It's 1959. A freshman is making his way on the UCLA campus, trying not to get lost as he attends classes. Time may rule our lives, but it is an inconsistent marker when we use it to compare the past and present.
Only five years earlier - in 1954 - UCLA has shared a national championship in football. (UCLA is ranked number one by UPI; Ohio State is ranked first by AP. UCLA can't compete against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl because of the "no-repeat" rule, and the Buckeyes beat Southern Cal, 20-7.)
The images are indelible to those lucky enough to have seen the teams coached by Red Sanders. Leaving the huddle in serpentine fashion, the Bruins run a single wing. Their names are legendary: Paul Cameron, Donn (with two "n's") Moomaw, Primo Villanueva, Jack Ellena and so many others. (I'm skipping over, but certainly not forgetting, such earlier giants as Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington.)
Again, returning to 1959, only five years in the future UCLA will win its first basketball championship (for the 1963-'64 season) and begin its storied run that lays claim to the imagination of sports fans everywhere. Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Fred Slaughter, Keith Erickson and Jack Hirsch - along with Kenny Washington (not the football player) and Doug McIntosh leading the reserves ¬- all bring special talents to the task. But their most important contribution may be their ability to blend seamlessly. Each contributes what he can; the result is a championship. And an obvious footnote: While it is impossible not to think of integrity running through John Wooden's veins every day of his life, the 1963-64 season begins the run that will stamp him as more than a great man, and as the best coach ever, all sports considered.
The phrase "so many women/men (fill in the appropriate choice); so little time," was once seen more frequently on T-shirts than it is today. It may be presumptuous to argue that "so little time" should be considered a factor in the lives of UCLA fans, who have waited so long for the Athletic Department find its footing and regain its values. But it is indisputable that "so many" memories abound. So many teams refusing to panic - the clock and odds be damned. So many individuals realizing this could be their moment - if only they stretched a bit further, leaped a bit higher, ran a bit harder, focused a bit more on whether to throw or run.
Time circles, back to the present and reaches toward the future. I still believe Jim Mora is the right coach. He seems to have the players' loyalty, and his values and leadership have been consistent, in my view. So what's missing, aside from experience?
Maybe it's a sense of tradition - the present supported by the past. Coach never said winning was the most important thing, but does anyone here doubt that when UCLA took the floor, running basketball drills, the players kept a basic thought in mind - "We're UCLA; we know what to do." Coach didn't win all his games; no one expects Jim Mora to. But after you factor in all the X's and O's - the play called, the throw made, the defense put up - one of the chief advantages Oregon and Stanford had was confidence. They've been there, done that. Well, here's something to remember: We've been there even more often.
So these words are directed to Jim Mora's team: You are UCLA, the school that has won more NCAA titles than any other school in the country. You come from the proudest athletic tradition in America. All the people, now long gone, who played before you are with you in spirit. You have joined their ranks, and their tradition is your tradition. You are Bruins, and your path is clear