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The Morning After, Part 2: Nebraska

The UCLA Bruins notched a fantastic win over Nebraska in one of the meccas of college football yesterday, but the win wasn't the most important thing that happened.

A couple of numbers that were more important than the ones on the scoreboard.
A couple of numbers that were more important than the ones on the scoreboard.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

I think this was the single best win in the history of Bruin football.

I didn't say biggest win. Our first victory over *$c in 1942 was probably bigger. Not only was it the first win over our rival, it got us to our first Rose Bowl. Our first Rose Bowl win in 1966 was even bigger. Fox will tell you about Bob Stiles literally knocking himself out to save the Bruins' win at the end of that game. For me, the win over the trogies in 1993 when the Rose Bowl went to the winner was probably the most joy I have ever felt for any win in any sport ever, though that double OT win in 1996 was close.

We were the underdog yesterday, but we've scored bigger upsets. We made a huge comeback yesterday, but we've come back from bigger deficits before. Lincoln is awesome, but so are Knoxville and Austin and Ann Arbor and we've won there, too.

But when you consider everything that led up to this weekend, I think yesterday's win was the best.

I say that because some things in life are more important than the final score of a football game.

I was honestly planning on using that line regardless of the final score, because win or lose, I really believe that the sentiment holds true. And life has done plenty over the last week to prove it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm absolutely thrilled we won the game. It's hard to imagine any loss that would feel better than any win. From a football standpoint, in terms of this season and the future of our football program, the whys and hows of this win could have incredible importance. For a program that has been stalled for years, and some would say for decades, below its potential, that kind of win over that kind of team in that sort of place might be more evidence that we may finally take that step up and approach our potential. Coach Mora came to Westwood and talked about winning championships. If that ever happens, we may look back at this game as a sign and say that the day we went into a hostile sea of red and overcame a flat start to truck past the vaunted Cornhuskers was the day we achieved excellence as a football program. Granted, this is not Nebraska's best team ever, but it was a proud team with a great home field advantage, so any win, especially a win like that, means a lot.

But in the grand scheme of things, I didn't celebrate the win with the same elation and unexpurgated joy that I have with many other games before. The lows at the start weren't as low, and the highs of the comeback and the final minute weren't as high. Something was blunting all that outward emotion. I'll bet many of you felt the same way, because we were all aware that there were things in this game, and all this past week, that had implications far beyond football.

Some things in life are more important than the final score of a football game

One thing that was more important than the final score was the character of the Nebraska football program, and that includes their fans. We confirmed this week that Nebraska fans are about as classy as you will ever find. When I wrote on the morning after the Nebraska game last season, I said that I wanted us to be like Nebraska. I wanted us to be a deeply passionate fan base that wore the same color blue and filled the stadium every week and welcomed the opponents and respected the game and set the standard for what a home field advantage looked like. Well, Nebraska took my great fan card and completely trumped it with kind words from their head coach on Monday and #36 stickers on their helmets and a moment of silence and blue and yellow balloons and a banner before the game and more humanity and decency than I have ever seen from an opposing team. And in doing so, they upped that standard for a fan base to a whole new level. If everyone had the same heart and concern for their fellow man as those Nebraska folks, the world would be a far far better place.

Husker fans will be disappointed about this loss for a few weeks, but I hope they will appreciate that the goodwill and respect they have earned in our eyes and in the hearts and minds of anyone around the country who was following these events is worth more than 5 National Championships, and it will be remembered far longer than the final score. So as the final score rolled up in our favor, I just couldn't cheer quite as loud knowing the disappointment those amazing people were feeling.

Another thing that was more important than the final score - to me - was that I was supposed to be at the game. I booked a hotel in Lincoln back in January. I bought 4 tickets in U.C.L.A.'s lofty perch in the end zone from uclaluv. I was going to drive my wife and 2 kids to Lincoln on Friday and meet luv and Mexi and orlando and Minnesota and MarkPav and Dallas and many other BN'ers who were making the trip. But then it started raining here. And it rained some more. It rained here like it hasn't in about a century, and soon people in the foothills were losing their homes and towns and lives because that rain turned to torrents and flash floods. In an effort to help rescue the people who were trapped or injured, the Colorado Urban Search and Rescue Task Force was activated to respond. Three of my partners at work along with myself are on the task force, and two of them were on the roster this month, which means the remaining two of us were left to cover their shifts while they are deployed. Those guys worked for me when I went to Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and this was my turn. So instead of driving to Lincoln on Friday afternoon, I went to work. And instead of driving back home this morning, I'm at work again.

Just so there's no question, I still have yesterday's tickets. When it became clear on Thursday that I couldn't use them, I never considered selling them on some ticket outlet. There was no good way to transfer them to the ticket office to any of the BN'ers who were going, and I figured any Bruin going to Lincoln already had tickets, so the only buyers out in internet land would be Nebraska fans. Better that my seats stay empty and I eat the cost than to let some red into our section of blue. Still, as the final score rolled up in our favor, I just couldn't cheer quite as loud, in small part due to the disappointment of not being there in person, but far more because of the reasons that I wasn't at the game in the first place.

The one thing above all that was more important than the final score is that Nick was supposed to be at this game, too. He wasn't, and that is a senseless tragedy. I guess in a universe of infinite possibilities, inexplicable and unpredictable events happen. I have no other logical explanation for why something like that occurs. We all experience inexplicable tragedies in life, just as we probably experience some pretty inexplicable fortunes in, too. These inexplicable moments often become the most memorable and influential events in our lives, because their suddenness and unexpectedness make them stand out from our everyday routine, and force us to respond honestly and without preparation. Life leads us to these intersections and the roads we choose make all the difference in our journey. The leadership that our coaching staff displayed at this latest crossroads was amazing. Last weekend, I heard somewhere that Coach Mora, when abruptly faced with this unthinkable tragedy, recognized that he had never dealt with anything like this and didn't know how he was supposed to help his players, so he called his father to ask for advice. His father didn't know the answers either, so they just talked. The sincerity and compassion and leadership that Mora subsequently displayed last week show he learned very quickly how to handle something like this, and in doing so, he became a better leader for our team and our program and all who follow it.

Last weekend also became a crossroads for our players. We saw the pain and sadness on their faces and in their tweets and on a patch on their uniforms. At a time when it could have been totally understandable if they wanted to crawl in a shell and avoid the world for a while, the came together for each other and to honor the inspiration and example of a walk on scout team player and they met a personal tragedy and competitive challenge head on. In doing so, a group of teens and very early 20 somethings who are good football players quickly grew up into young men and proved that they will be well equipped to meet any adversity that life chooses to place in front of them.

Coach Mora said earlier this week that this game wasn't about a win or a loss. When he was asked about that comment after the game, he didn't talk about rushing yards or pass blocking or penalties or the kicking game. He said their goal was to honor Nick, to reflect everything he meant to them, and then he looked right into the TV camera and spoke directly to Nick's family members, calling them by name, and said, "We did it for your son...we did it for your son". So in the end, with the final score rolled up in our favor, I just didn't need to cheer quite as loud knowing the solemnity of the team's cause and letting Coach Mora's words and his smile be all the cheering that was needed.

What this week came down to was character and heart and playing the game the right way for something more important than the final score. When you think of all the adversity our team faced, the unbelievable decency of the Nebraska team and their fans, our Bruins' performance on the field, and the character and heart and inspiration of the young man for whom our team dedicated this game, this has to be the best Bruin victory in the history of our program.  I can't think of another game that is close.

For these reasons, and not simply for the scoreboard, this was our best win ever.

Coach Wooden would have been very proud of yesterday.