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The UCLA Bruins, the Denver Broncos, and Rahim Moore: Continuing Football Education

Now that I'm warm enough to type, what have the three mornings after since the Broncos collapse taught us as Bruin fans?

Rahim Moore on a sunnier and warmer, and probably happier, day than last Saturday.
Rahim Moore on a sunnier and warmer, and probably happier, day than last Saturday.
Christian Petersen

Former Bruin All-American Rahim Moore is taking some heat. Well, he's taking a lot actually. Many of you saw his fatal misplay near the end of regulation in Saturday's NFL playoff game that allowed Baltimore a nearly impossible tie at the end of regulation and led to the Broncos double OT loss and premature exit from the playoffs.

I watched it in person. The shock was more biting than the cold, and the wind chill was below zero.

I've written before about being a life long Broncos fan and how some of those early years and Super Bowl losses built enough character to make it easier to deal with some of U.C.L.A.'s more recent times. Well, I got my booster shot on Saturday so now I'm ready for another decade of Dan Guerrero (let's hope it doesn't come to that).

The parallels, and the perpendiculars, over the years between the Broncos and U.C.L.A. keep rolling on. It's uncanny. There are a lot of things this Bruin fan has learned from watching the Denver Broncos over the years, and Saturday provided a few more lessons, which leads me to this episode of Continuting Football Education.

Rahim is far from the only Bronco to blame for Saturday's upset. The loss was a team effort. There was no pash rush all day. Future HoF CB Champ Bailey was scorched for two deep TD's. Future HoF QB Peyton Manning threw 2 picks, fumbled once, and played another average playoff game. The officiating crew looked like SPTR rejects, throwing 18 flags, botching replays, and and making terrible calls both ways. Worst, the coaching staff called a cowardly game, the most egregious moment being taking a knee with 31 seconds left in regulation - with Peyton Manning, and 2 timeouts, and needing just a field goal.

But none of the Broncos mistakes on Saturday, or probably in their history, had the spotlight on it the way Rahim's mistake did.

The first lesson from this game was how to take responsibility for one's mistake. To Rahim's credit, he owned his mistake. He owned the entire loss. And I think he owned far more than he needed to, given that the Broncos didn't need to be in that precarious position in the first place, and still had 3 possessions to win it after that, too. But he didn't make excuses or minimize his error, and I'm sure he's going to use that error as motivation. Rahim had a pretty awful first season as a Bronco, whiffing on defense more than recent Ben Howland teams. But it served as motivation for Moore and he came back this year as a leading, and more importantly, dependable tackler for the Broncos. I fanposted about meeting his family before a game this season and they all spoke proudly of how hard Rahim had worked and improved. When Rahim's name (or Mathew Willis, for that matter) would get announced over the PA for making a play this year, I always yelled "Bruins!" The people who sit near me know what that's about. That's how the South Stands are. And they became Rahim fans, too. And I'm sure they'll accept his ownership of his mistake and his apology to the team and fans for "letting them down".

Contrast Rahim's actions to comments like, "What's wrong with Spaulding?" and you'll see an enormous difference in maturity and leadership and character. You'll see someone who accepts fault, faces the heat, and will use it as motivation to be better, compared to someone who denies responsibility and is afraid to do the work necessary to improve and succeed. Which approach do you think stands a better chance of growing, winning, and inspiring teammates and colleagues? I'm sorry this play happened to Rahim, but I have faith in him going forward. How does anyone think Guerrero might handle a similar situation when things are crashing down around him? Well, it's not really like we have to imagine, is it? I hope every Bruin watches Rahim and learns how to respond to adversity.

The second lesson is about playing to win. Ironically, two years ago I wrote about the Broncos trying a 4th and 1 and compared that to the conservative mindset of Rick Neuheisel and his staff at the time. Unfortunately, that lesson got reversed, as the Broncos coaching staff all year long played not to lose. The approach of John Fox and his staff this year made Mora's management at the end of the Pac-12 Title game look positively reckless and irresponsible by comparison. Of course, the Broncos weren't going anywhere two years ago and it's so easy to be hungry when you ain't got shit to lose (thanks, Axl). And this year, it was easy to be conservative against the horrible teams of the AFC West and get away with it. It was similar to getting 9 wins with an easy schedule, or going on a win streak in basketball against a bad Pac-12.

But those strategies don't work when your opponent is good too and the margin of error is small and when the stakes are highest. The strategy for beating the Chiefs, or the Buffaloes, may not work in the playoffs, or against Stanford. Watching Fox run a small third string scat back between the tackles showed he was not playing to win. Running the ball into the line 5 times in a row while trying to run out the clock to end the game was not playing to win. Taking a knee with over 30 seconds and 2 timeouts when a field goal wins the game was not only not playing to win, it was cowardly. Anyone think Bill Belichick, or Jim Harbaugh, or even his brother John would have sat back on his heels like that? Atlanta tried to score with 31 seconds left and needing a field goal, and that's why the Falcons and those other 3 coaches are still playing and Coach Fox is planning for the draft. I hope Jim Mora and Noel Mazzone watched and learned and will remember. Run plays that can and will work. Capitalize on mismatches. Never settle until the clock hits zeroes. Never play not to lose. Play to dominate and win.

The last lesson is about separating the moment from the big picture. Last January, I wrote after the Broncos' nearly impossible first round playoff win about the joys of sport and how I wanted to see those times return for Bruins fans. A major part of the disappointment of this year's playoff loss had to do with the possibilities for this team. I celebrated last year's playoff win like crazy because it was like having fun for free. But that's all it was. When reality returned and the Broncos and Tim Tebow were destroyed by New England the following week, it wasn't as much sad as it was just realizing that midnight had arrived, Cinderella had to go home, and it was time to really figure out what to do at QB. You see, it is possible to celebrate wins and still know that real changes need to be made for the good of the program. While some of those last second crazy Tebow-led wins in 2011 were great fun, every sophisticated Bronco fan knew that those wins were fool's gold, and if we wanted a real team to compete for trophies, we needed a different QB. Similarly, last Saturday was crushing, but I can't wait for the Broncos to kick off next August. All the pieces are there.

This is what people who rip on the BN community need to understand. Cheering for the Bruins and cheering for change are not mutually exclusive. In fact, than can be exactly the same thing. I don't wish Guerrero ill. I just want a better AD for our school. I don't wish Howland ill. I just want a better coach for U.C.L.A. Seriously, I am enjoying every win in basketball this season. I root for the team every game. The Bruins are actually playing better at this point that I had expected given the start, but I put that on the talent of the players, and not as any sort of sign that Howland has figured things out. I still know U.C.L.A. needs a new basketball coach: one who can adapt to his roster and game situations, one who can foster good relationships with high school coaches, one who can build trust amongst recruits and teammates. To all the a-holes out there who dare suggest that we don't want the Bruins to win, you can walk here, barefoot, uphill, through the snow and kiss my frozen ass. None of you ever roots harder for U.C.L.A. than I do. I'm just not blind like you haters. I have two ends in mind. I hope the Bruins become the first team in college history to win The Tourney and then fire it's coach. That's the best of all worlds, and the best of all worlds is what U.C.L.A. and its fans deserve.

In the interest of those parallels and in history repeating itself, Saturday's debacle dredged up one other incredibly painful memory. In January 1997, the Broncos were 13-3 and coming off a first round bye to face the mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars in Mile High in the divisional playoffs. The Broncos had a decent lead early but then started playing it safe, only to watch Mark Brunell go beast and rally the Jags for a victory and end the Broncos playoff hopes. That was the best Broncos team to that point and if they weren't going to finally get over and win a Super Bowl, then certainly none ever would, and the rest of us might as well pitch ourselves off the Flatirons as soon as possible and get it over with.

I was in the stands that day, too. Until Saturday, it was the worst Broncos loss anyone ever experienced.

Except that the team rallied from that loss. They used it as inspiration to come back better. Noted psycho LB Bill Romanowski put a poster of him helplessly chasing Brunell in that game in his workout room so he could look at it every day during the off season. The team learned what it did wrong and worked to correct it.

And the Broncos won the next two Super Bowls.

John Elway said this yesterday,

"If we get defensive and don't look at everything we did in this game and try to learn from it, then there is a chance we can experience it again...Hopefully we're back in this situation again and we will have looked at it from the right way and learned from the situation".

Someone get Rahim a poster of that last TD in regulation. And someone get Jim Mora and Brett Hundley some pictures from Stanford 2 or Baylor for their walls. And Bruin fans can get pictures of Dan Guerrero and Gene Block. Let those images burn in our souls in the off season, and let's never make those mistakes again.

Here's to Mora and Co, the Bruin fan base, and Rahim Moore knowing our history, and all of us learning from our past.