(I'm kind of in the "zone," right now, writing-wise, so I figured I'd roll with that and shit out another long article about a great memory from the 2005 season. Here goes nothing...)
Yes, our coach was an idiot. Yes, it all turned out to be for nothing. Yes, it featured two of the most embarrassing losses in UCLA history. Yes, one of those losses was an epic fail against our arch rival that we'll probably never stop hearing about. Yes, it probably extended the reign of Doofusdom a couple of years longer than it would have been. And yes, it all turned out to be the flukiest of fluke seasons.
But man, was the 2005 football season fun for a while.
Everyone remembers 47-40 over #10 Cal, our first important football victory in a long time. I'm pretty sure that everyone remembers 44-41 (OT) at Wazzu, especially considering that I posted about it like three seconds ago. But the most memorable game of all, the one that has to top the list of great UCLA football comebacks (with the 1996 SC game and probably some others that I'm forgetting from a long time ago also in contention) has to be 30-27. If you don't know what I'm referring to, I feel very sorry for you.
Something you might not know about me, unless you're Nestor or have dutifully analyzed my past posts under the screenname "theslammer": I'm a die-hard pessimist when it comes to sports. LRMAM scores the go-ahead bucket against Gonzaga and then gets a steal on the other end to basically seal the game? "Well, shit, Morrison'll probably hit a 75-footer at the buzzer for the win." The Dodgers hit four straight home runs on 9/18/06, tying the Padres in the bottom of the ninth? "Well, shit, they'll probably bring in Aaron Sele in the tenth and he'll blow the game." (That almost did end up happening; how's retired life, Grady Little?) Eric McNeal picks off John David Booty with a minute left and UCLA up 13-9? "Well, shit, somebody'll fumble or SC'll block the punt, or Reggie Bush will come in and pay off the officials to make them say that McNeal was in the neutral zone." That's just how I'm wired. If you want to blame somebody, start with basically the entire Dodger franchise from 1989 (my birth year) to present. Constant disappointment and heartache and False Hope Rallies EVERY SINGLE YEAR. (Yet somehow, I still love them anyway; I can't help but think that this love-hate relationship is a foreshadow of my future marriage. Ugh.)
Therefore, seeing as how I was a desparate pessimist in my first 15 years of rooting life, you'd be shocked and amazed to know that I was the biggest sports optimist on the planet after the 44-41 win over Wazzu in 2005. UCLA's back-to-back incredible comebacks had changed me. I was now filled with the romantic idea that the Bruins could be down by 68 in the fourth quarter and DO and MJD would just shrug and then go out and score 10 touchdowns in 30 seconds to pull out the W. I can't even describe what that feeling was like; it's very cliched to say that "I believed anything was possible," but fuck, I believed anything was possible.
It helped the week after when UCLA took a break from the heartstoppers to mercilessly throttle Oregon State at home 51-28, basically telling the sports world, "Yeah, that's right, we're in the Top 10, remember? We can actually be winning in the fourth quarter before the last 20 seconds sometimes, ya know." And because of that, I was lured into a false sense of security headed into the Stanford game the next week, one not totally unlike the feeling I had before the Wazzu game. Little did I know that the similarities between the two games would not end there.
Once again, UCLA was favored going in, but the "possible upset" tag loomed. Stanford had won three straight, including a 45-35 beating of ASU the week before. ESPN's "Game Overview" read, "Maybe losing to UC-Davis was a good thing. The Cardinal are 3-1 since the embarrassing loss and are getting better each week." And that was correct. Stanford was actually a formidable foe, and UCLA could not take them lightly. Of course, they did, because we all know that Karl Dorrell didn't actually bother to get his team motivated for a game unless they were playing a giant. Thus began the rollercoaster ride to end all rollercoaster rides.
I did not attend this game, as I did the Wazzu one, but I was plopped in front of the TV at a bar/restaurant with my dad (the same one that we'd gone to for the Cal game three weeks earlier, and no that wasn't an accident) from start to finish. My recollection of the details is a little fuzzier than my memory of the Wazzu game since I didn't actually attend, but my recollection of my emotions is just fine. When Stanford jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, I just smiled knowingly. "Psht, that's child's play. DO and MJD eat seven-point deficits for breakfast." Then UCLA didn't score at all in the first quarter. "Whatever. They didn't score in the first quarter against Wazzu either, and look how that turned out." Then Stanford still led 7-3 at the half. "Yawn. No big." And then it was 14-3 after three quarters. "Eleven points? Yeah, okay, run seven minutes off the clock and then come try to make me worried."
Then, with 13 minutes to play, Stanford kicked a field goal to go up 17-3. For the first time, a little doubt began to creep into my head. "Okay guys...shift to the no-huddle and let's bomb the shit out of these sumbitches. Right?"
Nope, not even close. I don't know how Stanford had managed to hold down our offense all game the way they did, but either something was working great for them or something was working terribly for us. After the field goal, the offense sputtered again and Stanford got the ball back. As they moved downfield, I could literally feel the old fears and the old pessimism slowly making their way back. When the Cardinal got into the red zone, my psyche was hanging on by a thread. And when they punched the ball into the endzone with 8:26 left, going up 24-3 and making their home crowd explode, I was done. I crumpled into a heap in my seat, completely spent, and so angry at myself for actually believing all those things that I had. I begged my dad to leave. I didn't want to sit there for another minute watching another fanbase dance on my team's grave. I could already imagine the headlines on ESPN and the LA Times the next day, which would rub 400 pounds of salt into the wounds. I just wanted to go home and forget about sports for a long time.
My dad made me stay. He's always the one who keeps cool and calm in difficult sports situations, having witnessed years of painful sports memories coupled with joyful sports memories (being a Dodger fan long enough will do that to you, or at least I'm told; the joyful memories HAVE to start coming, right?). I kept tugging at his shirt, practically dragging him out the door of the restaurant. He would have none of it. He was going to see the 2005 season out to the bitter end. I had no choice but to slump back down in my seat, humiliated and angry, humoring him by watching the now-gutless Bruins play out the string.
Of course, that's not what ended up happening. I have literally never seen a team so focused, so absolutely locked in, then the UCLA Bruins in the final eight minutes of that football game. Having FINALLY gone to the no-huddle (hmmm, took you that long CTS?), the offense was finally able to penetrate the rock-solid Stanford D. And I simply don't have enough space here to heap the rightful amount of praise on Drew Olson for what he did in this fourth quarter. Every pass was perfect, every play executed to the max. With seven minutes left, he'd driven us down to the six-yard line, when MJD rolled into the endzone to cut the lead to 24-10. I looked up from my pathetic self-pity for a second and got a spark of encouragement. I was still DEEP in "woe is me" mode...but I'd gotten a tiny, tiny spark of belief. Just a spark.
Then something incredible happened: the defense stepped up. In the Wazzu game, the sudden prowess of the defense could be almost entirely attributed to Jerome Harrison's flukey injury. There was nothing like that in this game; something just clicked, and suddenly Stanford looked like the deer in the headlights and UCLA looked like the 7-0 team. The Cardinal offense stalled quickly and the Bruins got the ball back. The spark began to turn into fire as Olson continued to break open the Stanford D, and when he connected with Joe Cowan for a 31-yard TD with 4:43 left, I shifted into jubilant disbelief. It COULDN'T be happening again. It just couldn't. This was insane, too much, too good to be true...right?
Wrong. Another quick possession for the Cardinal. Another punt. Another instance of DO picking apart the Stanford D. As the Bruins got closer and closer to the Stanford goal line, I felt oddly similar to how I'd felt during the Steve Finley Dodger game from 2004, as the ninth-inning rally had just continued and continued...they were trailing almost the entire time, but when it got to a certain point, you just KNEW that there was no way they were going to lose. In that game, it was when Cesar Izturis hit a bases-loaded two-hop grounder to short that should have been turned into an easy force play and possibly a double play to end the game...only Cody Ransom (who'd been inserted into the game for defensive purposes in the top of the inning, no lie) let it slide under his glove for an error. That allowed the bases to remain loaded and brought a run in to get the Dodgers within one at 3-2. They were still losing, but I mean, come on...they had the game won. (And just two batters later, one of like the seven happy Dodger memories I have from nine years of following the team occurred. Not that I'm bitter or anything.)
In this game, the "Cesar Izturis ground ball error" moment was MJD's tying touchdown run with 46 seconds left. As it happened, my heart went back to swelling, the dangerous and wild optimism returned, and all thoughts of hopelessness and pessimism disappeared in a snap. This game was over. In "reality," Stanford still had to be favored (46 seconds was plenty of time to drive for a winning field goal, they had the home crowd at their disposal, etc), but in this case, reality was wrong. UCLA won the game with that touchdown run. The rest of the game was a foregone conclusion.
But one insanely happy memory remained. Stanford didn't do anything in the final 46 seconds of regulation, and then went backwards on their overtime possession and settled for a field goal. That set up...oh wow, there are absolutely no words:
(Nestor, please insert Youtube video of Olson-to-Breazell at your earliest convenience; for the life of me, I can't figure out how to do it.)
Beams of light opened in the sky. Handicapped people jumped from their wheelchairs. Dogs and cats lived together. Everything was backwards and upside down. Somehow, some way, we'd gotten out of Stanford with a 30-27 win.
Once again, my hands were red from clapping and my voice was gone from screaming the next day. And once again, I didn't care. That was truly the most unbelievable football game I'd ever witnessed, and I don't think anything can ever top it. Before I die, I will find a tape of this game and make sure to watch it every once in a while to gain inspiration and confidence. This game represents more than just a UCLA victory; it represents a time in my life when I believed in anything, when the sky was the limit and my self-confidence was never higher when it came to sports or anything. That's why I hold the 2005 season so dear; it was a true turning point for me both in my sports life and in my real life.
And yes, I KNOW that the next week was 52-14; trust me, I still hate myself for not going to the same restaurant and blowing our mojo. But something still must be said regarding that horrible, horrible game: When UCLA fell behind 28-0 in the second quarter, I didn't give up. When Drew Olson was stuffed on a fourth-down run a couple minutes later when it was still 28-0, I didn't give up. When UCLA finally scored to make it 28-7 with very little time remaining in the second quarter, and then Arizona blew through the Bruin defense like tissue paper to get a field goal to go up 31-7 at the half, I DIDN'T GIVE UP. Can you BELIEVE that? Any other team, any other year, and I'd be breaking remotes left and right while going on a six-hour Grand Theft Auto Vice City rampage to blow off all my steam.
That game, that year? "Well, after Stanford, I guess anything can happen."
And you know what? Despite all the shit I've been dealt as a sports fan since then, it's still true. (Unless your coach is an idiot and never goes to the defense-crippling no-huddle until you're down 52-7 in the fourth quarter.)