(This week’s video is "Feel My Pain" by Kurt Vile. I’ve been a fan of Vile’s since he was a member of The War on Drugs. This song just felt properly melancholy this week.)
Thursday, 12:05 pm …
Writing on my lunch hour, taking a break from what’s been a lousy day at work. Maybe that’s fitting because it feels like it’s been a lousy week to be a UCLA football fan.
That's a weird thing to write, a weird thing to feel, isn’t it? We are 2-0 right? Undefeated? So why doesn’t it feel like it?
I think a lot of it depends on what each of us brings to the proverbial table. You know, I have friends and family who are long time season ticket holders. I mean a long time, before many – maybe even most – members of this particular community attended UCLA and/or started rooting for the Bruins. They pay their money for tickets every season, making the extra donation to the athletic department that guarantees them the better seats. They have closets full of UCLA gear, enough to never wear the same tee shirt and cap competition twice during the football season. They plan their tailgates throughout the week, planning the menu and buying the beer. They arrive early and set up the blue and gold gear they’ve acquired over the decades. Their tailgate on Lot H or the golf course looks like an ad in the Bearwear catalog (except that the official student store doesn’t even sell half the cool UCLA stuff these folks have collected). They arrive early, party through the day and never, ever, ever ever ever leave before the final whistle has been blown. They sing the alma mater, know the words to the fight song and diligently did the 8-clap every time Geoff Strand counted it down.
And they've done it every season, for as long as I can remember. They’ve been through Terry Donahue, Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel. They’ve been there for eight straight wins over Southern Cal and 0-50 as well. They not only go to all the games at the Rose Bowl, they always make the trip to the Coliseum, even in years when they knew the Walk of Shame through the SC campus was inevitably waiting for them. I should mention that they hate USC, hate them much more than I do.
They are good fans, real and true fans, who have devoted time and money, energy and emotion to something they love: the Bruins’ football program.
In their own way, they enjoy UCLA football more than I do.
I don’t mean the games themselves. Let’s call that a tie. Because those three-plus hours when the team is actually down on the field playing football – those are often the best hours of the week. At least they are for me. During those three hours, I’m a fan all the way. The cynicism and the doubt go away, the worry about "what it all means" slides away. Let’s be clear: I can 8-clap with the best of them. "Every man, woman and child … " includes me, too.
No, my True Blue friends and family enjoy a UCLA football season more than I do because they, for the most part, limit their season to those three hours on Saturday. Oh, they’ll glance at the headlines in the morning paper, maybe listen to Petros and Money during the week in the hopes of hearing some UCLA news, but are just as likely tuned into the UCLA flagship station hoping to catch a bit of Vin Scully doing the Dodgers.
But, really, for them, football season means UCLA games on Saturday, with the occasional Thursday night thrown in.
That’s not me, however.
No, I seem to follow the team not week to week. My obsession is day to day. Shoot, sometimes it’s hour-to-hour or even minute-to-minute. I’m on Bruins Nation all day long. When I’m not on BN, I’m looking at Bruins Report Online or checking the national sports websites for news of UCLA football. (I’m glad I’m not that into following recruiting – if I was, I’d probably lose my job for lack of productivity.) On top of everything else, I’ve got groups of friends I think of just as my "UCLA friends." That’s plural: groups of friends, as in more than one set of friends who don’t even know each other. It’s more than two, actually. And that means emails and texts and phone calls all aimed at dissecting every nook and cranny, every nuance, twist and turn of the UCLA Bruins football program.
And I’m starting to wonder if all that obsession is healthy for me. Because my friends and family who just like the games are having more fun than I am and, in the end, being a UCLA football fan is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?
If you aren’t looking too closely, you’re happy right now that the team is 2-0. (Did you know that Jim Mora is 8-0 in regular season non-conference games since he became head coach? Our only non-Pac 12 loss during his tenure was the bowl game loss to Baylor. True fact.) We’re 2-0 and ready to face a weak, rebuilding Texas squad. We’re favored and 48 hours after this post goes up, we’ll likely be 3-0 and ranked in the national polls. Pretty good, right? Let’s get ready for ASU, right? Oh, sure, the offense looked lousy against Virginia and the defense didn’t play all that well against Memphis, but we just need to put it all together and we’ll be fine, right?
Is ignorance bliss?
I’m not sure.
Because they don’t know what I know, do they?
A co-worker of mine, someone who knows nothing about UCLA football or sports in general, for that matter, just popped into my office. For reasons I don’t even remember, we started talking about the move The Matrix.
Oh, I remember why: He said he experienced a déjà vu, I asked him if the black cat he saw just looked like the other cat or if it was the same cat? Then we started talking about Carl Jung’s collective unconscious and the reason why the Wachowskis overreached the limits of their philosophical understanding and that’s why the second and third installments of the trilogy failed.
But I digress, sort of.
The reason I bring up The Matrix is because sometimes I wonder if I swallowed the wrong colored pill.
Remember what Morpheus says to Mr. Anderson/Neo:
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more."
Well, I have a lot of friends who swallowed the blue pill. They wake up in their beds and believe what they want to believe: that Bruin football is on the right track, that the season is off to a great start; that the administration is doing everything in its power to support the coaches; players and the program; that all is, if not right, it’s at least the way it’s supposed to be in the UCLA football world.
I on the other hand, took the red pill.
I know far too much (or maybe just think I know too much) about Noel Mazzone’s offense and his son’s questionable ability to coach up Brett Hundley. I know (or think I know) too much about our wide receiver rotation, our offensive line’s inconsistent play, our lack of a game breaking running back, our failure to generate a pass rush sans Anthony Barr, that our secondary might be overrated. I mean, I don’t know all that stuff. But I definitely spend a lot of time parsing out whether any or all of these things – along with a million other things – are true.
So, when we open the season ranked in the top ten, then play a couple of lackluster games against (supposedly) inferior opponents – I’m not that happy. I’m stressed out. I’m worried not only about the Texas game, but also about the ASU game, the Oregon game, the USC game and the Stanford game. (There are fans worse than I am. I noticed a post on one of the message boards this week that expressed concern about the Cal game. I guess I should take some solace in the fact that I’m not as sick as some others.)
Modern technology has only made things worse. A blog post or message board thread almost by definition creates a vacuum that must be filled with observations and my compulsion forces me to absorb and react to those observations. In truth, one reason why I don’t participate in the comments section on BN more than I do is because I’m afraid once I start I won’t be able to stop and my family needs to eat.
The worry doesn’t stop at the end of the schedule. No, it’s worse than that. Aaron Beck (I think it was Aaron Beck, anyway) wrote that those suffering from depression mentally see everything through to the worst possible conclusion. They get a splinter and immediately go to tetanus, gangrene, amputation, staph infection and death. Their spouse is ten minutes late coming home from work and they immediately go to car accident, major injuries, hospital, coma, death, morgue.
Me? I go from we barely beat Virginia and Memphis to we could lose to Texas and if we do we’ll lose to ASU and Oregon, then we could lose to SC or Stanford to we’re 8-5 and headed back to El Paso to we won’t get any good recruits to the program is mediocre (again) to Fire Mora to Chianti running another coaching search to "Ladies and Gentleman, your new UCLA Bruins Head Football Coach, Greg Robinson." Me?
If that happens, I’m getting a library card and spending my Saturdays reading.
I need to note that there is at least one other type of UCLA fan. They’re the ones who are even more addicted to the details than I am. They definitely follow recruiting. They go to practice. They read and watch everything. They cancelled DirectTV and signed up for Time Warner because they had to have Pac 12 Network. They have all of last season’s games on their DVR and they rewatch them all the time. The difference is, they’re all in on Mora. To them, Mora and his coaches have held back plays so that Texas doesn’t have film of our best moves. They think we’re getting every recruit, think we’re going to run the table. "Oh sure," they’re saying this week. "We haven’t looked good, but every great team wins a few ugly games. We’re going to be fine. Mora is a great head coach and we’re lucky to have him."
I don’t know what to make of these people. So, I won’t.
If you were to look back at the original post I wrote under the Pregame Guesses headline, most of them were just me making fun of our opponent, poking fun, maybe, at their podunk college town or their provincial, shut-down-the-town fans. I don’t remember when the posts got more serious.
I know this: It’s only two weeks into the season and my team is about to play Texas in a nationally-televised game played in the NFL’s premier stadium and I’m not excited. I’m tense and nervous. I’m frustrated and exhausted and it’s not even October. It’s not even the team’s fault, it’s my fault. They’re just doing their best. I’m sure they wish they’d played better the first two weeks of the season.
No, it’s my fault. It’s my fault for caring too much about a game played by other people. It’s my fault for making the results of a college football game or season more important than perhaps it should be.
I take full responsibility for how I think and how I feel.
With that in mind, I’m starting to think that my friends and family who just like the games and don’t pay much attention to the rest know more than I realize. I like to act all superior because I’m able to wax poetic about the latest commit or because I know what’s really going on behind the seasons in the athletic department.
Or maybe they don’t know anything at all.
The truth is, maybe ignorance is bliss. Some people like to know how the sausage is made or how the magician did his tricks. But that knowledge doesn’t make the hot dog taste better or increase your amazement when the lady gets sawed in half.
Two thousand words in and I’m not sure if I’m making any sense. Consider this a brain dump of thoughts and feelings, a jumbled mess that follows the jumbled mess that reflect the spirit of first two victories.
I almost wrote that I hope the rest of the season is more successful than the first two weeks. But that wouldn’t be exactly accurate. What I am writing is that I hope the rest if the season is simply more fun than the first two weeks of the season. My goal is to enjoy the rest of the season, no matter what, as much as my friends and family do. I’m starting to wonder if maybe they have the right idea.
And, with that, here are you Pregame Guesses, Texas Longhorns edition:
- Name a Bruin defender who will record a quarterback sack.
- What number will be higher: Brett Hundley's first half passing yards or the total number of yards UCLA will rush for in the whole game?
- What number will be higher: UCLA's penalty yards or total points scored in the game?