Feeling of a New Era

There was so much more going on in UCLA's win over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl Christmas Day. Knowing where this program had come from, and getting a good indication of where it could be going, it was a different feeling watching UCLA play...

The game itself wasn't a thing of beauty – on the field anyway. UCLA's offense sputtered. The defense more or less won the game. 


But if you stepped back and watched the game from a more visceral, impressionistic perspective, there was quite a bit to get out of this game.  And in many ways, it was a thing of beauty.


#1 Great Thing to Take From the Game: Ed Kezirian will now sit atop the all-time winning percentage among UCLA coaches.


And there is something beautifully fitting about it.


If you didn't know, Ed Kezirian was a player and a coach at UCLA. He coached at UCLA for 11 seasons, between 1982 and 1992, under Terry Donahue, as a line coach.  He then came upon a fork in the road of his life. He could either continue down the coaching road, and he realized he'd have to spend a great deal of the his time away from his family and his three kids. But he chose to get out of coaching and become UCLA's Assistant Director of Academic Services.  That way he'd be able to stay at the school he loved so much but also spend time watching his own kids grow up.  Kezirian was probably on his way to a pretty well-regarded coaching career, which very well could have led him to a head coaching job.   But he made the very admired choice of picking his family over a higher-profile career.


Many around UCLA consider Kezirian the quintessential Bruin – Mr. Bruin himself.


So, it's more than fitting and entirely poignant that Kezirian, having chosen the road he did, eventually did get the head coaching job he might have been in line for had he gone the other route. Even if it was just for one game.


And as I had said before, the choice of Kezirian as interim head coach was an inspired one by athletic director Dan Guerrero.


#2: The game, like the season, was a great indication of how much young talent there is on the team. I watched the game from my home, with quite a few members of my family and some friends watching with me, many of whom don't know the team's personnel very well.  While we drank our spiked egg nog and talked about other things, something would happen in the game that was significant and someone would ask me, "Who's that?" I'd answer: "That's Craig Bragg. He's a sophomore." Or "Tyler Ebell, he's a freshman." Or "That's Matt Moore, a true freshman, and he replaced Drew Olson, the other true freshman quarterback."  Or "That's Jarrad Page, another true freshman."  Or "That's Manuel White, a sophomore."  Or "Spencer Havner, a freshman." "Or Ben Emanuel and Matt Ware, both sophomores." After a few comments like these, a friend from out-of-town said to me, "Man, this team is so young and talented. They're going to be really good."  More than any impression from the game that had to be the one most observers came away with.  And if there's anything that gets you amped for the future of UCLA football, it's all the young talent on the UCLA roster.


#3 – The interview by phone with Karl Dorrell that was conducted by the game's announcers.  Listening to Dorrell's voice while watching the UCLA blue and gold on that field, it hit me: There was no way UCLA should have hired Mike Riley over Karl Dorrell.  I have never been an advocate of hiring a coach merely because of his ties to the program and I'm probably not still.  But when Dorrell talked about being a Bruin – as ESPN showed shots of such great Bruins as Ricky Manning, Marcus Reese and Mike Seidman – there was a sense of pride and family that I never anticipated, and hadn't felt about UCLA in recent years.  I thought about the fact that Manning, Reese and Seidman might be more inclined now to return to the UCLA program when they're in the NFL, along with others like Freddie Mitchell, Robert Thomas, Jonathan Ogden, Ken Norton and James Washington. It really hit me how there is such a rich history of UCLA football that is a valuable and powerful resource that has gone untapped and unused for so long. And that Coach Dorrell might be the one to bring that resource to life.  But it also made me realize that the open and unabashed pride I had had in being a Bruin had been beaten down and suppressed for quite a long time, and it was there again, ready to be resurrected. 


#4 -- If there truly was ever a game that a UCLA fan wanted the team to win – for the team – this was also it.  The current UCLA seniors have been through a hell of a lot.  Their record in the last four years is 25-22.  They never beat USC.  They never won more than 8 games in a season.  And they never finished the season ranked in the top 25.  They suffered through some controversies, and an incredible letdown in 2001 after going 6-0 to start the season and be ranked 4th in the nation.  It's something no player at UCLA should have to ever endure, and these seniors didn't deserve it.  So, for warriors like Ricky Manning, Marcus Reese, Mike Seidman, Bryce Bohlander, Mike Saffer, Sean Phillips, Rusty Williams, Steve Morgan, Joe Hunter Nate Fikse, Chris Griffith and Cory Paus to get a win in their final game of their UCLA career, in a bowl game, is something that had to happen.  These are great young men who stuck with UCLA and played their hearts out for four or five years and deserve all the admiration that UCLA fans can shower them with.


So, while the pretty big crowd I had in my house for Christmas was talking and only casually watching the end of the game, as the time ticked off the clock in the final minute, I watched pretty intensely.  As the team doused Kezirian with Gatorade and I saw the huge smiles on the faces of the players, I could sense there was a feeling of a weight lifted off the shoulders of the program.  The smiles were genuine and pure, as was the admiration for Kezirian and the coaching staff.  And you really sensed that the UCLA football program was starting a new era, one that has a very good chance of restoring the pride and sense of family of UCLA football. Watching the game not for details, but for impressions, I came away feeling that, maybe because it was Christmas, the long-suffering UCLA family had been given a gift – and that the sense of pride and family had already begun to be restored.

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