I don’t really feel like going over my game notes from last night. I think as we go through this coming week, we will probably have enough opportunities to address some of the micro issues from last night’s game (i.e. talking about Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore who had exceptional games or going over the struggles of our OL and our QB, which have become broken records last few weeks). I am pretty sure those issues will come up during our roundups or stand alone posts, when we start discussing about the Washington game, which has already been a topic of discussion here on BN.
Instead of talking about last night’s game, I wanted to share with you my mindset re. the macro stuff around our football program. Let me start with sharing a story from the late 90s. In 1998, I had the opportunity to attend a Yankees-Red Sox baseball game in Fenway Park with bunch of friends who were Yankee fans. The Fenway was dotted with pinstripe blue all over the place and the Bombers under Torre went on to give the Sox a beat down in their own stadium. I still remember the faces of those Red Sox fans as people were chanting “Let’s Go Yankees” all over Fenway and around the stadium following the game. After the game we were having some brews at one of the watering holes in Backbay which had its share of New Yorkers and Boston fans. The times were so bad for Red Sox fans back in the day, even the Yankee fans were feeling sorry for a fan base, who had to stomach their former stars like Wade Boggs (IIRC Rodger Clemens wasn’t on the Yankee bandwagon yet) winning world series in Yankee pinstripes. So why exactly I am remembering that time on this day after what I think is probably the most miserable loss in Rick Neuheisels’ first year as the UCLA head football coach. I just remember the words of a Red Sox fan who told me, “No need to feel sorry for the Red Sox Nation. We might be a joke (like the Cubs) to rest of the country but we have each other. We have “us” and we will always cling on to the HOPE for our day.”
That’s the first time I have heard that phrase “Red Sox Nation.” It stuck with me enough that when we were brainstorming with folks at SBN to launch this blog (the first non baseball blog in what has become an incredible sports network), I didn’t think twice what we wanted this place to be called. We knew when we started putting together this place, and coming here every day as our little hangout, there would be days like today when it’s not a lot of fun being a UCLA football fan. We had those days even in Howland’s third year at UCLA when the Bruins were getting beat at Pauley by the Washington Huskies, as well as losing to Cal and West Virginia on our home court. We know how it all worked out for those Ben Ball warriors in 2005-06. It was even sweeter that year (our first year on BN) because we kept believing in Howland through his atrocious first year (which blowhards like Streeter would use to equate Howland’s coaching job with what Lavin did in his last year at UCLA) and his tough second year when he barely got us in the tourney.
Well I am experiencing the same emotions today. I had a pretty good sense given the realities confronting this program heading into this year that there would be days like this, when there would be no around our program except for “us.” Critiques like Streeter and rest of his colleagues in the traditional media are having a grand old time poking at UCLA and waiting to get their share of possible schedenfreude in when we go up to Washington. Most likely the entire college football world will be rooting against UCLA when they take on Washington, so that the Huskies can get their "revenge" and also a feel good win for Tyrone Willingham, who is widely seen as a "good guy" in the world of college football (at the expense of Notre Dame football fans who now must feel vindicated re. their concerns about their previous head coach).
I am sure there are few fans out there who were looking for quick turnaround in our current culture of instant gratification, who are ready to question coaches like Norm Chow, who has no peer when it comes to developing quarterbacks in college football. Well for anyone who want to jump off the wagon and give up this year or even next year (which I don’t expect to be a marquee season either), then go for it. Jump off now but don’t try to come back when this coaching staff turns it around in next few years. Don’t get me wrong, if after three years we don’t see specific data points that give us reason to be optimistic, we will bring them up and raise questions. No doubt about that. But we are not going to give up on these players, these coaches, and our program after 9 games in their first rebuilding season at a program that has been flushed into the gutter after a decade of incompetent leadership (that started rotting this program to its core starting from Bob Toledo).
As for the idea of this being about “us,” Matt Calkins from the Press Enterprise hit the right note this morning when he wrote that it’s a time when we shouldn’t throw anyone under the bus:
It's hard to pass too much blame any one way. The better-things-to-come notion is really more of a long-term declaration than anything else.
Twenty-two freshmen have played this year, half of them just months out of high school.
Their two cornerbacks, Alterraun Verner and Michael Norris, have played all but one down this season.
And before the year began, Craft, who was the third-stringer before injuries pushed him into the starting spot, likely figured that if he were to fumble, it meant he'd just have to refill that particular water bottle.
"I know we got a lot of young guys ... guys trying to find their own," running back Kahlil Bell said. "It's just tough being a senior knowing you only got a couple games left. But we're just going to try to go out on top, or as close to the top as we can get."
Most importantly, CRN wasted no time in making sure his players stick together and don’t blame anyone:
Whether he already sensed tension or figured it was imminent, Neuheisel warned his team that placing blame on others wouldn't help the 3-6 Bruins.
"That's him being a good coach," UCLA defensive back Alterraun Verner said. "He doesn't want a Civil War within the team. We don't want that type of turmoil or we're really not going to play good."
"I addressed it because you want to be out in front of it, because it's certainly a risk when defensively you're playing well and offensively you're struggling," Neuheisel said. "I came from the Baltimore Ravens, which went through that for I don't know how many years. It's a very dangerous thing to have happen, even though it's certainly understandable.
"We can't be deflectors. We can't be people that say, `Well, it's their fault.' Understandably, we've got to get better. I told the defensive players, I'm there watching the offense in practice more often than watching the defense. The effort is there. We're just struggling with the line of scrimmage."
Now that’s the kind of leadership, we can all believe in and it had the following effect on Rahim Moore, who perhaps had his best game as a Bruin:
Freshman Rahim Moore was receptive to Neuheisel's reminder that football is a team game. "You know what he said? That's the best thing I've heard all week," Moore said. "He said don't point the finger. Individually, we all need to look at what we could've done. I made a few plays, but I missed a tackle that gave up 20 yards. We have to suck it up and say, `Hey. What could've I done for the team?' "
Freshman Rahim Moore was receptive to Neuheisel's reminder that football is a team game.
"You know what he said? That's the best thing I've heard all week," Moore said. "He said don't point the finger. Individually, we all need to look at what we could've done. I made a few plays, but I missed a tackle that gave up 20 yards. We have to suck it up and say, `Hey. What could've I done for the team?' "
And speaking of leadership, let me close with this quote from our President-Elect from Tueday night:
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you -- we as a people will get there.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.
From what I have seen from our current head coach to date, I have seen nothing that has diminished the same HOPE I have for our football program.
We are not going to get where UCLA football belongs this year. I am not sure we will get there next year either. Yet, I believe we have a staff, who will always be honest with us through the setbacks and disappointments and take in the questions and disagreements we might have re. their decisions.
So don’t get down. Let’s start thinking about Washington and figure out how the coaches can get us a win and keep moving this program towards the right direction.
For now I am going to keep believing in “us”- the extended Bruin Nation - as we collectively climb this rebuilding mountain in next few years. HOPE sure worked for my friend – that Red Sox fan from Back Bay – and her friends in the Red Sox Nation. I believe it will also work out for us here on BN.