Bumped and thank you UCLA Class of 86. GO BRUINS. -N
This is ONLY directed to the UCLA basketball band-wagoners out there. You know who you are.
I first heard you, or first heard about you, directing your comments to John Wooden after winning the national championship game in 1975. Something along the lines of, "Well, I guess this win makes up for last year, eh, Coach?"
That's right, the "failure" of losing in the national semi-final game in 1974 was mitigated by the championship in '75. The previous year was an aberration, and the ship was now righted. Things were normal again, as UCLA reclaimed its rightful position at the top of the college basketball world.
Of course, the Internet did not exist in 1974, but if it did, I can only imagine the vitriol that would have been spewed in article comments and blogs after the loss to NC State:
"John Wooden has lost his touch."
"Walton can't shoot."
"This team is selfish."
"Worst UCLA team in years."
"Bill Walton sucks."
"Keith Wilkes sucks."
"Wooden can't coach, and his luck finally ran out."
I think I can safely assume that Coach Wooden heard many comments similar to these from the band-wagoners after that season, since both the 88-game streak AND the championship streak were broken in the same year. Wow, what a disappointment! Two devastating, horrendous defeats, ending two streaks that should have gone on forever. After all, the Bruins don't lose. Someone's not doing their job.
While the win in 1975 put some salve on the band-wagoners' wound, John Wooden could see what was in store for him and his players if they should (God forbid) somehow lose another big, important game. In essence, he'd been done in by his own achievements. So the greatest coach of all time decided he'd had enough, and thus closed the book himself on his coaching career.
Typical of a band-wagon fan, you jumped off the UCLA gravy train pretty quickly after that. No Wooden, no Alcindor, no Walton. No Wicks, Goodrich, Rowe, or Vallely; just some players with decent talent that can't win it all. That's it. Nothing exciting, nothing to cheer for.
"This sucks. I'll be back when you start winning again."
So you went away for a while. You briefly stuck your head in the door for a quick look in 1994-95, wondering if it was time to pal around with the rest of us again, and got pretty excited at the party that seemed to be getting started. Hey, looks like UCLA is back on top! Great! But just as quickly as you popped in, you were gone, like the Japanese fleeing Godzilla, right after the Princeton Tigers started celebrating their monumental win. UCLA was just a pretender.
"Nothing to see here, I guess. Call me when you're serious about winning on a regular basis."
That brings us to the present day.
After two straight years in the Final Four, including one championship game, and three consecutive 30-win seasons, you have made yourselves known again. I see your website comments in the LA Times, ESPN, and right here on Bruins Nation. It's especially noticeable in the in-game comment threads during a close game, or after a loss. On the one hand, you are trumpeting that "the glory days are back!!" Then a Texas, or Washington, or USC game happens, and you are spraying venom. "Shipp needs to score more." "Luc better get his act together." "Lorenzo is a liability out there." "Our defense sucks this year." "We are going down in flames." "Ben Howland can't coach." 30-plus years after your first shots were fired, you're back again with a vengeance. Only the names have changed.
Am I suggesting that nobody can ever be critical of our team? Of course not. We all express frustrations from time to time, especially when things aren't going our way. It's part of being a sports fan. But there is a line that's crossed, one that differentiates between an honestly-expressed desire to see the team win, and unwarranted, unfair, unsubstantiated, blatantly-bandwagon bullshit. I can virtually guarantee that you will be slinging the mud if UCLA should lose their next game. And that's too bad.
I have no idea if we will win on Thursday. If we do, an even tougher game awaits us on Saturday, no matter who we play. If we don't, if we stumble along the way and our luck, timing, and talent fall short, I will surely be disappointed. But my disappointment will be not with the team, but rather for myself, because I won't be able to get up the next day and devour all of the news articles and commentaries and interviews and highlights like I do after a win. I won't be able to read the other team's hometown newspaper and privately gloat over their misery at having been beaten by a superior UCLA squad. My contact high will be gone, and I'll have to wait until November to get it going again.
The simple fact is, this UCLA team owes me nothing. They owe nothing to any of us. At the beginning of each season, we ask our coach and our players to be competitive enough to give us a great season and a CHANCE at winning it all. And once again this year, we have been given back everything we asked for, and more. The grind-it-out win over Michigan State. The near-flawless execution at home in a blowout win against Arizona. Russell Westbrook's slam. Lorenzo's blue-collar grit. Any one of Kevin Love's outlet passes, several of which I have watched over and over just to experience the sheer artistry of them. His gutsy, f-you performance at Oregon. Darren and Josh's late heroics in the meaningless Pac-10 tournament. Coach Howland's 24-hour-a-day devotion to detail. Put it all together, and I have enough energy and memories in the bank to last me until the 2008 tip-off, regardless of what happens this week or next.
My final word to you bandwagoners is this: keep your praise and enthusiasm public, and your baseless criticisms private. We've watched a thing of beauty unfold so far this season.
Everything else we get from here on out is just delicious gravy.