I have ever completely gotten over the North Carolina State loss in basketball in '74, or Danny Graham's pass interference, followed by Jones-to-Dickerson in the corner of the end zone, with the dusk falling in '69. My father is still upset about Paul Cameron throwing a foolish flat pass in '52, and what he says was an illegal forward pass thrown by USC on a kickoff in the same game. Those losses are brutal, and they hurt; but they are what makes this game so exhilarating, particularly if they can be counterbalanced by some glorious wins. That's what Ohio State and Michigan and Notre Dame and USC, et al, have; it's what we have in basketball. But not in football, where we apparently prefer to live in a comfortable cocoon where the games really don't matter all that much, and where we aren't playing for anything significant. We have less pain, less pressure, less anticipation, less glory, less everything. And apparently the administration and most of the fans like it that way.

Even last season, "pretty terrific" in the AD's phrase, got us two late blowout losses, over in the first five minutes; and then a Sun Bowl game against Northwestern. Not a lot of anticipation and achievement there, although many fans thrilled to the comebacks against mighty WSU and Stanford. And that's about as good as it's going to get, obviously. This year, we're back to rebuilding and slowly turning the corner, which means another five loss (at very best) season. And the gulf could not be wider between the fans who think this is totally acceptable, and those who are furious and bitter that UCLA football has come to this, after Davenport and Beban and Stiles and Sciarra.

Those of us who are very upset that UCLA has chosen to live in its safe little world of little risk and little reward are obviously upsetting those who like that world; which can be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on how much hope one has left. Actually, I'm not nearly as upset as I was when Dorrell got hired in the first place, since I pretty well foresaw the playing out of the seasons. I had even thought that we would do better than we have, though not with any real long-term significance. Now, it is obvious that the administration really likes Dorrell; that they will cut him immense slack; that it is almost impossible to get rid of him, because it would take the kind of terrible seasons which UCLA never really has. UCLA could have hired anyone for this task; and that's probably why the coaching search was so brief. I used to be outraged at all of this, in the Donahue era; when I wrote letters, made phone calls, commiserated with other like-minded alumni, many of whom actually gave up on this program years ago. But the endless years of dreary Terry actually inured me to this; so that I don't really expect much, don't get too upset when we lose; just watch in interest to see it all play out. What else can one do, after all, when the administration is comfortable in its self-circumscribed world, and the loyal fans are willing to come back each year, like bad gamblers whom the house allows to win just a bit to keep them interested?

Bottom line: Nice UCLA win at home against Oregon State. Let's get those six or seven wins, and see if we can possibly avoid Hawaii, and play Utah again in a Bowl. And if we don't, well, it's not that big a deal, is it?. And there's always next season, isn't there? Hope we don't have to watch USC playing in the National Title game again; but if they lose it, then we can say what a typical UCLA fan said to me after the championship game last year: "At least we won OUR Bowl game." And there are probably a few caterpillars who don't want to become butterflies, as well.

-Bruin Blue

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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