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How I became I fan of the UCLA Bruins begins surreptitiously and it begins with the game of baseball. You see, I grew up in Northern New Jersey, and if there’s a land without major college sports, that’s it. Sure, there’s Rutgers, if you consider Rutgers “major college sports”. And, there’s Fordham, Columbia, and the like, but that’s nothing compared to the pro teams of the area.
The biggest football games each Fall are played by the Giants and the Jets while the biggest basketball games were played by the Knicks and the Nets (back before they moved to Brooklyn).
And, of course, when it came to baseball in the late 70s and early 80s, it was the Yankees and the Mets. But, let’s face it. Even when the Mets were good in the mid-80s, they were really just the pre-Yankees of the mid-90s with David Cone and Darryl Strawberry that would have a miraculous run under the guy who was quite possibly the worst Mets manager ever — Joe Torre.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
In the late 70s, it was all about the Yanks, no matter how much you Dodger fans hated it. REG-GIE! REG-GIE! Sure, Mr. Jackson of Arizona State hit three home runs in one game and I liked him, but he wasn’t one of “my guys.” My guys on those Yankee teams were catcher Thurman Munson (I can still tell you exactly where I was when I got the news of his plane crash) and first baseman Chris Chambliss. Chambliss was the guy who kickstarted the Yankee dynasty of that era with a dramatic walk-off home run in the 1976 American League Championship Series to send the Yankees to the World Series.
As you can see, it was a mob scene unlike anything you’d ever see today due to all the security at ballparks these days.
But, just like that the Yanks were back where they belong in the World Series for the first time in 12 years.
It wouldn’t be until years later that I came to know that Chambliss had played his college baseball at UCLA. But, every story needs a beginning and that’s where my story begins because I didn’t have the benefit of seeing any of Coach Wooden’s teams during their amazing run.
My next step towards the Bruins probably didn’t come until the late 80s when Troy Aikman faced off against Rodney Peete when I was in high school. Thankfully, due to the time difference, we’d get 12:30 college football games at 3:30 in the afternoon. So, many afternoons in the Fall, I would come home after playing in my early afternoon high school football games (yeah, NJ HS football played mostly on Saturday afternoons in the 80s due to almost no conflict with college games) just in time to watch the 3:30 game, usually from the West Coast and this was when I really started to become aware of UCLA.
A few years later, I found myself headed to Westwood for college because I just knew that, if I went anywhere else, I would end up saying, at some point, “I should have gone to UCLA.” So, with that in mind, I did.
My next step to becoming a UCLA fan happened in my first days on campus. I read an article in the Reg Week edition of the Daily Bruin which quoted Terry Donahue saying that, hopefully, UCLA would win enough games to win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl.
Having come from a high school where the team I played on, over four years as a class, lost just two football games, I couldn’t help but think that Donahue’s statement sure seemed to lower the expectations of Bruin fans. This was my first experience with “managed expectations.”
It pissed me off! I remember thinking, “This is UCLA, for Pete’s sake! Why isn’t he talking about winning the national championship?” Even though, I was still largely unfamiliar with UCLA’s national championship tradition.
My first taste of Bruin basketball came during that freshman year. On the first day of class, I had Mitchell Butler sitting behind me in an English class and so I got to know Mitch a little.
Ralph Irvin, who used to do video work for the official site, lived in Dykstra Hall that year and Ralph was a huge Bruin basketball fan. When basketball season came around, he would get a bunch of people to sleep out at Pauley prior to games and, while I didn’t go to all the games, I did sleep out for a bunch of the weekend games.
As far as other sports, I knew a few guys from the men’s track team and, together, we’d go to the women’s volleyball games whenever we could because it was something to do on a Friday night.
Having gone to every football game as a student, I became a season ticketholder after graduation and, with the exception of a three-year span in the late 90s, I’ve been one ever since, even if, sometimes, I’m not sure why.
My Bruin fandom has expanded in recent years due, in large part, to being a part of the Bruins Nation team. I’ve really come to respect the Gymnastics team led by Miss Val and I’ve had to learn about every other Bruin team, too.
But, as someone who grew up a Yankee fan and played on a two-time NJ high school football champion, my expectations have always been high, will always be high, and will never be managed.
As I look forward to the future of Bruin sports, I will always maintain those high expectations and I look forward to the day when we have both a Chancellor and an Athletic Director who also have those same expectations for our teams.
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