All the pieces were there for that good-old crushed feeling
1. A 2-point defeat.
2. A blown 18-point lead.
3. An inexplicable turnover (Kyle Boller 's fumble without apparently being hit) that created the game's biggest shift in momentum.
4. A botched call (one of several) with huge implications: Kelly's trapped TD "catch" that otherwise would have forced SC to attempt a field goal. Those four (or seven) fewer points would theoretically have been the difference in the game.
5. A heartbreaking interception after we forced a late, improbable SC fumble that gave us a chance to drive for the winning TD.
So how come I'm disappointed but not bitter? Chagrined, but not angry? Part of it has got to be last week's UW win, which still glows warmly. I may have lost my hard edge as a Bear fan, letting the good fortunes of last week dampen my focus on this one, but what's heartening is that the Bears seemed to do just the opposite: they forgot about Seattle, lasered in on USC, and came out looking crisp, honed, and seemingly unstoppable.....
Until the 9:08 mark in the 2nd quarter, we can't ask for a better day. First there is a fun tailgate in the shadow of the Coliseum, with many Cal fans in evidence. It is a cool and cloudy -- even blustery -- day, vaguely reminiscent of Seattle last weekend, which of course I take as a good sign. Are those the winds of change roaring through the trees? Making our way into the stadium, we settle in well up in the West end zone behind the uprights. Good perspective on the field -- it feels like being on the 50 compared to last week's view-challenged seats in Husky Stadium -- plus there's no running track. Nice turnout by the Blue and Gold! Plenty of fans, a full-squad Cal marching band, and we're right behind Kyle's 100+ fans wearing "Boller 7" t-shirts. We can all feel that he's primed for a huge game in his final collegiate tilt in Los Angeles.
And he is. The sun breaks through for kickoff, and the Bears come out like wildfire on a dry autumnal Southern California day, immediately turning the spirits of the Trojan faithful to ash. Our offense is efficient, machine-like. Our receivers are uncovered, and Boller is finding them. Joe Igber looks remarkably fast today! Is that an "S" on his jersey?
Well, there is better news. We've got a quick 21-3 lead, we're enjoying numerous of the finest brewed beverages that the Coliseum has to offer, and we're thinking it's gonna be a laugher. Our hops-induced warmth even has us feeling a bit sorry for the silenced Cardinal and Gold fans, pathetically repeating refrain after refrain of their stupid fight song ("Thaaaat.. is the only song you knoooow...") My voice box is toast and we're barely into the 2nd quarter. I've had this problem at every game I've seen this year, a testament to our quick-start M.O.
Then... I hear some woofing. Lots of it. Whoops! Boller fumbles as we're driving deep into SC territory. Oh man! But our lead seems insurmountable...
Obviously it's not. Slowly that familiar helpless feeling creeps over us. Palmer escapes a sack for an impossible 32-yard gain... Their first "touchdown" isn't a catch at all... the Trojans are driving much more easily... the breaks aren't going our way and the refs aren't doing us any favors... eventually, we're losing... wow.
Still, forced to do so by consistently questionable refereeing, the Bears manage to create some of their own luck, and therein lies a glimmer of hope. We make some critical defensive stops... SC misses a field goal... with 10 minutes left we make a goal line stand...! with 3:23 left we force a USC fumble...! we turn it back over but hold them to a FG... we drive for one more late TD and have a chance to make it interesting if we recover the onside kick... we are still hanging around...! SC cannot relax until the clock runs out, nor do we give up hope until the onside attempt is secured by the Trojans... it's a refreshing change from last season to have our hopes alive until the very end, even if they are ultimately dashed.
The Los Angeles Times refers to us alternately this weekend as a good, surprising, and challenging opponent. On Sunday, one columnist even refers to an "old saying" that "it's not whether you won or lost, but how well the referees screwed the opponents in the Coliseum." In our frustration as fans, we too want to blame the refs... but the Bears will have none of that. They now know that they can control their own destiny. As James Bethea said about the sequence where the incorrect call on Kelly's TD was made: "We should have had [Palmer] sacked on that play."
The Bears have forgotten about this game. They are gonna be ready for UCLA next week. So I am not that disappointed. Really.
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