Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. - John Wooden
I don't want to talk a lot about last night's game. It was ugly in a lot of ways, particularly in how we came out pretty flat, made a lot of dumb penalties, let WSU back in the game in the second half, got beaten frequently by fairly average receivers, and had to endure referees that had the replacement NFL refs shaking their heads in embarrassment.
It was great in a lot of ways, too, particularly in how our special teams had their best game of the year, how we bounced back from the slow start to pretty much put the game away by halftime, how we won a trap game on the road in nasty conditions against a team that was going to fight, literally, to save itself.
But through all of that, the overriding idea of character kept running in my mind. It's a timely concept this weekend.
The concept of character is never more apparent than when considering the men and women we are honoring today on Veteran's Day. What sort of things motivate and inspire our servicemen and women to do the things they do? And how can we apply those principles to our own selves and our own world?
As far as football goes, the question of character isn't completely answered. What exactly is the character of U.C.L.A. football? Is it what we've sadly gotten branded into our psyche for the last decade? Is the character of this current team any different? And if it is, can it ever really erase those scars from the past? What is the character of our coach? Are we where we want to be, or at least on the right path?
So I watched this game with a somewhat different view than I typically do, which was probably a good thing. Instead of watching X's and O's and blocks and formations, I was trying to watch attitudes and to see what sort of character was really on display last night. Given, it's impossible to know the exact truth from watching pictures and reading print without truly knowing the individuals, but there seem to be signs that give us some pretty good clues.
I think we're all pretty familiar with the character that has hampered the Bruins for about a decade. It's been soft, complacent, at times lazy. But last night's game was further evidence to me that there has been a change in the character and culture around U.C.L.A. football. As ugly as last night's game was at times, it was still a pretty comfortable win. It took a while to get going, and it was closer than needed by the end, but think how this game would have gone in year's past. Would the offense or defense have overcome last night's slow start? Would special teams have bailed out the rest of the team the way they did last night? How any more stupid penalties would we have been baited into by WSU's chippy and cheap play? Would we have won that game on the road despite our bad play and a storm of yellow flags. Those answers tell me there is a difference this year.
Of course last night wasn't perfect. Far from it. Frankly, I feel like our guys were dragged into playing down to WSU's level by their play. Our teams needs to learn the sort of character that lets them keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs. Our team needs to have the character to play the whole 60 minutes, even when we have a 30 point halftime lead and all we really want is to take the W and go get warm. There is plenty of room for improvement, but overall, our football team's character is getting better and it's going the right way.
I am more and more liking the character I see from our head coach. That's a change from how I felt when he first got the job. He came back into football from the TV booth with a reputation for being a hothead and publicly belittling his players in the past. It was a legitimate question whether Jim Mora would fit with college kids and college football.
This was a quote from earlier in the week when he was explaining why he got so worked up over the fake twitter messages.
"You get attached to these kids, you know? You just do. You pour your heart into it and, at times, it's hard to control your emotions. If you haven't noticed, I, at times, get a little emotional. Believe me, I hear about it from my mom, my dad and my wife. I'm trying."
When asked about how his emotions led to some bad times in his last NFL job when he publicly shamed some of his players, he simply answers, "I regretted it". Mora admits mistakes and is trying to learn from them. Look how he handled players like Larimore and Capella with head injuries, and contrast that with how RichRod treated his allegedly injured quarterback last week. Look how Mora spoke to Coach Ulbrich last night, then look how Texas Tech coach Tommy Tubberville treated one of his coaches yesterday. Look at, well, everything with Lane Kiffin. Look how Mora handled Ka'imi's and Manfro's and others' struggles this year, and then look how Leach treated his struggling players last week, and what one of his players is saying about him now. The Bruins had ten players leave the program after Coach Mora was hired, but we never heard any statements even remotely like that. I know the WSU coach has some strong defenders, and I don't want to have that debate here, but actions speak louder than words. To say that we know his true character from reading his book isn't good enough. I read Lance Armstrong's book, too. Leach's team was chippy and cheap from the start last night, and he was "happy" with it. If that's what he needs for his players to prove they are his kind of guy, then thank goodness we didn't end up with him.
A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. - John Wooden
If you don't know Buck Compton's story, you owe it to yourself to find out. UCLA Magazine had a nice article this summer that is a good starter, though it's only the tip of the iceberg. It's hard to imagine where so much of his character came from; what he got from his family, what he got attending U.C.L.A., what he got playing baseball and football with Jackie Robinson. It's hard to fathom what sort of character it took to parachute into Nazi-occupied France with his Band of Brothers in the 101st Airborne on the night before D-Day, to win a Silver Star in combat, to survive both the winter and the German siege in the Battle of the Bulge, to return home to a distinguished career with the L.A.P.D., the L.A. District Attorney's office, and an Appellate Judge.
Today is the first Veteran's Day since the passing of this American and U.C.L.A. hero who died in February of this year. His was a truly incredible life, and I hope we all stop to appreciate and thank and honor the veterans whose service lets us worry so much about things like U.C.L.A. football.
When I hear the word "veterans", I see images of older men in older uniforms from their days of service long ago. But I think it's important to realize that their deeds and service we are celebrating and honoring frequently took place when they were the same age as our U.C.L.A. football players are. We call them veterans now, but many of them were really just rookies when they made their mark in history for our country.
Oh, one other little fact about Buck Compton. His 1942 football squad was the first Bruin team to beat Southern Cal.
If our team has the kind of character to learn from its mistakes last night, and to incorporate that into the emotion and skill level we saw last week at home against Arizona, then there is no question that we can and will beat the trogans again next Saturday. But it will take heart and skill and courage and strength and intelligence and maturity and preparation and desire. Most importantly, it will take players who have the same kind of character as certain previous Bruins, like Buck Compton.
This whole season has been pointing to this game and now we'll see what our Bruins are really made of. Judging by what I see in our character, I like our chances. Go Bruins! Beat *$c!