The Morning After, Epilogue: Illinois

epilogue (noun; Gr epilogos: to say in addition) 1: a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work. 2 a : a speech often in verse addressed to the audience by an actor at the end of a play; also, the actor speaking such an epilogue. b: the final scene of a play that comments on or summarizes the main action

I'm a sucker for the epilogue.

I've read a lot of books in my days, many of which finish sad or frustrating or incomplete or in anger. Anna diving under the train. Frederic walking alone in the rain. The Vogons blowing up Earth. And I always hope there is an epilogue to fix all those wrong endings. Even though I've just read the entire novel and the story is finished and I know the outcome, when the plot leaves me feeling cold and incomplete I always hold out some desperate ridiculous hope that those last couple gratuitous pages will fix everything that is still bothering me, somehow obviate the previous 350 or so pages, and give me the reader the happy ending I was hoping for.

So I read it, and end up unfulfilled, still.

There are many famous epilogues throughout literature. The closing speech by Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a classic example. After the players have exited the stage and the plot is complete, Puck gives a final address to the audience to close the dream, and perhaps to apologize for the chaos of the visions. But his promises to make amends never really satisfies me. Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment has an epilogue that fits perfectly with the great Russian epics by being separately titled as "epilogue", and then lasting two entire additional chapters. It is an incredible work, but even the lengthy "wrap up" leaves me frustrated for Raskolnikov's decisions, his fate, and his separation from Sonya. And more recently, and rather less classically, the epilogue in Mockingjay, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy reveals the eventual fate of Katniss - which was pretty important because I really really needed to know if it was going to be Peeta or Gale. Alas, I was on the wrong team time. But at least I was Team Edward in Twilight. Well, maybe we should just forget I ever mentioned that.

There was one more epilogue yesterday. In the final act of the tragicomedy that was the U.C.L.A. 2011 football season, we saw a final 4 quarter coda that, despite the hope for a dramatic final saving grace and justification for the endurance of the season as a whole - for one final good ending - we got a performance that simply reflected the frustration and misery and futility of the previous 13 games. And I fell sucker for the epilogue once again.

How fitting was that game as a whole? Our team and this bowl game were a national joke. Two mediocre teams. Two interim coaches. One baseball field. One sideline for both teams. We couldn't run. We couldn't pass block. We missed field goals. We lost the turnover battle. We had no sacks. Passes were dropped. We botched punt returns. Less than 30,000 fans showed up. But hey, our punting was pretty great. I was pretty defensive of our team playing in a bowl, but maybe the nation was right on this one.

How fitting was that last minute of the game? Despite a somewhat reasonable defensive performance, our offensive futility, which naturally began on the first series with the oh so unexpected run-run-pass-punt, and put up only 7 points through the the first 59 minutes of the game, made it look like we were going to lose a bowl game on our coast to a team on a 6 game losing streak. We had all seen this story before. But no, the Bruins wouldn't let us off the hook with a quiet ending. Just when it looked like this story was over and done, there was still one final scene left to play and tempt us with a glimpse of the ending we all wanted to see.

So then how perfect was it that in our last gasp effort to make this miserable season end on a good note that we came out in an illegal formation on the onsides kick?

Poor coaching? Unprepared players? Poor execution? Underachievement? Has anyone read this story before?

You see, the epilogue never changes the story. You don't justify 5 acts of nonsense with a final deep and moving epiphany. You don't erase numerous cowardly and misguided decisions with a final all-redeeming character change. You don't fight a fascist state and then retire happily to the woods with the right guy. Uhh, again, never mind that last one. My point is there is no punch line which makes it all clear in the end. Our football team yesterday was exactly what it was all season long. A little good, more bad, lots of great punts, and another disappointing result from a group of players and a program that look like they should be capable of so much more.

So why did I rush home from work 90 minutes after kickoff just to watch this game from the start on DVR? Because I'm still holding out hope that this time, this time, the epilogue is going to be the happy ending we have all been looking for.

I loved Achilles' Pregame Guesses post on Friday. His closing paragraphs summed up exactly how I feel.

What do I know? I know this: I'm going to be one of the suckers who spends 3.5 hours on a Saturday afternoon watching a lame-duck, interim coach lead a team with a losing record against an equally uninteresting and uninspired team (led by their own interim coach).

What I don't know is ... Why? But I'll take a guess of my own:

...because of community and continuity. Watching and rooting for UCLA football is what we do in our house. We do it when the team is good, we do it when they're not. We look ... we strain to see ... the good and hope that the mistakes are aberrations, even when the mistakes go on game after game, season after season. If we win, we'll find a reason to believe that what we rationally know is irrelevant holds some deeper meaning or relevance. If we lose, we'll shrug and note that next year will be different, with new coaches, new players, a new system and new attitude.

Tomorrow is the last football game of the year. When it's over, I'm going to miss it.

...

That's why I'm going to watch -- and you are, too.

That's me. Just like Achilles. And it's the same with Nestor. And with P and B and O and tasser. And it's all of the front pagers. And it's all the contributors and all the commenters and all the readers and all the lurkers at Bruins Nation who will never ever give up on this program. Because, one fine morning, Bruins, that story will read how we want it to.

Today is the start of a brand new year. And as I look forward to the next football season, I again have a sense of hope. We have a new head coach. We have new coordinators. We have some great returning players and look to be bringing in some great young talent. We have seen that the previous regime and the existing culture won't cut it, and surely the program and its leaders and its players and its fans will realize this and make the needed changes. And with all that, 2012 will finally be our year.

Yup, I'm still a sucker for the epilogue. Unfortunately, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was just the epilogue to the 2011 season, which was the epilogue to the Rick Neuheisel era, which was the lesser sequel to the Karl Dorrell era, all of which has been the theme of the Dan Guerrero era. So why should I really expect that 2012 will be any different?

Because I keep looking for that perfect ending to the story.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And one fine morning---

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

- F Scott Fizgerald

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