In 1985, my family spent Christmas with my grandparents in Mount Vernon, Missouri, in the Ozarks near Joplin. After a great week with my extended family there, we drove to Kansas City for our flight back to L.A. It was December 30, and the plane was loaded with people fully decked out in Iowa gear.
I sat next to one particular fan who spent much of the flight alternating between deifying the great Hawkeyes and disparaging everything about California and the "surfer boys" at U.C.L.A. I was always proud of being a Californian and proud of growing up as a public school kid. Having just applied to U.C.L.A., in addition to some other U.C. schools, I was silently bristling, defensive, and insulted. And though I was a few months from hearing from U.C.L.A. admissions, it was probably somewhere over Colorado (ironically, and naturally) that day that I became a huge huge Bruin fan. I do owe that Hawkeye an enormous thanks.
We all know what happened a couple days later. I was so proud and so happy for U.C.L.A. I wasn't yet a Bruin, but I celebrated that win like I was. There was nothing that U.C.L.A. couldn't overcome and I couldn't wait to get a chance to share in that celebration.
I started at U.C.L.A. that fall. And the Bruins haven't won a Rose Bowl since.
When I was invited to join the front pagers at BN, I confessed this to the crew, and that if I truly was our No-Rose-Bowl curse, I would immediately enroll in extension classes at *$c and relocate the hex to the trogans. But no one has proven for sure that it was me so I haven't jumped on that sword yet. And I am waiting for the chance to take my family to Pasadena for New Years and watch the Parade and see a game that afternoon. Still.
Friday's loss killed me. Then, unusually, Saturday turned out to be much worse than Friday. On Friday evening, I was still in post game analysis mode, thinking about schemes and execution and the intricate ins and outs that decide football games. With most of the analysis played out, I found I was left only with emotion, and it was despair. I didn't sleep well on Friday night. I actually had a dream about the game and it still ended badly. The drought continues even in the subconscious.
I don't see much point in rehashing the game. Counting the game threads, Freesia's post game, and N's recap yesterday, we've had over 3,300 comments on the game. Kudos to the BN community. That is some real passion there everyone. But aside from IE's Eye Test, there is nothing to say that I or any number of others haven't already said a hundred times, or anything that hasn't been refuted by any number of others a hundred times.
So I wasn't going to write anything. Besides, my title wouldn't even make sense. But N reminded me that we really haven't looked forward yet. Looking forward makes Friday just a point along the path, and so I thought that if nothing else, that would be a therapeutic thing to do. And I need that.
So let's see...
"You are what your record says you are" - Bill Parcells
If someone had said before the start of the year that we would finish 9-3, be repeat Pac-12 South Champs, and have the ball at the end of the Pac-12 Title game with a chance to win, I bet we would have taken it. Hell, be honest, every single one of us would have taken it and we would have been jacked. So I think it's a bit unfair in the grand scheme of things to look at that game with the benefit of hindsight and be overly critical of the result.
We can tell ourselves over and over that we were the better team on Friday. We absolutely steamrolled the best rushing D in the nation. We outgained them in the air. We stuffed their excellent rushing game and a fabulous player in Stepfan Taylor. We cut our sacks from 7 to 3. Hell, even our penalties were down, though we had plenty of room on the under on that one. And we did it all on the road, in their house, in front of literally tens of their fans, and in crappy No Cal weather to boot.
But we lost the one stat that matters most. The only start that matters, in fact. Scoreboard. We were not the better team.
But you know what? We were close. Very close. About two yards to the left at the end to be specific, and we could have been even closer. And that does count for something. So while Friday night was an incredible heartbreaker, 2012 was an incredible boost. And I am willing to accept that for now, for a bunch of reasons.
Your school should be very proud of this season. That was a great effort last night and a huge turnaround from the last several years.
My brother is not a proponent of moral victories, but he also understands the realities of sport, and sports at the highest levels. He knows that Friday was a killer - on Friday - (and for the next few days, too) but that it should be a giant step when you look at the long term direction of U.C.L.A. football.
He's right. We can be proud of that effort on Friday and we can be proud of this season. Neither of those precludes the importance or necessity of improving from here. I wrote last weak that we are a good team but not a great team, and the goal was to be a great team. Well, on Friday, we got closer to to that goal. We followed up a pretty shabby and discouraging performance with a great and heartbreaking performance. In six days. That's a good trend.
Five years ago, Jim Harbaugh turned a Stanford team that was 1-11 the prior year into a 4-8 team. This year, Stanford just notched their third 10 win season in a row. I don't know what the Cardinal fans, ahem, fan was saying at the end of Harbaugh's first season, but I'm sure there wasn't unconditional support or belief in the future.
Right now, it is reasonable to believe that we can become the team that we want. A team that is always in the running for the conference championsjhip. A team that plays in major bowls every year. A team that is consistently ranked. A team that gets a look at the national championship. And it is ok to be excited about that possibility.
Time will tell. In five years, I will look back at this game and consider its significance. Will we see this game as a step on the road to elite status and being a perennial contender? Or will we look at this game and this season as we look at Karl Dorrell and 2005.
The message to Bruins Nation, and to all the U.C.L.A. fans now is to keep the goal in sight. Remember what we want U.C.L.A. to be. Continue to insist that the program reach its interval potentials, as it did this year, and continue to insist that the program reach its ultimate potential in the next 2-3 years. Keep the pressure on the school to make sure that the Athletic Department has the best leaders, and the student-athletes have the best coaches and facilities and support, and that the students have the best experience.
It is absolutely fine and appropriate to be happy with what this team accomplished this year.
"You are what your record says you are" - Bill Parcells
Well then, we were a damned good football team this year.
But do not settle here, Bruins. Happiness and success are not the same. Happiness is a waypoint. Success is the journey. And we have a bowl game on the road ahead.