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The Morning After, Part Eight: Colorado

Homecoming offers a chance for UCLA Bruin fans to reconnect with their University and makes me think about all the journeys in life that lead us to and from and back again to Westwood.

Homecoming 2013.  Getting back to our U.C.L.A. roots.
Homecoming 2013. Getting back to our U.C.L.A. roots.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Life is a journey, not a destination

I know. That's one of those cheesy phrases you hear from time to time. Maybe you've seen it in fancy cursive lettering along the bottom of one of those scenic coastal photos that you find hanging in your dentist's office, or maybe it came from that one Facebook friend we all have who is good heartedly, though constantly, cluttering up our timeline with various inspirational memes, or maybe you read it in the quasi-philosophical ramblings from someone with internet access on a Sunday morning in the fall.

That phrase doesn't necessarily apply to football so much because the bottom line of the final score tends to outweigh the stats and play calls and funny bounces of that oblong ball that led to the result. There are ugly wins (U.C.L.A. yesterday) but those are always better than moral victories (Colorado yesterday). So in football, the destination at the end of 60 minutes is pretty important.

Sure, we would like our weekly journey to be full of surprising plays with perfect blocking for slashing runners and laser passes to open receivers and imposing defense with good tackling and tight coverage and perfect field goals and rare punts and absolutely zero yellow flags. But yesterday's game was not entirely the trip we hoped for. The Bruins' journey was marred by frequent unproductive yet predictable runs up the middle for little to no gain, the inability by our defense to consistently get off the field on third downs, a field goal try that hooked when it shouldn't, and oh my god those damned penalties. Still, there were some nice sights along the way. Our quarterback looked like things were beginning to click once again and the offense looked down the field more than it has in a while. The defense got tough in the red zone most of the night. We survived the absence of some key players. Our secondary kept the opponent in front of them all night and didn't get beaten over the top. Still, given the choice between the pretty game and yesterday's not very pretty game, I'm sure we'd agree that getting to the W is really the most important thing. There is no spot on the scoreboard for style points, and we can wait for IE Angel's Eye Test to tell us if the apparent direction of the team is promising or worrisome as we look down the road in front of us.

So despite the importance of the final destination of the football team each Saturday, I'm thinking the journey that football has inspired this morning.

Homecoming is an interesting word. It carries both the purpose of a journey and the idealized destination at the end. It is a particularly meaningful word for those of us in exile who didn't get to go home, and I truly envied those who were able to spend yesterday in Pasadena, whether they took a 2 mile or a 2,000 mile trip to get there. It was bittersweet seeing all the events planned by the Alumni Association and the Homecoming Committee (misdirected advertisiments notwithstanding), seeing the fanposts of those organizing meetups at the game, and seeing my FB fill up with pictures of my best friends who were in Pasadena (particularly those who finagled field passes, Jesse!). So this morning I'm feeling sentimental and considering all the twists and turns in life that have led us from our beginnings to our present, and how those roads at some point went through Westwood, whether as a student or family or fan, and what we've seen on those journeys along the way.

Personally speaking, it was particularly poignant that we played Colorado for Homecoming, since that's my current site of exile. The recurring intersections between the two schools and my own path over the years are pretty uncanny.  I think back to my original journey from Lancaster to Westwood. It was just 64 miles along the 14 and the 5 and the 405 to Sunset, and I could do it in just about an hour at the right time of day (and closer to 3 at the wrong time of day). That journey set me on a path that would eventually take me through Houston to Colorado on a trip that would cross back and forth with both U.C.L.A. and C.U., as it would for a couple former Bruin players turned coaches.

When I got to Westwood, Rick Neuheisel had recently won a Rose Bowl and was working the sidelines as an assistant coach us. The Bruins had some good years during my time in Westwood, but not as good as Colorado. During my (first) senior year in Westwood, Colorado was on top of the college football world. The Buffs split the National Championship in 1990, albeit with some help from an extra down in Missouri that year in a snafu that only SPTR's could appreciate.  After finishing my (second) senior year and working for another year, I left California for Houston, and a year after that, Neuheisel left for Boulder where he was reunited with his Rose Bowl teammate Karl Dorrell.

My 4 years in Houston were punctuated with occasional trips back to California to see friends and catch a football game each fall. One of those trips to see my old post-college roommates coincided with a seemingly random date with a girl who was a college friend of my Houston classmates and friends and whose own journey had taken her from her home in Colorado to my former home in Los Angeles. She became the love of my life and would redirect my journey a couple years later to Colorado, where we arrived a couple years after Neu had taken the reins of the Buffaloes. He spent four progressively tumultuous years in Boulder before leaving for a job in Seattle with the Washington Huskies, the alma mater of one Jim L Mora, who a few years later would find himself back as the head coach of the NFL franchise in that town. Dorrell's path wound through the Broncos before going back to California to take the leadership of our Bruins. His first game found him right back in Boulder where I got to see my Bruins in person for the first time in almost a decade. His subsequent struggles over the next few years inspired several passionate Bruins to start a website to discuss the coaching situation and it grew into the best U.C.L.A. focused blog on the web.

During that time the Buffs' path hit some rocky times under a coach with some football success mixed with huge controversy, followed by coaches with little controversy but no success at all, including a coach whose son was a Bruin at the time. After hitting rock bottom, the Buffs are currently taking some baby steps toward a return to respectability. Part of that journey back to respectability is being led by a talented receiver whose own journey in college football began with the Bruins, but whose path was redirected by his terrible decision and, despite the pathway back offered by Neuheisel, subsequently took the easy escape route to Boulder where happily he has been a good citizen and is reaching his potential. He had a homecoming of sorts yesterday with what was actually his least productive game in many aspects this season.  Meanwhile, the failures of Dorrell and Neuheisel in their times in Westwood and against our hated rival facilitated the displacement of Jim Mora from his pro job in Seattle, and cleared the way for his move to U.C.L.A. where he found a roster of talent left by Neuheisel and the hopes of a long suffering fan base.

Which brings us to yesterday, U.C.L.A. Homecoming, 2013.  All of those winding paths saw Jim Mora coaching the Bruins, Paul Richardson on the Buffaloes sideline, and Rick Neuheisel in a studio talking about the two. A young couple began their journey through life together with a proposal on the sideline. About eighty thousand of those Bruin fans, which included a lot of us here on Bruins Nation, were in the stands to take it in.  And I sat in my living room a 1,000 miles away in Colorado watching it all on TV and considering all those players and coaches and cheerleaders and spectators, all with their own stories and journeys, all coming together last night for a football game in the Rose Bowl for Homecoming.

It is disappointing to me to not be in Pasadena every Saturday, but especially for Homecoming,  But this is where my path has currently taken me, and on the flip side there are some truly incredible sights here that I likely wouldn't have seen elsewhere. So if I couldn't come home, I was at least grateful that my journey included a visit to this site, a place born from an intense passion for U.C.L.A. football and the intersection of the various journeys of its founders about 9 years ago.

For me and the many others whose journeys cross here, too, Bruins Nation is our Homecoming. Last night made me think of all the intersecting parallels in the randomness of the world and how all of our own journeys though life weave across time and space and bring us together, whether it is with family for a lifetime, or in friendships that last for years, or on a blog for a few hours during a football game to talk about and dissect and worry over and cheer for our favorite football team.

Life is a journey, and one of the highlights is that my journey brings me back here each week and helps me connect with my old home in Westwood and my family here at BN.  And that's a beautiful part of the trip.

Tell me about your journeys.