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Returning To Glory

Bumped. GO BRUINS. - N

This December we are going to be approaching the 10 year anniversary of our infamous game against Miami. I guess to fill the column spaces during a bye week the Daily Bruin and the Daily News decided to run few stories looking back at 1998-99 UCLA football season, which was the last time UCLA won the Pac-10 championship and went to the Rose Bowl.

I don’t really like talking about December 5, 1998. But since the Daily Bruin ran a three part column on that season (Part I, Part II, and Part II), I thought it was important to point how the writer of the piece completely missed some of the big reasons why we got our heart crushed on December 5, 1998 (in the same way the Red Sox Nation was devastated the night ball slipped under Bill Buckner’s glove).

Sam Allen, the senior staff writer from the Daily Bruin, spent one of the entire stories discussing the decision of few Bruin football players to wear black arm wristbands to protest a proposition that essentially ended affirmative action in California’s public university admission. Let’s save the debate on the merit of that proposition for another forum. The issue here was whether all UCLA football players were behind it as a team and whether it impacted the result on December 5, 1998.

DB’s Sam Allen wrote that the "team disagreed" about wearing those wristbands even though his report provides details on how the most of the players were generally being behind it:

Ayanbadejo [Brandon Ayanbadejo, the team’s defensive leader and star, BN Ed], who was born in Chicago, said he tried to discuss the issue with as many teammates as he possibly could, including offensive standouts Danny Farmer, Mike Grieb and Andy Meyers. He explained that Proposition 209 would prevent people from communities like his from gaining admission to a school like UCLA.

He said players of all ethnicities understood his point, even those who were not politically active.

"Some people were more passionate about it than others, but there was a general consensus that it was a positive message that the team was willing to support," Huma [Ramogi Huma, BN Ed.] said. "Everybody was willing to participate. That is what I clearly remember."

Any way, it was Bob Toledo who was against the idea and strongly discouraged the players from taking that action. The players eventually dropped the idea and took the field without wearing those wristbands.

However, I think it is very naïve and ignorant to zero in on the wristband drama to point as the main reason UCLA lost that game. There were number of more important factors:

First and foremost it was the lack of a credible defensive scheme that hurt that team the entire season. That day the defense gave up an astounding 699 yards, allowing Edgerrin James to cash in his NFL millions. However, for those who had been following that Nick Allioti coached defense all season, they knew we were playing with fire all season.

It was Cade who kept bailing us out in one game after another all season, covering up one horrific defensive performance after another. We almost went down against Oregon at the Rose Bowl, when Oregon passed and ran all over our pathetic defense with Akili Smith and RB Reuben Droughns, who was playing with a broken leg! If not for Cade’s heroics in that game, we would have gotten blown out. Same way Cade bailed us out on the road against Oregon State, when he hooked up with Brad Melsby on a long bomb to pull a game in last minute.

We also got lucky against a woeful Stanford team at the Rose Bowl, when Marquez Anderson saved a last minute game winning TD, by stripping Stanford receiver at the goal line. We kept playing with fire all season, until that defense finally experienced total meltdown in Miami. Those defensive meltdowns had nothing to do with black wrist-bands, and everything to do with Nick Alliotti’s poor coaching, leading to a vanilla defense full of shoddy tacklers, representing a huge letdown from the defense Rocky Long had built prior to departing Westwood.

In addition the black wrist band drama had nothing to do with Brian Poli-Dixon’s butterfingers when he let a sure TD slip away from his hands as he was racing towards the end zone early in fourth quarter, which have put the game away for our Bruins.

Oh and the black wristband drama had nothing to do with the fact that Melsby didn’t fumble. He was down. A fact that unbelievably a writer from the Daily Bruin missed covering the most painful game in the history of UCLA football in last three decades.

The reporter also totally missed the boat by pointing to 1998-99 season as "model year for football," even though it was the 1997-98 team that was the better of those two 10-win teams. It was the 1997-98 team that put it all together after two season opening heart breaking loss against (eventual) Pac-10 Champion Washington State (on the road) and Payton Manning’s Tennessee (at the Rose Bowl). Following the Tennessee loss the team went on to Austin to unleash 66-3, and the rest was history. The Bruins romped through rest of the season ending with a win over Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl. That team was dominant on both sides of the ball and by some account was probably the best team in the country at the end of the season, as it got shut out of a good New Year’s Day bowl game, due to Pac-10’s horrific bowl Ks, thanks to the incompetence of stooges like Tom Hansen.

Anyway, I will not try to bring up those memories any more. I think we are better served if we just look forward to the future with arguably the best coaching staff this program has assembled since the days of Dick Vermeil. Here is Dan Guerrero looking forward in Dohn’s article re. UCLA's slide since that 1998 season:

"We're going to be a solid program," said Guerrero, the athletic director who fired Toledo and hired Dorrell, then fired Dorrell and hired Neuheisel. "I love the players on our team. They're Bruins. We chose them. They chose us, and we're in this fight together.

"In a lot of ways, it's sort of like (men's basketball coach) Ben Howland's first year, where coaches have come in and laid down a foundation for what the future will bring."

And CRN:

"As I tell the team, I think we're going through labor pains," said Neuheisel, who has one losing season in eight years as a head coach.

"We're going through a birth of the next generation of UCLA football. We've got to push.

"Last year's recruiting class was excellent, and I think this year's recruiting class will be excellent, and if we keep going, we'll set standards."

Personally, when I think of those two magical years, I chose to remember it like this:

1997 UCLA vs. USC Football (via jtthirtyfour)

And this:

1998 UCLA vs. USC Football (via jtthirtyfour)

It will take time.

I feel confident though that with Neuheisel and Chow leading this offense, we will have another warrior like number 18, who will lead our return to glory.