I'm just now coming down from the high that was that dramatic win over the mighty Golden Bears of Cal. It's games like this that remind you of exactly why we follow college football.
Oh wait ...
Actually, that's how people are likely going to feel next week as the nation replays and dissects tomorrow night's battle between LSU and Alabama.
With the focus all week on the Tigers and the Tide, I've been thinking about how much fun it is when your team is involved in the national college football picture, when your school is relevant, when you matter. I've been recalling how it feels to have ESPN and USA Today and Yahoo and the major websites and blogs talking about you, how cool it is when the names of the players on your team are on the lips of fans across the country.
The last time UCLA mattered in football was in 1997 and 1998, when Bob Toledo's Cade McNown-led teams won twenty straight games. The funny thing about that streak is that I remember the losses that preceded them (one to Ryan Leaf's Washington State team, the other to Peyton Manning's Tennessee Vols) and the ones that followed (the defensive debacle in Miami that cost us a shot at a rematch with Tennessee in the national title game - a game we would have almost surely won -- and the it-doesn't-matter-anymore loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl).
As for the winning streak itself, well, that's just a joyous blur at this point, a highlight-film memory mostly made up of McNown throwing the ball high and deep and the volleyball player-turned- receiver Danny Farmer leaping high into the air to catch the ball. It was the most fun I ever had as a UCLA football fan.
It wasn't the only fun I've had of course. A decade before the twenty game winning streak, we were gifted Troy Aikman by Barry Switzer and we had consecutive ten win seasons. Though we lost to Rodney Peete and the Trojans both seasons, we did for a moment reach #1 in the rankings, before Terry Donahue and Aikman couldn't figure out a way to get in the end zone on four plays inside the ten. Earlier in the 80s we won three Rose Bowls in four years (the middle of the three coming with Rick Neuheisel at quarterback) and garnered our share of national attention.
Well, the only national attention we get these days is when we're blown out on ESPN. Let's face it, the only television show worse than us on Thursday night is NBC's Whitney. The only time the national pundits talk about us now is when they're wondering if and when we'll fire our coach or if UCLA has any commitment to football at all.
As for tomorrow's game, I'm torn. I always liked LSU growing up for some reason; before I became a Bruin I guess I liked their night games and their uniforms (Attention Adidas: those stripes Nike puts on LSU's jerseys - LSU fans call them "UCLA stripes." How come Nike/LSU gets them right and we don't?). On the other hand, I formed a nice relationship with some Alabama fans when we played them in a home and home earlier in the decade and had a great time visiting Tuscaloosa for the game. I think, in my heart, I'm going for LSU. I can't explain it, only feel it.
I'm going to miss this season's "Game of the Century." I'll be at the Rose Bowl watching the Bruins play out the string. Of course, for UCLA it's another "must game" right?; we win and we control our own destiny in the Pac 12 South. On paper, that actually sounds good. The reality is, this team has no business pretending to be in contention for anything this season. We can only hope to matter at some point in the future.
- Within five, how many yards will Alabama running back Trent Richardson gain against LSU?
- LSU's secondary might be the best in the nation. How many interceptions will the Tigers have tomorrow in Tuscaloosa?
- Who will win the "Game of the Century," LSU or Alabama?