I live in Reseda and though there's no "freeway running through the backyard " (that's Tarzana, as Tom Petty well knows), I am smack in the middle of the parched, west valley flatlands. The marine layer hasn't made it over the hill in weeks and it's hot! So... fortified with a thermos of dude lemonade (any lemonade concentrate, add water, plus the juice of fresh lemons and limes, toss in the dregs and stir), I've lately been riding my bicycle up Tampa to Borders to check out the new hard covers and trade paperbacks (I know you're supposed to shun corporate operations like Borders, but... their prices are good and they not only let you read in peace, they even let you have coffee and pastry while sampling the goods). And like some migrating bird returning to the same damn place, I'm naturally drawn to the pre-season football rags. I don't have to tell you the Bruins are getting no respect. Why, indeed, should they?
Image isn't everything, but it is something, and in college football that something translates to perception, which is exactly why the Florida schools, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee won't have to climb their way up the football polls this year. Lately - and for the most part - these guys defend their home field, don't choke on the road, beat the good teams, and hammer the weak. They pile up 9, 10, 11, even 12 win seasons. They consistently challenge for #1 and we call them "national powers." Some will inevitably slip, as Penn St. and Ohio St. have, as Nebraska and Michigan have begun to, as Oklahoma certainly did during their big sleep between the Switzer era and the coming of Bob Stoops (hello, Mike Garrett). New boys like Oregon, Georgia and Colorado, last year, will nose their way up near the top and will try to hang there until someone calls them national powers. The marquee programs stay on TV, they rake in serious cash, ESPN fawns over them and sends out the preposterous Lee Corso and his "funny hats" to regularly hype their games (Here on the coast, we have to roll out at dawn on the rare occasions ESPN ventures west of the Rockies to bless us with their presence). Most important of all, blue chip prep stars notice the winners, notice all the love they're getting, and therefore remember them come visiting time. Recruiting and coaching are the mother's milk of contented, winning football programs (r + c = w). Thus power maintains and parity is nothing but a fairy tale.
Over the years Bruin football has teased us with the promise of a national profile, but, the one time it delivered, Red Sanders dropped dead on us, and, anyway, for most BROs, the Sanders era is prehistoric. Tommy Prothro started fast but two crushing defeats to SC ended that move. Dick Vermeil looked like a sure thing but was easily seduced by Leonard Tose and the NFL. And in twenty seasons (an entire generation!) Terry Donahue could muster only a 66% winning percentage. Some might say so what? Which brings us to the fundamental divide amongst Bruin fans: the continuing war between "true blues" and what's been variously labeled "spoiled Bruin fans," or the "fringe" or "Buzz Bruin" element. I like the term "crank," myself.
Nothing so enrages blues after a tough Bruin loss as the familiar, mad as a hornet, voice of "Buzz Bruin," winding us all up with one of his signature rants on post game "Bruin Talk." Of course sports-talk radio is addicted to "controversy," and, like him or not, this sort of thing is compelling, and it certainly beats listening to the usual white noise of commercials and empty, sycophantic, back-scratching that makes up fifty minutes of the average sports-talk hour.
I can't speak for blues (or cranks, for that matter), but I can try to describe them. Blues will tolerate a certain amount of constructive criticism. It would be churlish to characterize them as blind followers, true believers, "good Germans," pom-pom wavers, upper class twits (though some of them are). In August they tend to be cautiously optimistic and hopeful. They support the coaching staff because it's "the right thing to do," because they instinctively defer to the "superior expertise of professionals," and because it's the only coaching staff UCLA has. If they have reservations they keep quiet about them. They believe any sort of public whining hurts recruiting. They are very patient. They're almost always Bruin alums or students. They not only attend all the games, they come out quite early. They have great season tickets and their tailgates are the very best: fine wines, premium German beers, select steaks, chops, and brats, exotic dips, fresh produce from Pavilions, strange wonderful desserts straight off the Food Channel, and, if its a morning tailgate, great breakfast buffets and freshly ground coffee blends.
Blues rarely have any family history of alcoholism or psychopathology. They don't beat their wives or put their parents in "the home." They're "too smart" to use drugs. They usually have a couple of kids, a good SUV and at least one other car (not a chevy). They commute to the Rose Bowl from the Westside and the South Bay, and from places like Westlake Village, Encino, Woodland Hills, North Glendale, South Pasadena, Dana Point, Newport Beach. They listen to NPR in the morning and on their car radios. They do not watch network TV. They‘re members of KCET, they love Ken Burns and are amused by Huell Howser (you may even have seen one or two of them manning the phones during pledge drives). If they're readers, they favor fiction, particularly John Irving, Diane Johnson and Martin Amis. They helped make "The Corrections" a best seller. The younger blues wear their hair straight back and their women are trim, fit and attractive. Older blues wear their hair neatly trimmed and their women are often described as "handsome." Blues are not loud but they do not back down from confrontations with cranks. Immediately after the SC game blues have come to terms with the season, and if UCLA has at least 7 or 8 wins, with a victory over SC, they're satisfied and happily making travel arrangements to a respectable bowl (if its the Rose Bowl, they will get tickets). If it was another average season, they're "realistic." There were reasons, after all, for those 4 or 5 losses: injuries, bad breaks, some grotesque calls. However, if the team was .500 or worse, or if something like 0-27 occurred, then sure, that was a scandal (blues can get damned angry, too).
Cranks, on the other hand, believe in criticism. They believe it produces healthy growth (something like pruning). They believe it motivates, puts the fear of God in you, or, failing that, may help to produce decisive change. Cranks trust their own eyes; they don't need things "broken down" for them. They have few illusions about players and coaches since they regard them as being just like everyone else, only bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Cranks have always believed SC is quicker to uncouple their mistakes (except for Mike Garrett) than are the Bruins, who inevitably wait for some kind of critical mass to develop. Gene Bartow, Pepper Rodgers, Larry Farmer, and Walt Hazzard have all felt this particular kind of heat. Cranks believe the Dalis tradition has been - overall - passive, ineffectual, unimaginative, arrogant, condescending. They never respected Pete, and they never thought he made a move that wasn't a day late and a dollar short. It would be naive to characterize cranks as mere malcontents, curmudgeons, "bitter old men," traitors and serial whiners (though some of them are). They may or may not be Bruin alums. They have very little patience.
In August cranks are usually... concerned. With a few exceptions (‘65-'67, '74-‘76, '82-'87, and ‘96-'98), cranks temper their optimism about the upcoming season, though they‘re usually high on the players. They will support the coaching staff so long as they believe Bruin football is meeting expectations, which is to say winning its share of big games and taking full advantage of its natural recruiting edge, i.e., UCLA is nationally known, sits on a recruiting goldmine, has a great athletic (and very respectable academic) tradition, a beautiful Westside campus, and does not bar the admission of athletes who are somewhat below the academic standing of the average undergrad (though not so far below as SC's). Cranks are death on underachievement, and they can‘t help expressing themselves to anyone who will listen. They believe being uncompetitive is the worst sin of all: avoiding underachievement isn't everything, it's the only thing.
Cranks arrive either a few minutes before kickoff or early enough to watch pre-game warm-ups. They drive a lot of Toyotas and they don‘t do much tailgating. When they do, it often takes the form of a hurried Togos and a large drink, or perhaps a quick stop at Fatburger for a pre-game, chili-king-cheese-and-fries-massacre. Your really shameless crank may try to casually insinuate himself into the tailgate of a true blue he may know, and who can tolerate him. (I once saw three cranks trying to do their idea of a tailgate. They were burning some burgers on a hibachi when one them knocked over the whole thing. The other two cursed him - apparently it was his bright idea - then they picked the patties out of the grass, smothered them in ketchup and thick slices of onion, and dutifully got them down. I distinctly remember Dexy‘s "Celtic Soul Brothers" coming from their boom box.)
Mental instability and alcoholism are not unknown in the families of cranks. I knew one whose old man was certifiable and another whose mother regularly put away a quart of Pabst Blue Ribbon before noon. Cranks, themselves, rarely drink before a game (they need to concentrate... hard), but they often feel the need of strong drink afterwards. They may be coy about drugs. They can come from anywhere: Rancho Park, Reseda, Silverlake, East Hollywood, Sylmar, even Tehran and Atwater Village (of the damned). They listen to too much sports-talk, and if they watch KCET you can bet they're not members. They‘re sick of Ken Burns and they make "mean spirited" remarks about Huell Howser‘s origins and manhood. They prefer the Hitler, ...er History Channel, and they're frequently Civil War and WW II buffs. They also don't watch network TV. If they're readers, they prefer non-fiction, but the artier types may have T.C. Boyle, V.S. Naipaul and Kingsley Amis on their bookshelves. Cranks helped make Tom Wolfe's two big books best sellers. They're more often single than married, more often live in apartments than houses. Their hair may be any style or color and younger cranks may go in for tattoos and judicious body piercing. Its hard to say what their women look like since they usually leave them home. They tend to run in small male packs.
Immediately after the SC game, cranks are usually more or less unhappy (more if a Bruin loss, less if a win). Those who use the net seek solace among the BROs; 9, 10, 11 win seasons and a successful bowl (not necessarily undefeated seasons, as blues like to believe) are what they're looking for and seldom find. They hope to live long enough to see at least one more national championship banner hanging beside 1954. If some "Angelo" gets a bag full of Rose Bowl tickets, you can bet its the cranks who'll get shorted. A lot of them made the trip to the Miami catastrophe and a few could be seen hanging over the tunnel, hysterically cursing Nick Aliotti as he was helped off the field. Cranks like to tape games and study them, but a few of the more hopeless cases have even begun taping over selected glory days, not so much to save a buck, but more in the forlorn hope that the present can begin replacing the past, which in any case is becoming increasingly faded. Cranks are beside themselves over last year and don‘t know what to think about the coming season.
Mencken used to say that he got along well with all kinds of pious people, since, lacking even one religious bone in his body, he never suffered the sort of bitter reaction many non-believers come to feel. I'm not as good a man as Mencken, and, even though I've never waved a pom-pom or put my whole heart into an eight-clap, I can't feel as forbearing about blues as he was about believers. I can't go from year to year of Bruin let-downs and not occasionally get sharp when I hear blues repeating those classic Bruin excuses. I can say, however, that some of the nicest people I know are blues. And so we agree to disagree. Life is too short to indulge in circular arguments and endless, bad-tempered threads. Blues root in their way, I root in mine; we just believe the other guy's a little nuts.