What Makes a Bruin?

Our resident columnist, Charles Chiccoa, reflects on what makes someone a "Bruin," whether by matriculation or by being swept up as a sports fan...

A while back "coronabruin" put up a heartfelt, goodbye-to-BRO post on the premium football message board expressing his devastation over not being admitted to UCLA. He'd gone the JC route and had committed the mortal sin of collecting three Bs over two years. So, for whatever reasons, his 3.78 GPA from JC was deemed unworthy by the UCLA admissions crowd. We've all heard these stories before: how someone with a 4.2 and 1380 SAT had to "settle" for a UC school other than UCLA or Berkeley. And those of us who went to school in earlier, less cutthroat times, with fewer "professional grinds" to worry about and God knows what other contemporary, labyrinthian obstacles to clear… we can only reflect and be grateful we came of age in more academically innocent days.

While collecting more than a few Cs in high school, I never gave much thought to the future, to college. ("So, what do you wanna do?" – "Uh… I dunno. Maybe write. You know, something like Goodbye Columbus, Crazy in Berlin, Madame Bovary…you know, that kind of thing.") I was a lazy little slacker… never liked school, hated cramming for finals (since I spent so little time studying), hated math/science classes and all text books, hated oral recitation in foreign languages, was terrified of speech classes to the point of never, ever taking one, and joined no clubs. What I liked was basketball, track and my best friend's girl. I also spent lots of time gazing out classroom windows, wondering what "real people" were getting up to out in the free world. But I kept at the student thing since that's what was expected of middle class kids. I was even beginning to get the hang of it my last semester at LACC when I pulled my one and only college A in an English Lit course (with all the rest Bs). I'd had some vague, delusional notion about transferring to UCLA, though I must have realized there were too many Cs, too many holes in my transcript to pull off that trick. And my cultural interests were narrower than Charlton Heston's acting range: (1) sports, (2) films (European, Japanese and Stanley Kubrick), (3) music, and (4) literature. Like most slackers, I was a natural autodidact: I would read what I pleased, live with the fact of great gaps in my knowledge… and be finished with formal education once and for all. It was 1963 and so I got drafted.

After an unpleasant winter at Fort Ord, followed by an unpleasant summer at Fort Sill, I lucked into a sweet clerical posting in an Admin Co. in Augsburg, Germany, just outside Munich… spent sixteen enjoyable months processing 201, personnel files in the morning, then playing division basketball and touch football the remainder of the "work day." Also vacationing in great places like Obersdorf and the Chiemsee for next to nothing. Though this Army detour caused me to miss John Wooden's first great team (I would hear about it on AFN the next morning, then read about it in "Stars and Stripes"), on the other hand I was spared witnessing the dead end of the Billy Barnes era. My personal homecoming would coincide with the second Wooden championship (Goodrich, Erickson, Kenny Washington) followed by Tommy Prothro's magical first season (Beban, Altenberg, Mel Farr, Bob Stiles). 1965 was a very good year.

As indifferent a student as I was, I certainly have nothing against the more serious types. Some of my best friends are degreed persons, including my wife. Higher education, as we know, won't necessarily make you "smart," but it often pays off down the road in the way of increased ease, more and better stuff, and greater sophistication… for whatever that's worth. Better men than I have loved their college years, bathed them in golden, magic-hour hues… as I expect some of you have done. Indeed, invoking college life as "the best years" has become almost a cliché: "making friends for life," encountering great teachers and mentors, new and expansive worlds, the feeling of achievement, of hard work rewarded, of high-energy years spent in such a green and nurturing environment, of youthful, exuberant overindulgence, joyfully mastered ("I'm sooo wasted… your sister's sooo hot.") Sentimental education, American style. I suppose you'd have to have been there. I wasn't, and so I can only read about it, see it in movies, imagine it.

Here on BRO, every once in a while, someone will drop the comment that "real" Bruins must have attended UCLA, particularly as undergrads; otherwise one will have missed the essence of the thing. Well, we all have our little epiphanies. Mine came almost strictly through Bruin sports teams. In junior high I would hitch a ride out Sunset to the north campus, then wander past those exotic Old World buildings in their various park like settings, passing through that familiar wide corridor between Royce Hall and Powell Library, down Janss Steps, then to the old practice field, there to watch Red Sanders (from his tower) fine tuning his material into the precision national football power UCLA had become in the early and mid fifties. This feeling, in diminished form, has continued through all his smaller, less than legendary successors.

For some of us less "authentic" Bruins, UCLA is primarily Wooden and Sanders, then Prothro and Vermeil, Pauley Pavilion, Drake Stadium, the Rose Bowl and the next big game. (It also used to be the Coliseum, light stunts and "Engineer Jeff" (?) with his signature railroad overalls and big glass of milk… a time when cheerleading was actually creative and fun, a student operation, before the administration butted in with its prescribed, wholesome, little pajama looking unis.)

For me UCLA is the balanced line, single wing, "The Two-Minute Explosion," "The Press That Panics Them All," a wide open passing attack married to a pressure defense and, at the moment, blind hope for a better tomorrow.

It's Naulls and Taft, Goodrich and Hazzard, Alcindor/Allen/Warren/Shackelford/and Lynn (the greatest college basketball team ever… unless it was the Walton Gang). It's Wicks and Rowe, Dave Meyers, Richard Washington and Marques Johnson, Tyus and the O'Bannons and, too briefly, Baron Davis.

It's Moooomaw! It's Paul Cameron, Ronnie Knox, "DePreem" and Sam "First Down" Brown on the option sweep. It's Bob Davenport and Doug Peters over the top, Jim Decker, 10 yards a carry, on the tail of the reverse, Terry DeBay and Don Shinnick leading interference. It's Norm Dow gloriously subbing for Gary Beban, then being robbed of the Rose Bowl by the petty, small-minded Jim Owens. It's John Sciarra, Wally Henry and Wendell Tyler provoking Woody Hayes's bizarre death-march across the Rose Bowl field. It's Kenny Easley and Don Rogers dominating from the free safety position, Freeman McNeil, Tom Ramsey, Jay Schroeder and Homer Smith saving Terry Donahue's bacon. It's Dokie and Flipper, Gaston Green and Eric Ball. It's Beban, Cade, Aikman, Maddox, Ramsey and Dummit (in that order). It's the improbable John Barnes and the inspired J.J Stokes effectively ending the Larry Smith era. It's Sherrard, Dorrell, Mike Young and the subsequently notorious "Slick Rick" annihilating the favored Illini with a classic, west coast air attack. Speaking of notorious, it's also bad guys (great players) like Billy Don Jackson and Darryl Henley and exasperating figures of fun like Zenon, Teddy Lawrence, BE II and the immortal BPD. Finally, for all the "other sports" buffs, it's Willie Banks' electrifying triple jump, along with all those countless other Bruin Olympians from the great Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang to the dazzling Monique Henderson.

… So by now "coronabruin" should be out of his post admissions funk and, if not, he needs to "sack up" and play hurt. He also should understand how hard it is for a BRO to turn himself into a casual fan. It's a painful contortion. Usually it doesn't take. And BROs cannot live on nostalgia alone. It needs to be supplemented by living in the present. An age such as this can't go on forever. Troy will fall again (sooner or later). Bruin football will challenge again for a national championship (sooner or later). For your own good, come back, corona… Hell, you're 20 years old; how bad can it be?

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