NOTE: Well, it has been fun, but judging from the response to the previous post in this series, it doesn't seem that fiction is in great demand on BN. Nevertheless, I started this experiment, and I did sort of leave things hanging, so I should tie it off cleanly. Therefore, this post will wrap up the fictional part of this series. Thanks to tommybruin, KSBruin, Fox 71, and to everybody who read Part 2 or this post, for indulging me.
CORRECTION: Toward the end of the previous fiction piece, I referred to "the steps" as the planned gathering place for a rally of Bruins, prior to next spring's football scrimmage at the Rose Bowl. I was referring, of course, to Janss Steps. Long before there was a Bruin Plaza, the steps were often where we would meet for rallies. So, I've revised Part 2, replacing "the steps" with "the plaza," as though this is what I meant all along. Hey, geezers are allowed to do stuff like this. We're also allowed to back up without looking.
The Morgan Center, on the UCLA Campus, April 2014
The new UCLA Athletic Director was a spectrum of blue. Her woman's 1982 football jersey, in a hue halfway between Powderkeg Blue and azure blue, bore the number 24 for her favorite player from that year, Danny Andrews. The full UCLA stripes enveloped Madison's slender shoulders. A sophomore then, Andrews was a smallish, but lightning-quick, tailback. Madison had worn the jersey to the 1983 Rose Bowl game against mighty Michigan. In the third quarter, Tom Ramsey had led a brilliant, time-consuming, seven-for-seven drive, converting numerous third downs. When Andrews capped the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run to put UCLA up 17-7, Madison nearly burst with joy. Andrews' autograph, the result of her mom's persistence after the game, was faint, but still legible, across the gold "2" on her back.
Her close-to-True-Blue denim jeans, her True-Blue windbreaker, her Powderkeg-Blue Bruin "B" cap, her UCLA-Blue tote bag, her navy-blue jacket, her blue Adidas sneakers, and her gold ankle socks with tassel-ball heels left no doubt where her allegiances lay.
The sneakers were the only article that Madison had accepted gratis in her new position, as team sneakers weren't available in the Student Store. The other items, all but the jersey, had, at her insistence, been paid for out of her own pocket. For her, it was more gratifying to purchase the clothes in her new position than it would have been to get them as perks. "I can afford it, and I'm happy to do it," she had argued to The Morgan Center staffer. "And, besides, every dime counts. It's only a little bit of money, but, instead of going to me, it can go to our teams."
Madison had heard the debates about whether UCLA should adopt a single color for all endeavors, both athletic and academic, but she was not partial to any side. She loved the Powderkeg Blue with which she had grown up. But, she loved True Blue, too, which was adopted as the color worn by all of UCLA's varsity athletic teams in 2003. To her, True Blue was the sky, and therefore, the limit, for UCLA. She also liked UCLA Blue, and didn't mind that the academic side had their own shade.
She was sympathetic to the argument about making Pauley and the Rose Bowl a single color, like you would find at the University of Texas or the University of Tennessee. But, she also liked the image that multiple shades of blue presented. To her, the Rose Bowl in mixed blue hues was an Impressionist painting, a Van Gogh sky.
But, diverse shades of blue were where she drew the line. "Any shade of blue is better than any shade of any other color," she had declared at a Morgan Center staff meeting in her second week. I'm open to both single-shade and multiple-shade arguments, but whatever we decide, we, here in the athletic department, can do a much better job of promoting blue at all UCLA events. We can't expect people to follow us if we don't lead them."
She also went on record in that meeting as much preferring full UCLA stripes on football jerseys. "I'll listen to reasons," she said, "but I find it hard to believe that we cannot find a way to have full stripes on tech-fit jerseys, or on any other kind of jersey that UCLA might wear in the future." She held up pictures of former players, Troy Aikman, Don Johnson, Mike Sherrard, and Duval Love in their home and away uniforms. "They look regal," she said. "They look UCLA." Then, she held up pictures of a headless half-mannequin in a tech-fit, with "these silly little stubs." "When you abbreviate an icon," she said, "I don't think you improve it; you diminish it."
The elevator chimed, as floor "2" lit briefly. "We just have to get 'em there, Gus," said Madison. "Once they're there, the Bruin magic takes over. The energy will flow through them. They'll get hooked. They'll bond with their fellow students on the field and in the stands. They'll become part of the team. They'll be Bruins, forever after. That'll happen, with or without us." She paused, and looked directly into his brown eyes. "But, we do have to get them there, first."
Winthrop looked at the 13-by-19-inch flyers taped to the stainless steel and teak panels in the elevator. The curved, block letter outlines had been filled in, rather amateurishly, with blue and gold fiber-tipped markers. Hesitantly, he had approved a budget for promoting the spring game. Madison's arguments about "creating Bruins" had made a reluctant dent in his thinking, though he'd had reservations about spending money for an intra-squad scrimmage.
One flyer described the rally at Drake, the food and refreshments to be provided, and the logistics of bus transportation to and from the Rose Bowl. The outlined letters, "ALL BLUE = ALL FREE," were colored in blue, except for "FREE," which was colored in gold. "They show up in all-blue, their day is free," she had told Winthrop. "It's that simple."
The other flyer said "Walk with Mad Dog," and went on to describe the gathering at Bruin Plaza and the walk to Drake. Had Madison and Stephanie known, they would have titled it "Walk with Boomer and Mad Dog."
Winthrop remembered saying to Madison upon seeing the posters for the first time, "This is what twelve thousand dollars buys?"
"No," she had replied. "This is what Stephanie and Mad Dog buys." I thought twelve-K was way overboard for a few posters, and it was something that we could do, ourselves. That money is going for the buses. Twelve-K will hire a lot of buses."
Winthrop truly admired and loved Madison's unashamed, child-like passion. He could not argue with her past successes at running athletic departments. But, her approach to budgeting gave him pause. The out-of-pocket Bear Wear had been a minor thing. And, he could look at the promotion and buses thing as creative budgeting. But, her paying personally for food and drink at the rally had him shaking his head. "Well, I still think you're crazy," he said.
"Yeah, I know," she said. "You're probably right. But, my signing bonus was, to me, an unexpected windfall. My parents get a nice piece of it for their retirement; I get a nice piece; and there's quite a bit left over for sparking passions. And, nothing draws people like free food. Anyway, it's a one-time thing, Gus. I promise."
The elevator chimed "1," and slowed gently to a stop. "It'll work, Gus," she said, eyes still fixed on his. "I'm sure of it." The brushed stainless doors opened.
Outside, Winthrop saw a group of twenty or thirty students, standing in a loose semi-circle outside the glass doors of the south-side entrance to the J. D. Morgan Center. All were wearing blue, head to toe. Two or three standing students were carrying small poster board signs.
"Uh-oh," said Winthrop, coming to a halt in the Morgan Center lobby. "We've got protestors."
Madison turned from Winthrop and looked through the ceiling-to-floor, tinted rectangular glass panes. Her uncertainty lasted for only an instant. "No," she said. She turned to Winthrop, touched his blazer-jacketed right arm below the elbow, and said, "Those aren't protestors. Those are Bruins!"
"But..., I thought they were going to meet us in the plaza," Winthrop said.
"They are," said Madison. "I think this is just an advance party." She ran three steps to the doors, leaving Winthrop alone in the lobby. She thrust open the double doors, ran three more steps, and came to an abrupt jump-stop, more or less in the center of the arc of students. She kept her bent-kneed crouch on landing, spread her arms wide, and screamed loudly, "Bruins!"
Most students screamed "Bruins!" back at her. They laughed and applauded.
Madison raised her face to the sky, and let loose a primal scream from somewhere deep within, "Ah-h-h-e-e-e-e!" she screamed, gyrating her head from side to side.
"We love you, Mad Dog," yelled a young man.
Madison recognized the yelling man, Edwin, she thought was his name, from Dykstra. "And, I love you, Bruins," Madison yelled back. She recognized other dorm advisors, one from Rieber, the other she wasn't sure which. Angie, maybe? And, Walter was it? Or, Wendell?
"Thank you for coming, Bruins. This is so-o-o great!" Madison enthused. "This is true Bruin spirit, y'all coming out like this." She looked around, and spoke some of the students' names, tentatively. "Marianne..., Cecilia..., um..., Anatoly... Forgive me if I don't remember all your names," she continued.
Madison arched her eyebrows at the small crowd, and emitted a sustained, "Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h" as she raised her arms above her head.
On cue, all thirty or so students raised their arms, and joined in the "Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h." Together, on Madison's lead, they all lowered their hands below their waists, and clapped in unison as they chanted, slowly as Madison had coached, "One!" beat, they bellowed at the Morgan Center entrance. "Two!" beat "Three!" beat ...," accelerating ever so slightly up to eight. "U!" they yelled, clap-clap-clap. "C!" clap-clap-clap. "L-L-L-L" clap-clap-clap "A!" clap-clap-clap. "U-C-L-A-Fight-Fight-Fight!" The final "U-C-L-A-Fight!-Fight!-Fight!" from the thirty people hinted at what the yell could sound like when multiplied times several hundred. The students applauded each other for their concerted effort.
Madison was a traditionalist on the football jersey stripes and on the eight-clap tempo, but she rather liked the "L-L-L-L" variation on the UCLA classic.
Winthrop, standing a few feet behind Madison was not used to being the forgotten man in a gathering, but he was enjoying the inattention, as he took in the raw enthusiasm from this small group with amusement and a bit of pride. As though he had suddenly arrived on the scene, Madison turned to him, gesturing with an outstretched left arm, and extolled, "Chancellor Gus Winthrop will make you proud to be Bruins!"
They all applauded. One said, "Go, Boomer!" "You da man, Gus!" said another.
"Mad Dog," said Edwin, approaching with a young Asian man behind. "This is Huang Li, from my floor. He's never been to an American football game before."
Unsure whether to bow or shake hands, Li smiled nervously and remained stiffly upright.
"Huang Li, Hi," exclaimed Madison. She stepped forward and threw both arms around Li in a shameless, hearty hug. "You're absolutely going to love this. I promise you. Welcome to UCLA!"
Flustered, Li's face took on a crimson hue, and his smile looked even more nervous than before. He said nothing.
Madison stepped back a step, nodded toward Bruin Plaza and hollered, "What do you say, Bruins? Want to go meet some more Bruins?"
"Yeah!" they all yelled.
In her first four weeks as new Athletic Director, Madison had made it a point to visit with students in each dormitory on campus, at least twice. She had called, personally, each R. A., and asked them to set up and advertise a meeting "with Mad Dog" in a TV room, dining hall, or wherever. She told them the purpose was so that they might get to know her, but mostly that she wanted to know what students thought about UCLA sports and how the fan experience might be improved.
She had also held meetings open to anybody in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom, so that fraternities, sororities, off-campus dwellers, and commuters were given the same opportunities to be heard.
One of the lessons she made sure to teach at every student meeting was how to do a proper eight-clap, the eight-clap that she remembered from her youth. The iconic UCLA cheer had gotten too up-tempo, she thought. It wasn't a race, she told them. And, not only is it not a race, when you slow it down and build to a crescendo, it rocks the place like no up-tempo version can. "An eight-clap is like sex," she told them. "When you hurry, it's pretty good. But, when you take your time and let it build, it is gr-r-r-e-a-t!"
The group turned the corner, crossed the east "Athletics" entrance of the Morgan Center, and advanced toward Bruin Plaza. The group of four or five hundred already assembled there cheered spontaneously when they saw the group of thirty approaching. A dozen or so Band Members in front of the John Wooden Center began a rousing "Strike Up the Band," while a half dozen Spirit Squad members bounced, waved blue and gold pompoms, and encouraged un-muted cheering.
"Hello-o-o, Bruins!" Madison screamed on arriving. One of the male yell leaders handed her a wireless microphone. "Thank you for coming, Bruins!" she said into the mic. She smiled proudly at the assemblage. "I think that UCLA is the greatest university in the world. Something tells me that you agree!"
Students applauded and cheered with abandon. "Yeah!" "Go Bruins!" "Bruins rule!" "Bruinnnssss..."
The small Band struck up "The Mighty Bruins," while the entire assemblage sang along. During her dormitory and other student meetings, Madison had made sure that each student had written copies of UCLA song lyrics, and had practiced the songs together. She usually could find musicians in the dorms, students with guitars, trumpets, or accordions, to accompany the group. But, even without accompaniment, she was happy to lead the group with her good-but-not-great voice, and they sang a cappella. The meetings were more revivals than meetings.
As they were singing, "Triumphant evermore," Madison put the Sennheiser mic on the bricks, so she could do an eight-clap unhindered. Feeling the music as one, the students began the cheer in perfect, slow rhythm. "U!" they yelled, clap-clap-clap. "C!" clap-clap-clap. "L-L-L-L" clap-clap-clap "A!" clap-clap-clap. "U-C-L-A-Fight-Fight-Fight!" The Band picked up seamlessly.
The eight-clap was an impressive escalation of the group of thirty's chant. The final "U-C-L-A-Fight!-Fight!-Fight!" boomed from the plaza, and played a brief game of echo-Pong between John Wooden Center and Ackerman Union. The boom could be heard by the four hundred students already gathered in Drake. The students in Bruin Plaza applauded themselves lustily.
Madison picked up the Sennheiser, turned nearly three-hundred and sixty degrees, so as to address all of the students, and spoke loudly into the mic, "Thank you for coming, Bruins. This is incredibly great!" Madison enthused. "Bruin spirit, being felt right in each of you, this very minute, will nourish you for the rest of your lives!" Students cheered. "For the rest of your lives!", she repeated, sounding a bit like Kurt Russell, as Herb Brooks, exhorting his 1980 Olympic team in the finals against Finland. There was more, even louder, applause from the crowd.
Madison beamed. She nodded toward Drake Stadium and yelled, "What do you say, Bruins? Want to go meet some more Bruins?"
"Yeah!" they all yelled.
The procession down Bruin Walk West was a pedestrian flash flood of happy Bruins. About five hundred students sauntered gleefully toward Drake, behind a dozen marching band members, who were, in turn, behind a half-dozen Spirit Squad members, dancing and smiling brilliantly. Ahead of the dancers was a tall, smiling, elegant African-American man in a dark blue blazer, crisp gray slacks, black loafers, and a blue-and-gold UCLA tie. Alongside and slightly ahead of the Chancellor, grinning from ear to ear, was a diminutive, blue-clad pied-piper.
A funny thing happened while conjuring this little fantasy. I fell in love with Mad Dog.
My fling was borne of a longing, one that I know is shared by many. We long for great leadership worthy of our great university. But, our pining is not just for want of competency, for competency is the bare minimum that we seek. Still, competent leaders would be a whole lot better than what we have today, and what we have had for years.
Rather, our longing comes, I think, from the mental comparisons we have in our minds and feel in our souls--the comparisons between what we could have and what we do have; the comparisons between what we used to have and what we now have. We know it's possible, and we know it used to be. And, that's what makes the current reality so painful.
I look at Madison, and see an Athletic Director whose veins run blue. I see an AD who considers her main job to be one of servitude--serving the students, the student-athletes, and UCLA. I see a Director who is unafraid to set high goals, and who doesn't flinch at worthy challenges that don't come easy.
I see a leader who relishes meeting and mixing it up with students. I see a leader who, rather than being stuck in a stuffy ivory-tower mind set, leads spontaneous eight-claps because the enthusiasm just has to get out. I see a leader who would rather ride a bus to the Rose Bowl with the kids than to ride in a limousine with executives. Why? Because, kids are the fertile ground where Bruin passions are planted. Those Bruin crops planted today by dynamic, courageous leaders will yield bounty in the future far beyond what can be achieved by disengaged leaders.
I see, in Mad Dog and Boomer, leaders who cultivate enthusiasm, rather than stifle it in favor of cash. I see leaders who are unafraid to take on projects, even those with long odds, because they recognize what such projects can do for nurturing current and future Bruin fever, not to mention future donations, for entire lifetimes to come. I see leaders who would not dream of selling off an exquisite, timeless Japanese garden for a quick buck. I see leaders who lead by example, and who do not tolerate staffers flying first class and feathering their beds at the expense of current and future Bruins. I see leaders who do not think that the very best use of a choice piece of real estate in the center of campus is for a freaking hotel.
I think of Boomer, and I think of how worthy he would be to stand alongside the legacies of Franklin Murphy and Charles Young. I look at a picture of Gene Block, and I want to cry. I think of Mad Dog, and I get all fuzzy inside. I look at a picture of Dan Guerrero, and I feel sick.
Can you imagine Gene Block attending and leading a procession of students in a pep rally prior to next year's spring football game? Can you picture Block going to the game and sitting in the stands with regular folks? Can you envision him eating a hot dog and participating in an eight-clap? Can you see in your mind, Block addressing the crowd from the sidelines after the game, thanking them for coming, and exhorting them to continue supporting their fellow students on the field? Can you imagine him showing with his actions that he recognizes what an integral and important part of UCLA are its athletics? Can you see him making clear with words and actions that UCLA will settle for nothing less than the pursuit of excellence in all endeavors? Neither can I.
Can you imagine Dan Guerrero going out of his way to meet with and earnestly solicit feedback from students? Can you see him putting students first with his actions, and working systematically to build enthusiasm among them? Can you picture him unflinchingly selling his visions of long-range projects with difficult obstacles, such as on-campus football stadiums, to his bosses, Regents, and community leaders? Can you imagine him conducting a thorough, intelligent search for a new coach, effectively selling UCLA, and landing a top-flight candidate? Can you picture him rejecting freebies, because his salary is generous already, and students need assistance more than he does? Can you conjure an image of him spending his own money to help promote UCLA and generate enthusiasm? Can you imagine Dan leading a spontaneous eight-clap in Bruin Plaza? I can't, either.
UCLA is capable of so much more. UCLA deserves so much more.
Piece by piece, Messrs. Block and Guerrero have been steadily selling off UCLA's soul. Spend vast sums of cash for remodeling the house that Coach built. Leave several shortcomings of the original building unimproved. Reserve good seats at UCLA sporting events for the wealthy. Dump students wherever. Sit on your hands while fashion designers, either ignorant or unappreciative of UCLA traditions, have their way with iconic uniforms. Unload Japanese Gardens. Uproot facilities useful to students in prime locations. Tell the world that your 80% support of UCLA teams is good enough. Replace uprooted facilities with luxury indulgences. Raise student fees, while UCLA execs jet around in first-class comfort. Promote UCLA athletics as little as possible, and make the efforts laughable when you do. Spend as little effort and money as possible on building student enthusiasm. Conduct forehead-slapping coach searches. Have zero connection to the general student population. Connect with loyal alumni only to ask them for money.
Soul is like a national park. As long as it's preserved, it's priceless. It nourishes entire generations. But, when it's opened for bidding, its real value plummets, And, once it's sold, there's no getting it back.
Students, rise up. You deserve better. Regents, Ms. Napolitano, won't you please cut our losses, put Chancellor Block and Director Guerrero out to pasture, and find us a Dr. Augustus Winthrop and a Madison Eberle to lead UCLA? Please do this before yet more soul is pawned off. Please do this so that UCLA can get back to the business of being great.