The trip up to the Bay Area is one of the best for UCLA each year. There's all of the alumni in the Bay Area that come on out and plenty of Bruins from Southern California head on up. The tailgates are great and the camaraderie in the stands is similar to what you'll find in the Rose Bowl with one clear exception. There aren't a lot of casual fans at Stanford or Berkeley at game. Most everyone there really cares and is invested in the football program and that made the attitude around Palo Alto and Stanford Stadium on Saturday so disheartening.
I expected a small contingent of Bruins in Palo Alto. If it is difficult to find Bruins who want to show up to the Rose Bowl, I didn't expect a huge group up in the Bay, but the blue-clad crowd was about equal with the number of Bruins who have shown up in past years to games in the Bay Area when there was a lot more to be excited about (even if it wasn't a ton to be excited about) than there is this season. It was a nice surprise, but the attitude of those in attendance, well, it was very reflective of where the program is now.
You would be hard pressed to find many Bruins before the game in Palo Alto who would have predicted that we would beat Stanford. You had to search hard for any optimism and it wasn't just limited to Saturday night's game. It extended to the rest of the season and the program in general as long as Rick Neuheisel is head coach. I don't know where members of the Morgan Center were because I didn't see many around the tailgates or at the game, but they should have been there and what they would have seen and heard there would have been concerning.
Now let's preface this. Some of the things that the Bruins in attendance were upset about weren't fair to Neuheisel, the university or the program. They are things that we've discussed here at BN before and have pointed out to be foolish, but that is not the majority of the concerns and the reasons for the disappointment and disillusionment doesn't change the overall feeling that should scare the athletic department.
Prior to the game, Bruins were milling about, eating and drinking. Everyone was having a good time. It was impossible not to have a good time on a beautiful sunny day with good food, good drinks and good people. The joy had nothing to do with football though and when the topic of football came up, the mood turned. Here are a few of the common things heard from Bruins before the game.
"I wonder if we can keep the game close at halftime."
"Do you think we'll be good next season?"
"Our excuse in football is always academics, but Stanford is about to beat us."
"Who would you hire as head coach?"
That is about the best (and suitable for children) conversations from before the game. By the time the game started it was clear that the game was just something that many felt that had to sit through to justify a nice day in Palo Alto with fellow Bruins. A six-plus minute drive to start the game, but ended with zero points was greeted by "that's six minutes that Andrew Luck can't score on us!" Halftime brought a bunch of talk about moral victories because we were only down by 10 points and by the time there was six minutes left in the game there wasn't much talk at all because the UCLA section of fans had mostly emptied.
What we had in Palo Alto was a group of Bruins, some of the most passionate there are, that had given up. Fair, premature or whatever, they had given up and that should scare the athletic department. Nationally and in the Pac-12, UCLA is already irrelevant. That is thanks to a decade of mismanagement, but the football program is on the verge of being irrelevant among its own fans.
On Saturday the love for UCLA was still there, but there was little love for the football program wasn't. Sports are one of the biggest ties an alumnus or fan has to a school and football is THE sport in college athletics. When the football program is irrelevant to its own fans then the school is in trouble. Saturday was proof of football inching towards irrelevancy to a lot of Bruins and that's not just a problem for the program or Morgan Center, but the entire university.