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The Donahue Syndrome

I know I should be pivoting, but it appears that the Bruin's lackluster performance against Rice this past Saturday inspired a bit of a debate.  

There are those, including myself, who believe that UCLA has some serious issues that they need to deal with if they are going to have a truly great season.  I'm not ready to "write off the season," as they say, but the sheen is certainly off the apple.  

One of the most fun things about college football is the limitless possibilities.  Everyone starts undefeated, and as the season opens, there's always that glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, all the commentators are wrong, and that we've got ourselves a championship caliber football team ready to do something special.  It's a fun time, and I like the unflagging optimism.

"Dude, I'm telling you, she's totally into me."

But, after this past Saturday, I gotta say that, while I think UCLA is certainly still capable of meeting our minimum expectations, I also believe that the Bruin's aren't going to find themselves anywhere near a Pac-10 title or a BCS game this year.  

If I'm wrong, great.  I'll happily take my crow with some salt and a cold bottle of Franziskaner.  But, in my humble opinion, barely beating an awful Rice team reasonably foreshadows a less than stellar season ahead of us.  And it also has revealed some troubling shadows from past less than stellar seasons.  I suppose we can all debate exactly how bad of a team the Owls are, but that's pointless.  There's no disputing that they're bad.  And, really, there's no disputing that even a 26-16 win against Rice wasn't what one should expect from a championship caliber team.  A school like UCLA should never limp by a lower tier team from a nothing conference.  The only real question is how bad it was.

Now that I've said this, I'm sure a fair number of fans will be in a right huff.  For some, there's no place for any criticism of the team, or it's coaches, even by genuine fans who have the program's best interests at heart.  And some people have no patience for anyone who is unwilling to express anything besides the party line.

The responses are varied, but common refrains include that people like myself: (a) are not a real Bruin fans; (b) just hate Karl Dorrell; (c) don't support the players, and/or (d) are just unreasonable fans with crazy expectations, among others.

After all, we are 2-0!!!  And, whatever happens this year is just gravy, since next year is the really going to be where UCLA is going to make run at it.  You know, we're still rebuilding, are starting a new QB, lost all those players, and.... blah blah blah.

Why does this happen?  Why can't some UCLA fans tolerate a few reasonable, fact-based criticisms of their team without having a cow about it?  Why do some fans so reflexively come to the defense of the team that they are willing to attack other fans who are just as passionate about Bruin football as they are?

Maybe it's just that evolution and society has engrained in us a remarkable ability to cope with bad situations, and circle the wagons in the face of adversity.  Us silly humans also seem to have an inherent psychological predisposition to remember bad things as better than they were; to see the bright side.  Call it selective perception, or some other psycho-jargon.  

Or maybe it's something else.  Maybe, its something about our experiences from the not-so-distant past have made us this way.  Maybe it's the decades of mediocrity from a football team that enjoys almost every natural advantage, be it location, academics, talent pool, etc.  Maybe it's a defense mechanism, born of almost inexplicable ineptitude relative to what one would expect from a university like UCLA that is on the brink of earning it's 100th NCAA championship.  Maybe we have some inherent need to revel in a close victory to a shitty team so long as it gets us one step closer to that 8-4 season we have become all too willing to accept.  I'll call it the Donahue Syndrome.

"A win is an f'ing win!  Rice, Smice!"

Old habits die hard.  But the days of accepting an ugly win against a bad team in route to an uninspiring season need to come to an end.  Yes, winning by 10 to a team like Rice should be a cause for concern.  As best as I can tell, the only reason it isn't for some is that they have bought into the concept of the gutty little Bruins and adorable losers.  And, for me, Homie don't play that.

And, frankly, I think this kind of attitude is much more damaging than a little post game criticism after a disappointing showing.