Confessions of a Battered Bruin

Our football columnist Charles Chiccoa confides in his reaction to the SC win and his historically-supported causes of his syndrome...

My wife used to have little interest in sports, especially considering my occasional excessive behavior over UCLA football and basketball: "Why didn't you tell me this before I married you?"

She couldn't believe how hard, how bitter, even how violent a normally amiable guy could get, particularly over big game losses. I don't mean to suggest violence toward others, more like violence of speech, violence toward handy objects, even toward one's self. And I'm in no way admitting to anything like smashing up a few ceramic ducks with a croquet mallet or banging my head against the living room wall. I'm just say'n…

Even during 35-14, I couldn't just sit back, relax and enjoy this second straight beat-down of SC until Paul Perkins' eight yard touchdown run sealed the deal. Even though the Bruins had earlier demonstrated their physical and talent superiority, until they pushed that lead to three scores, I could not relax and properly exult over this biggest win of the Jim Mora/Brett Hundley regime. Until then I seemed to be more critical of the few plays the Bruins missed on, than the 40 or more great plays they executed. Off the top of my head, the most memorable were Cassius Marsh's electrifying, back-to-back sacks, Anthony Barr cleanly picking the ball off Cody Kessler's throwing motion, Devin Lucien's iron-grip, comeback reception (without which may have completely changed the complexion of the game), Perkins' two long receptions on swing passes, and any one of Hundley's quarterback draws or scrambles. From beginning to end, the Bruins seemed more intent on applying consistent pressure on both sides of the ball than at any time during the season.

Any coach who emphasizes pressure over self-defeating, momentum killing caution has my undying respect.

Re-watching the game, recollected in tranquility, so to speak, this seemed to me Hundley's best ever performance ... also the leadership and preparation of Jim Mora and the schemes and playcalling of Noel Mazzone and Lou Spanos. The entire program was under incredible pressure, since only 14 days before, the celebrity-chasing, national and local media had been daily trumpeting "SC is back!"

Rather than the ogre we're all familiar with, it was as if Ed Orgeron had magically turned into some kind of benevolent "Uncle O," delivering Christmas cookies to his gutty little Trojan munchkins who had been so recently abused by the evil stepfather Lane Kiffin. And to top it off, while Hundley and the Bruins had just blown a chance at the conference championship, suffering nine sacks in the process of digging themselves out from a hopeless 22-point deficit to Arizona State, SC was banking a surprising five-game win streak, topped off by a national-TV, GameDay upset over Bruins nemesis, Stanford. For UCLA, it was the world turned upside down. (Then again, fans normally feel more big-game pressure than the athletes do.)

My subsequent squirrely behavior was nothing new, particularly as it was aimed at Hundley. I wouldn't exactly say I've been dogging this kid ever since last year's Cal game, but I was skeptical of this whole "Savior/I-was-born-to-play-in-big-games" business. Partly for this reason, my wife has become a big Brett fan as her interest in college football has gradually increased. She now appreciates the drama, the extraordinary athletic skills of the players, and the endless, chess-like strategies of the coaches. These days, when she hears the sound of a big college game on TV, instead of closing her office door, she comes out, pours herself a glass of dry Riesling and makes herself comfortable on the sofa. She even argues with me now and then. Like for example…

"Since Hundley is their best player, why don't you get off his back? Anyway, you know UCLA always comes back in the second half."

"Uh, honey, when you fall behind, 35-13, in the first half, with a shot at the conference championship, maybe even a date in the Rose Bowl, January 1st, that's kind of a hard pill to swallow.

"Come on, that was then, this is now. Where's all that living in the present you're always going on about? They're ahead 28-14. Relax and enjoy it." And of course I would. Matter of fact, it was the most satisfying Bruins win since 13-9. However, my wife can afford to be sanguine about this stuff, since she was an infant when things in Westwood suddenly started going south on August, 15, 1958.


The thing of it is, Red Sanders' tragically inconvenient death, and the awful repercussions it set off, is either unknown or forgotten history to a large segment of Bruins Nation. Even before that shocking day, there had been the Paul Cameron/Elmer Wilhoite interception, the Cameron/Ellis Duckett blocked punt, the "no repeat" idiocy which robbed the legendary '54 team from gaining its just reward, and the "Glasses/Stryker like" officiating in the closing seconds of the '56 Rose Bowl followed closely by the draconian Pacific Coast Conference penalties that UCLA handled fairly gracefully and Red handled quite efficiently. (15-5, over the next two seasons, without benefit of seniors).

A.R. (After Red), there came stuff like the disgusting pettiness of Jim Owens' SC Rose Bowl vote in '66; the Cotton Spirer, last second fiasco at Texas in '70; the Washington State choke in '88; the never-to-be-forgotten "Black Saturday" ten years later; and the Notre Dame last-second shocker in 2006, not to mention all the buzzard's luck, heartbreakers to SC in between. That, and so much more, has contributed to UCLA being known as a "soft program, a "basketball school," rather than the dual-sport, all-sports power that it could've been.

Nobody who wasn't there can possibly understand the mindset of a Battered Bruin: always waiting for the other shoe to drop, usually in the fourth quarter of a very big game. Even Noam Chomsky is baffled by these fabulously extreme emotions that football can provoke (remember "Buffalo 66?"). It's really simple, and Red said it best. All together now: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

Before I get off this hobbyhorse, it seems fair to add that the most recent Dark Age of UCLA football -- roughly from "Miami" to the firing of Rick Neuheisel -- has often been characterized by the dreaded rollercoaster effect: pronounced ups and downs, unlikely successes and staggering failures. Also, of course, hugely questionable coaching hires, which certainly does not need mentioning here.


Past glories and minor sports don't make it in the 21st century. Today it's Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State, LSU, Oregon, Stanford, South Carolina, and Clemson, with UCLA and various other wannabes knocking at the door. Coincidentally, the Bruins' current ranking in the polls is about the same as their ranking among the all-time college football programs, about 17th. Next season the deck will get shuffled again.


So if you happen to be personally inclined to volatility, you will inevitably break one of John Wooden's golden rules, the one about not getting too high or too low over wins and losses. But even JRW in his younger days was somewhat more, uh ... emotionally engaged than the rather Zen-like figure that has grown up around his legend. Which, I suppose, is easier to manage when you happen to have won 10 National Championships in 12 years.

We'll certainly never be able to test this proposition since nobody will ever repeat such a superhuman achievement. I do admire the maturity of those who can follow this golden rule, who can put big game losses in perspective! But I'll never be one of those. As usual, I'll just spit out some choice invectives and call it an early night, with perhaps a modest alcoholic or chemical aid. And 48 hours later I'll find at least a couple of good reasons for anticipating the next big game.

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