Last night seemed really familiar to me.
Not from a game standpoint. I'll let the others talk about the game itself. For me, there was a different sense of familiarity with the events yesterday. That feeling started when I wrote up the Bruin Bites for yesterday morning and linked a brief news bite that spoke about the students moving into On Campus Housing at U.C.L.A.
All 11,000 of them.
That's crazy. When I moved into Sproul as a freshman over 25 years ago, there were 4 dorms and 2 Suites (which were still called Northern and Southern) and maybe 2,000 students could live on campus? The hill has certainly grown. Personally, I think it's fantastic that there are so many more students living on campus these days. Aside from the conveniences of being close to class and having someone cooking every meal for you, there is a camaraderie and sense of family and support that can only come from studying and eating and sleeping and partying and living and learning and growing alongside your fellow Bruins. It is one of the best parts of being a student in Westwood.
After all, no matter how the admin may act, it's ultimately about the students.
I've probably told the story about my first post on BN a few times in various threads, but I hope I haven't told it in one of my post game articles. I'd hate to think I've run out of original ideas after doing this piece for just 2+ years. If not, at least I've had 2 more years of fresh ideas than
TJ Simers some others.
Anyway, I was thinking about that story because I retold it last night. I was at meet up Friday night here in Denver for all the local bloggers associated with SB Nation. The founder of SB Nation has been making the rounds to various cities to meet the bloggers and talk about the future of SB Nation and how we can make it even better.
Here in Denver, we had folks from Ralphie Report (CU), Mile High Report (Broncos), Denver Stiffs (Nuggets), Purple Row (Rockies), Mile High Hockey (Avalanche, Cutthroats, and Denver Univ), a staff writer from Baseball Nation, all of whom are great writers for great blogs that you should visit regularly. And then there was me, a slightly random misplaced exile who all these years later can't give up his college a thousand miles away. All of us were invited to talk about how we came to our blogs and to discuss any experiences we thought might be helpful. So I talked about my first post on Bruins Nation
The entire story goes way back before that first post, but I didn't want to bore the fellow SBN bloggers at the table with all that. I'll bore you with it now instead, though, but I'd love to hear yours in the comments below, too.
My story began on a perfect September Saturday in Westwood in 1986, move-in weekend for me. I was coming to U.C.L.A. from Lancaster which back then was a small sleepy little aerospace town in the desert, with 2 of my lifelong friends. Brant, Tim, and I lived within a mile of each other, had gone to school together since second grade, played sports together, and grew up side by side by side. The three of us got accepted to U.C.L.A. which seemed natural. In those days though, not all freshmen were guaranteed a spot in the dorms. As fate would have it, Tim lost out in the housing lottery. Brant and I got in and roomed together as freshmen. Tim moved into an apartment in Palms with his brother, a sophomore who wasn't interested in living on campus or doing much of anything besides studying.
I'd helped Brant move in early in the week, and I brought all my own stuff from the high desert on that Saturday. The following weekend, Brant was away for the weekend seeing his girlfriend at UC Irvine, so I found myself alone in our room when Tim stopped by (pre access control - anyone could walk in) and suggested we go to the football game that night. I was kind of surprised by the idea. I never really thought about going to college football games because it seemed like such an proprietary event for alums. I'd always played football myself in high school, so I didn't really know how to even go to a game. Going to a U.C.L.A. game seemed too big an undertaking for someone who was only 5 days into being a student. And the Rose Bowl might as well have been a thousand miles away to a freshman with no car. Luckily, Tim had his parents' Pinto that weekend and I didn't want to sit in my room by myself so I said sure and we made an explosion-free drive to Pasadena. We got there right about kickoff, bought $6 student tickets, and I walked through tunnel 6 in to something I had never experienced in person before and that changed my life in that instant.
It was a typically gorgeous fall evening in the Arroyo Seco. Fifty-thousand people stood together and roared approval for a team wearing the most beautiful blue uniforms you have ever seen. The stadium lights bathed the stadium in an ethereal glow. I learned and sang the Fight Song that night. We did the card show at halftime. Someone handed me a beer. I did 8-claps with fellow students and hugged strangers, including some very intriguing coeds, and high-fived my buddy Tim whenever we scored, which was a lot. The football team ran up a big score on Long Beach State that night and won the game and they also won a fan for life. Those players weren't just the U.C.L.A. Bruins anymore. They was MY team now. That was MY school now. I was one of them, and I knew I was going to every single football game from then on.
I read all the articles in The Bruin. I read articles in the LA Times. I read the media guide when I could find one. I knew the roster and their stats and their strengths and their weaknesses and learned the history of the program. Then that love for U.C.L.A. football easily spread to volleyball and basketball and tennis and softball and any other sport that represented my school. Sports became as much a part of my life in college as Sproul and Royce and Powell and the IM Field and BioMed and South Campus and Westwood and Acapulco's and Sunset Rec and State Beach. I found friends in Sproul who felt the same and and my world grew with the addition of every new friend and fellow Bruin over my 5 wonderful years in Westwood into something incredibly full.
Fast forward five years and life saw me moving to Houston for medical school (This where my story to my fellow bloggers picked up). I disappeared into the morass of med school in the days before internet or satellite TV or pay-per-view. I saw a couple Bruin games a year when they were televised locally, but it was rare. It was even harder to know the details of the program the way I used to, in part from the lack of time but much more from the dearth of information on anything U.C.L.A. in Houston, Texas. That vacuum continued when I moved to Colorado and vanished into internship and residency. We had a modest Alumni group here back then that would get together for the Southern Cal game each year, but I didn't know half the starters on the teams anymore, let alone all the backups or anyone's stats or even their class. Then as the football program dwindled in the last days of Toledo into Karl Dorrell, the interest by the alumni group faded, too, until it folded altogether in the mid 2000's. I watched the games still, but it was usually at home and rarely with anyone else.
So in early December 2006, Denise and the kids were visiting family out of town and I watched our game against Southern Cal alone at home. After years of embarrassing failures the impossible happened and the Bruins won 13-9 in all sorts of dramatic fashion. I uncontrollably found myself tearing madly through my house screaming in joy at no one and realizing I wanted strangers to hug and my buddy Tim to high-five. I was deliriously happy, and I wanted - needed - to share that moment of joy.
I went to my computer and typed in "BruinsNation.com". I found a post-game article that was basically a long series of comments that said "WOOOHOOO!!!" and "YES!!!!!" and "FU$C!!!". I'd read the site before as a lurker and had followed basketball news in Howland's early heydays, but I didn't have the knowledge that the people who posted there did and so I had never written a single comment. Until that night. It was a not-very-inspired emotional blurb with lots of capitals about how awesome that win was. The amazing thing is that my comment was immediately followed by a reply (there were no recs). It was like a virtual high-five. I got to share the win with a Bruin. And I read the thread and shared more thoughts and elation with other Bruins. I went back to the game thread and found a roll call of Bruins with whom I could virtually hug and high-five and cheer and celebrate the incredible moment. It turned out that being away from the school wasn't the big limitation for me. Being away from fans was much more important. Here at BN, I found an army of passionate fans just a click away. The same way that Saturday night in Pasadena in 1986 made me a Bruin, that December night in 2006 pulled me wholly back into the fold.
My story went on to how I got involved as a writer and some of my lessons learned from 3+ years of doing it. Then it was the next blogger's turn and I listened to her great experiences, but in moments of pause I found myself thinking back to that first post on BN, and how much that post felt a lot like walking through Tunnel 6 for the first time, and then the connection became clear.
I've written about Brant, and many know my story. Unfortunately, my friend Tim didn't finish U.C.L.A. He was brilliant and a really great guy, but the distance from campus and probably finances and (IMO) the separation from more support and peers added up and he eventually left school. We caught up briefly a few years ago after a very long absence, and he's doing ok, but I have always wondered how it would have gone for Tim if he won the dorm lottery and started off in a place with the same environment that my hall mates and dorm mates and their friends and their friend's friends became for me. That web of friendships and support is why I am so heartened that there are 11,000 Bruins who will have that beginning this weekend.
Last night looked familiar to me because I've been there, and maybe we've all been there. I hope that somewhere on that beautiful Westwood campus yesterday there was someone walking in my 27 year old shoes. Someone taking the first steps on an immense and daunting path in life. Hopefully someone gaining a little more confidence in him or herself, a little more willing to take a risk here and there. Someone finding a bit of a better clue about where to go in life. Mostly someone who is lucky to have a great friend like Tim to give him a little push feet first into the deep end of college life and opens the door to all the incredible educational and social and spiritual opportunities and realizations that occur when you fall in love with your school. Hopefully one of those students moving in, or better yet, all 11,000 of the students moving in, said what the heck and went to the Rose Bowl on the last night of summer in 2013 and were welcomed by 50,000 new friends and did 8-Claps and sang Sons of Westwood and cheered for the football team and saw a #36 jersey of a fellow student painted on the Rose Bowl grass, and then at the end of the night left Pasadena not just as a spectator or as a new student, but as a U.C.L.A. Bruin. For life.