The Morning After, Part 4: Utah

Building relationships that start with a love for U.C.L.A. Football. - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Some thoughts on UCLA Football, Alter Bridge, and how the people behind the screen names can change how we see things.

I've been defeated and brought down. Dropped to my knees when hope ran out
The time has come to change my ways
On this day I see clearly. Everything has come to life.
A bitter place and a broken dream and we'll leave it all behind.

Metalingus, Alter Bridge, 2004

Well, ok, officially, Three mornings after, Part 4: Utah.  I have a good excuse.

When I realized I was going to be out of town the night of the Utah game, I tried to pawn this off any of the other front pagers, but apparently no one wanted to ramble inefficiently or overuse commas, so it fell back to me. As such, I'm sorry this is coming a bit late, but the reasons will make sense in a bit. Nevertheless, I'll at least get to the game angle before wandering off onto mostly peripherally related issues, because the team and the game is why we're all together here at this site.

I was in Florida for a couple days, in part to see Alter Bridge, the best band in the world. They have a new album called Fortress coming out on Tuesday, their first in 3 years. Alter Bridge has a huge following in Europe, so they planned to play one show in Orlando as basically a warm up for their extended tour in Europe beginning in a couple weeks. So if I wanted to see them live for the first time in a couple years and for any foreseeable future, Friday night was my one shot. And getting in line by 9 in the morning meant flying in on Thursday and risking not being able to see the game live that night.

As anticipated, I wasn't anywhere that had TV coverage of the game on Thursday, so I had to rely on BN to get me through (and a DVR after I got back home). ESPN or some other news services carry play-by-play updates, but those are obviously pretty sterile. I think one can get a much better sense of both the game and the mindset of the fans by following the threads. "Watching" the game here on Bruins Nation still provides some of those stats, but it also gives something more interesting in terms of the comments and is far more similar to sitting in the stands. But just as important as the comments themselves is who is making the comments, because I think that many of us have gotten to know many of the rest of us pretty well, and so you can tell a lot, based on not just what is said, but also by who says it, how things are going on the football field.

Which is why I found it interesting and very comforting that in a game that was obviously a tight battle which was undecided until the end that Bruins Nation was never in panic mode. Nothing close to it at all, in fact. I was pretty nervous while following along, as I'm sure everyone really was while watching, but more than I've ever seen in 7 years here, the comments kept revealing a quiet confidence. A belief, and not just blind hope, that someone would step up and make a play. Never arrogance, but a cautious trust. Unlike the past several years when there was a pervasive sense that things were going to collapse somehow, there was a sense that our team would find a way to win.  Even through the turnovers and penalties and SPTR's, it was there.  You could feel it in the thread.

There's nothing we should have to fear. It's alright, we've come to life
We'll never shed another tear. It's alright, we've come to life

Come To Life, Alter Bridge, 2007

We wrote all week about how this would be a really tough game for our Bruins. We know how Thursday night games have been for us for several years. We know how the state of Utah has been for us for several years. We know how road games, and cold games, and character games with real consequences riding on them have been for us for several years. Bruin fans recognized this game would be a good test to see how far this team's developing toughness had come.

One thing that I didn't consider beforehand is that this game would also show how far our fans' developing toughness had come. This was a game that a couple years ago we would all been pretty convinced, even if we dared not admit it, that we would find a way to lose, and probably in pretty spectacular fashion. And that attitude wasn't just a BN thing because we saw the same things on every message board or social medium. Thursday's threads showed a new sense of belief that our players will make the big play, that our coaches will make the right decisions, and in the end, things were going to work out for us. And it was by knowing who was writing comments, and not just the comments themselves, that I could see that people are really believing now.

I wrote last week how important Bruins Nation was in helping me reconnect with U.C.L.A. after life and distance and time faded that relationship. This game and my reasons for missing it reminded me how important Bruins Nation is for forming virtual relationships, some of which turn out to be very important in life.

It's an interesting phenomenon of our current time that with social networks and email and instant messaging that we can have legitimate friendships with people we have never met face to face. That was nearly impossible 20 years ago, but it's commonplace nowadays. There are many people here on BN I have not met in person (yet) but they have reached out and shared stories about U.C.L.A. or their families or histories or opinions. It's what makes BN special and unique compared to message boards or news updates. It's why I hope the new students at U.C.L.A. will try BN and see what it is like for themselves. This community is a kind of family to all of us.

And that's the other reason I wanted to go to Florida.

I have made some of my best friends through Alter Bridge. People I met initially just on a fan site, where sometimes comments on the band became comments on things beside the band which sometimes turned to personal conversations which sometimes turned into friendships on Facebook where you  get a better idea of what someone is like. Now, we all know that the Internet can be a pretty weird place, but if you are thoughtful and choose the right conversations to pursue, some of those virtual friendships become much much more. That's how I got to know Jim, a kid from Devon, England, who stayed with my family for a week a few years back when he was travelling through the U.S, and Ryan from El Segundo who once lived on the same street in Hermosa that my then fiancee and I lived in for a time, and now our wives and kids have met. The three of us talk regularly and we finally got to reunite together in person in Orlando just for this concert. And there were other friends from NJ and Philly and Phoenix and Chicago that I have met at previous concerts who I wanted to see who were making the trip to Orlando for this one show, people who were originally a faceless screen name on a computer who I now count among my friends, and who were part of a all-lifetime experience on Thursday. Similar to many people from BN.

Don't close your eyes. Something beautiful is still alive!
Don't close your eyes. Never turn away and let it die.

Cry of Achilles, Alter Bridge 2013

The music and message of Alter Bridge has sort of become my religion, and I think it is great therapy for life. The music is incredible guitars and soaring vocals and heavy riffs with great melodies beneath and are exactly what I love in music and would be by itself more than enough to love the band. But even better are the messages in their lyrics that relate frustration and loss and failure and acknowledge the dark and trying sides of life. It is brutally honest.  But the message includes the personal battle to get through those times, and ultimately I see as a message about maintaining hope and finding inner strength to face those times, and never giving up.  It's like how we do things on BN.  We don't blindly ignore the problems in our athletic department, but we keep writing and keep rooting for things to turn out right because we won't give up.  And I think that's what many of us have gone through in staying loyal to our Bruins.  Sometimes those dark times last for years.  Fortunately, at least in football, we are starting to see that hope and strength get rewarded.

So when we read the comments in the game threads, we are not just reading the words but I think we're continually building pictures of the people making the comments and developing our virtual relationships. One of the nice things (unlike misguided Google searches on vague medical symptoms) about the Internet is that age or homeland or professions aren't nearly as important as sharing a common bond and passion for something, whether that something is a band or whether it's for U.C.L.A. I am very grateful for the relationships I have made thanks to Professor Kleinrock's little invention in Westwood. I have witnessed unbelievable generosity and thoughtfulness from people who I knew as a number on a screen but who are now a name with a family and a story that you care about like family. Which is really sort of what Bruins Nation and Alter Bridge are about.

I know we aren't going to win all the close games like we did on Thursday night. No team ever does. And sometime the team will still probably pull another Cal-2012 like performance. Every team at every level does that at some point. But it's comforting to know that when those hard times come that there will be people, not just screen names, but real live people that we know, to share the pain and disappointment, but who will also help pick each other up so we can keep on trying.

That concert in Orlando was even better than I hoped.  In many ways, so was the game in Utah.

If you believe in nothing else, just keep believing in yourself
There will be times of trouble, it's gonna hurt like hell
This much I know, All ends well

All Ends Well, Alter Bridge, 2013.

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