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UCLA Football Is Comfortably Numb: My Surreal, Ominous Night at the Rose Bowl

Saturday night was painful to watch.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Saturday night was painful to watch. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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People were getting high at halftime and golf claps after the go-ahead field goal.

I tried to come up with some memory from Saturday night, some metaphorical moment to sum up the game and that’s what I came up with.

But let me back up.

Me and three buddies decided to go to the San Jose State game Saturday. We made the decision, oh, maybe noon on Saturday. None of us are season ticket holders because, well, when your team plays in a 90,000 seat stadium and only draws 50-60,000 fans per game, you really only need season tickets if (A) you want to donate money to the athletic department or (B) you really like to sit in the same seats every game. Me? I actually prefer to sit in a different seat every game, to get a different perspective. I have no problem sitting in the end zone as long as the seats are high up.

We picked up a sack of burritos and tacos from a Mom and Pop taqueria near Culver City around 4:30 and headed for Pasadena. The only traffic we hit was near Dodgers Stadium because they were having some sort of Harvest Festival or prayer meeting or something. In retrospect, that might have been more fun.

The parking thing at the Rose Bowl was the usual nonsense where you try to enter the parking lot on the south side, but they send you on the scenic tour through Pasadena before letting you on the golf course. Whatever, it makes no sense, but you do get to see some nice houses built at a time when the city’s elite lived in Pasadena, not Bel Air.

Twenty-dollars to park your car on the golf course. Twenty dollars? Twenty dollars!!! It was like 10 bucks two years ago. So, twenty bucks to park your car like a mile and a half from the stadium. It’s not so bad, I guess, but you’re really far from the "action" near Lot H where the band and spirit squad are hanging out. We parked next to two cars full of UCLA coeds and I must say you’re a lucky young man if you’re currently a UCLA student. We’ll leave it at that.

But one thing really bugged me: I’m just some old alumnus so it doesn’t matter that I was parked in a different area code than the stadium. I could eat my asada and guzzle my Coronas any old place. But I felt bad for the students who were parked so far away. They tried to make it festive but you really felt the need for a student parking lot, a place where students could park their cars and meet up with friends and bond and make it fun. We can’t do anything about the fact that the stadium is 30 miles from campus, but since we’re forcing students to drive to the games (they can’t walk unless they’re from Pasadena) there should be a place for them to congregate before the game.

When we parked, we were handed a list of does and don’ts for the parking lot. I wished I saved the handout. But there were things you couldn’t do anymore, like play beer-drinking games or have glass bottles and no drinking after kickoff. No big deal to me, but I had friends who were bummed at the new rules. They had lots of security on bicycles riding around and enforcing the rules.

Fifteen minutes before kickoff we spent 80 dollars on about 200 dollars worth of tickets. When I say "worth of tickets" I mean they were 49 face value. I’m not sure if they were worth it. The funny thing is, the guy selling the tickets want 30 apiece and we said "cool, but we aren’t spending more than 20" and walked away and he chased after us to give them to us for 20 each. We probably could have walked another 10 feet and he would have begged us to take them for 15. (When we got into the stadium, the person we were sitting next to said he had just dumped them to a scalper for 15 bucks – so there you go.)

Once seated, the whole experience was surreal. The Rose Bowl was mostly empty. The game was so boring, so uneventful, that we spent a good deal of time texting friends in other parts of the stadium and inventing interesting ways to shut up the alumni cheerleader – who makes more errors in a quarter than Chris Roberts.

I will say I liked the new video board but not the new scoreboard. It wasn’t the giant big screen at Cowboys Stadium but the replays were nice. The new scoreboard on the opposite end, though, is a massive fail. You can’t read it at night. It’s as if they installed it and no one thought to see if you could read it after the sun went down.

You can’t.

There is also a new scoreboard opposite the press box, but you can’t see it from the UCLA side of the stands. I finally asked the older guy in front of me why he kept turning around to look at me and he pointed out the scoreboard behind me. I didn’t even know he was following the game, since he and his two friends were reading magazine the entire game (one of them looked like he was taking notes – must have been a professor preparing for a lecture or something). The weird part wasn’t that they were reading magazines or journals; the weird part was that it wasn’t weird. Nothing was happening on the field. It was like going to your kid’s AYSO game and bringing a book to pass the time.

Halftime – one of my friends just had to have a ten-dollar funnel cake so we took a walk. It reminded me of Pulp Fiction, when John Travolta just had to taste Uma Thurman’s "five dollar shake." My friend just had to have a ten-dollar waffle and we leaned against a wall while he ate. Turns out that wall was in the smoking section. No big deal, smoking doesn’t bother me even though I don’t care for cigarettes myself. What made me laugh were all the people getting high in the smoking section. Again, doesn’t bother me. But it made perfect sense because a little weed probably made the whole subpar Rose Bowl experience somehow tolerable. I don’t think the security guards gave a crap, either. I mean, as long as you aren’t playing beer pong, you can do all the drugs you want – and watching that game pretty much required as many drugs as you could find.

In the fourth quarter, Kip Smith hit that field goal and put us up 20-17. Pretty big moment in the game, actually. Had me missed, we might have lost to San Jose State. And this big kick was greeted by … what? … golf claps.

Golf claps.

Maybe I’m exaggerating (or maybe I’m not) but the point is, there was no reaction. The stadium was empty pretty much and we took a fourth quarter lead and there was no excitement. None. It was like we were watching the JV game and saving our energy for the varsity.

And the best part was, after Smith hit that field goal, people started walking out. Now, there was no traffic to beat on Saturday because there was no one there. But people just started walking out … in droves. We left after UCLA’s next score and we were the only ones left in our row. (Before you berate us for leaving early, we had an excuse. We thought Neusheisel would address the crowd after the game and we were embarrassed for him so we left before we could hear his speech. Turns out he was so embarrassed he didn’t make a post game speech. Maybe his best move of the night.)

That’s it. I’m not saying I had a terrible time, because it’s never that bad a time when you drink some beers and eat some tacos with friends. But it wasn’t the least bit exciting or interesting or anything. The game experience was no better than at our local high school games. The big moment was the little game where they played that game where the football hides behind a Bruin bear on the scoreboard and they play that "Didydee do didy yo yo" song and everyone guesses it’s behind bear number three.

I said above that the whole game time experience was surreal. But maybe ominous is a better word. People don’t care anymore. The administration says they care, but if they do, they have a lousy way of showing it. I couldn’t imagine it if I spent 50 dollars on that ticket then another 50 on waffles, garlic fries and bacon cheeseburgers. (Imagine if I took my whole family – five people – it could have been the least interesting/enjoyable 350 dollars I ever spent. I could rent a room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and treat everyone to room service for that much while we watched the game on a flat screen.) The team won, but didn’t excite anyone. In fact, it mostly depressed everyone. The empty stadium was more depressing. (Everyone thinks Texas is a sellout, btw, but check with the Central Ticket Office. I hear there are still 25,000 tickets available.)

Look, I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the whole football thing is circling the drain. The team doesn’t look that good. Going to the games isn’t that much fun. (Just so you know, I do understand that there is a group of people who just like to tailgate and they still have a blast. I get that. But that group gets smaller all the time. They can’t sustain the program.)

I’m actually starting to get really worried. A whole generation now has no memory of UCLA football being good, being worth watching. Today’s students will have no fond memories of the great communal experience that is college football. A tradition is dying and it is started to make me feel sad.