We all know that you get a different view of what happens depending on your seat and/or the camera angle! This year I was able to afford a great seat for, and thus a different view of, UCLA football. I am not talking about a more expensive seat at the Rose Bowl, I love the people I sit with now, but a seat afforded me by the changes in my first year of retirement. This year, the flexibility that came with retirement, allowed me to be around the UCLA football program in ways I never could have imagined.
Good seat. Shaky hands!
This is not going to be the story of the football x's and o's. IE will take care of that tomorrow. Those of you who read my comments and/or who sit near me at football games know my feelings about some of the "football" issues going on (particularly when it comes to offensive play calling and penalties). I am a firm believer that these issues need to be addressed before UCLA can make it to the next level on the field. Instead I want to take a moment to talk about the experience of UCLA football from my seat, and especially what I have seen in our players, coaches, and fans. It is about the level of commitment I see and the pride I feel for our team and within our community.
This year I was able to attend more practices, go to three away games, volunteer for Count on Me functions, go to breakfast with other long term fans, and meet gbruin and DCBruin (how lucky can a girl get?). I also had more time to watch more video and read more news than in previous seasons and got to feel really close to what was going on, even as a spectator. I will admit, I became really attached to this team. Attending to something so closely seems to have that effect on me.
My season began on a flight to D.C. sitting across from Brett's uncle and ended on flight back from San Antonio next to Jaleel's mother. In between I spoke with many family members of our athletes and/or listened in on many of their conversations (sorry!). In all cases, families spoke of how happy their sons (nephews, etc.) were to be playing for UCLA. The family members spoke of how grateful they are to Coach Mora for the sincere care and concern he and the other coaches have for their sons. On the bus ride after the Alamo Bowl, I listened to the discussion between families, the stories shared were examples of that care and concern (I would give you specifics but I want to respect their privacy). Parents I have talked with waiting for the sons to come out after practice or after games and at watch parties, all tell the same story. The story is one of commitment, bonding, and care. When I asked Jaleel's mom if her son was happy at UCLA, she said...oh yes! I feel heartened whenever I hear this. I am glad our young men are in good hands and are happy to be Bruins.
The heart seems to be contagious.
The team has it and shares it with each other, on and off the field. A look at any week's tweets shows their connection to each other, and to future Bruins. This team works together and cares about each other. I was able to have an actual close seat at the Alamo Bowl. I had received a really bad one, a mile high, so I chose to upgrade at the last minute. That $60 investment got me a seventh row seat behind our bench where I got to observe a lot of the interaction on the sideline. After the first successful drive by our team, Hundley and the "skill team" came together, debriefing and scheming I suppose. After a great defensive stand, McClure had the d-line sitting on the bench and with incredible focus, intensity, and enthusiasm did the same. You could see the focus and leadership in the players and the coaches. Even after success, they regrouped, they did not let down. When one player started to get worked up on the field or off, another would take them in their arms and calm them down. The defense came out on the first play, incredibly jacked up. You could see the determination they had to get the job done. They were all communicating with each other, working together, and helping each other. They were fully engaged with the game and with each other. When the second half began, and the Wildcats had made their adjustments that seem to be befuddling our d, the coaching staff was frantically working together on the sideline. When a timeout came, Ulbrich raced out to get the players to come over. The new schemes may not have worked as well as one would like, but the passion, energy, and effort were clearly on display. I really appreciate this level of engagement and intensity (which I know can devolve at times to just emotion). I think Sam's moment protecting the logo, really epitomized this team's attitude about UCLA and the players' commitment to the team.
Sam is in position!
Gbruin described in one his comments the grace, maturity, and respect our players showed after the Colorado game. I could not agree more. This team is made up of a wonderful group of young men. To a man, every time I have had the chance to thank or congratulate a player, they have said, "Thank you Mam, I really appreciate it", followed up by something like, "Thank you for being here". Their gratitude has always felt sincere. When they say they appreciate the patches of blue in the stands, I know they mean it. They seem to feel grateful for the support and the opportunity they have to be playing for the four letters, not entitled. I think this also came through in The Drive. I know it was at times a bit preachy, but the stories about our guys, their families, and the game footage, shown a spotlight on this aspect of our team. I think in the past, we have seen players who did not give this kind of effort, who felt entitled because they were good or for whatever reason they had. This year's team, although made up of incredible athletes, does not carry that around with them. From our biggest stars to the guys on the scout team, they all work hard, are respectful, and grateful.
I wrote in a comment the pride I felt walking through LAX in my true blue after our victory in San Antonio. It was an amazing feeling and one I haven't felt in a very long time. It just kind of rose up in me and actually brought a tear to my eye. I think this feeling didn't come just from winning a game, victories happen. I think it came from the distance this team has come, the hard work they have put in to get there, and how they have done it (almost all of the time). I ran into a Bruin this morning getting my Sunday coffee. He stopped me and asked if I had gone to the game. I said yes and told him about my LAX moment. He said he was in school doing the Prothro years and like me, felt a great deal of pride being a UCLA football fan again. He spoke about the same qualities, heart, passion, hard work, and he threw in one more with which I agree. Edge. He said he loved how Mora had our players' backs and the edge he has brought to the program. I have to agree. I was reminded of the "I don't give a rat's ass" Dan Patrick moment and remembered how much I loved this attitude. Maybe it is because of all of the years it was missing, but it is great to have that edge back (even if sometimes it goes a bit over the edge!). As pissed as I get about the play calling and losing to Utah, there remains a deep sense of pride about this team and what they are doing. (It is of course, part of what upsets me about losing those games.)
I have to admit it, I love this UCLA football team.
Having been around it so closely, they have really found an enduring place in my heart and they are bringing that heart out in others. This year I was also able to volunteer a bit at Count on Me functions. Talk about passion and heart, Shannon Mora should be their poster woman for both. What I found at these events, besides the obvious good the Foundation does, is the bringing together of great Bruins past and present. Whether it was Rafer Johnson, Danny Farmer, Kermit Alexander or Toby Bailey, across the board Bruins praised both Moras for what they were doing at UCLA. I couldn't believe it when Mr. Johnson called me over at one event and asked me to sit down. We spoke about the Special Olympics and at one point he said something like Shannon Mora has brought something really special to UCLA. He talked about her sincerity, hard work, and passion. He talked about her heart. Mr. Alexander echoed the same sentiments as have so many others I have gotten to hear at the events I have attended. Danny Farmer and Cade McNown both were glad to be back around the program and supporting good works and a program they felt proud about.
On my last night in San Antonio, after the game, I was with my friends at the hotel bar and Coach Polamalu took the seat next to me (it was the only one available). I congratulated him and thanked him for the great work he has done with our running game and return game. He said to me that he was just lucky. When I asked why, he said it is because of the great guys and Coach Mora. He has said in the past and in that moment, that he came to UCLA because of the kind of man "Coach Mora" is. If you have ever had the privilege of being around KP, you will know how genuine and kind he is. I believe he really means this.
I do not know if this particular configuration of coaches will be able to take UCLA football to the next level on the field, but I think KP's sentiments say a lot about where UCLA football is now. In my view, we are a program that makes a person like me fill up with pride as I walk through LAX. It is a program where you can see the hard work, passion, unity, and care within the team and radiating from it. It is a program that makes one feel like caring again, in part because they are good, in part because they care so much.
I want to give a sincere congratulations and thank you to this team, to Coach Mora, and to all the others that have brought UCLA football back to a place where one can feel proud. I do not know what the future is nor if particular staff can take UCLA into the ranks of the football elite. I know there are probably none more disappointed than they that they didn't reach all of their goals. But I do know this team has taken big steps towards their goals on the field and even bigger steps becoming the kind of UCLA community one can really cheer for.
P.S. - One Note about the game. I was concerned they would come out nervous and shaky (like my pics). But, as B noted, they came out focused and in the right state of mind to perform really well! Phew!
So Thank You Bruins and Congratulations!