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Musings from Arledge: Extending an olive branch to the Bruins

In last week’s Musings, I predicted that Stephen Carr would be the surprise player of this coming season. Surprise! Carr was so excited about Musings’ support that he entered the transfer portal almost immediately. I still think he might have a big year. I hope so, wherever he goes.

There is nothing new to discuss, having already handled my post-spring questions just last week. But there is one last piece of business to dispose of: the final installment of our conference tour. 

I had originally intended to give Colorado and Utah their own day in the sun and save UCLA for last. But that plan created a rather thorny problem: nobody really cares about Colorado and Utah, including me. I can’t spend a day on them. Sorry, just can’t.

So here’s the lowdown on Colorado. They have never beaten USC. They’re 0-14, and this despite the fact that they had the good fortune to join the conference in time for the Kiffin/Sark/Helton years. Colorado was good once. That was a long time ago. They’re not very good now. They won’t be anytime soon. They’re not terrible. They’ll be slightly below average to slightly above average most years. 

And, the kicker, they’re just not interesting. Karl Dorrell, their head coach, may be the least-interesting head coach in the country. But Boulder is a pretty cool town, so they have that going for them.

Here’s the lowdown on Utah. Utah has had some success against USC. They are 6-13 all-time. Utah’s coach Kyle Whittingham is what Clay Helton pretended to be when he convinced Pat Haden to hire him: a tough, no-nonsense, son of an O line coach (I’m actually not sure that’s true, but it feels true) whose teams play hard-nosed, physical football. He can’t recruit many blue chippers at Utah, but he develops the guys he gets. He isn’t very creative offensively, and that can hurt Utah sometimes, but Utah is a tough out. If Kyle Whittingham could get over his mental block about playing at the Coliseum, and if he’d stop trying to cover USC’s wideouts man-to-man, the Utes could be a real thorn in USC’s side. 

Salt Lake City is less of a cool town than Boulder, but it’s also close to the mountains, so it’s not that bad. The first time I went to Salt Lake, it looked like they had some major honey-production going on in the state, with beehive decorations everywhere you looked. It seemed like the road trip if you’re in the market for honey. But it turns out, Utah is only 24th in the nation in honey production, and the beehive motif is tied instead to early Mormon symbolism not any modern production and distribution. Still, I bought some honey there once, and it was nice. 

Alright, is that enough of Colorado and Utah? It feels like it. With that out of the way, let’s deal with the baby blue bear in the room.

UCLA Bruins

Record Against USC: 32-49-7

Program Defining Moment: 50-0

Program Motto: “Over the Wall!” or “Punting is Winning.” Both are acceptable.

You are probably expecting me to rip the Bruins. And you’re probably right to expect that. But first I’d like to extend an olive branch. 

Do you have any idea what it must be like? How it must feel to have the cachet of a world-famous university, with world-class academics, in the heart of the entertainment capital of the world, in one of the richest recruiting grounds in the nation, playing in a legendary stadium, with some of the most-famous athletes in history as alums – and yet be mediocre, despite those advantages, because the people in charge really don’t care, so they hire unqualified coaches and refuse to invest the resources necessary to excel? Do you know how frustrating that must be?

Yes, of course you do. Sorry. 

But imagine if it’s been that way forever. Imagine it’s like that every season, that it always has been, and almost certainly always will be. Think about how horrible that must be. That’s what it’s like to be a UCLA football fan. That’s why they are how they are. Circumstances did that to them. A little bit of understanding wouldn’t be out of order.

Part of the reason UCLA is so often mediocre is because of their stratospheric academic requirements. It’s harder to get into UCLA as a football player than it is to get into a PhD program at MIT. Or so we’re told.

And yet … UCLA scholar-athlete Freddie Mitchell famously told Jay Leno that Benjamin Franklin was America’s first president. This could mean UCLA’s academic standards are not really as strict as advertised. Or maybe they are, and UCLA’s history department teaches an alternative view of history. Maybe in Howard Zinn’s book Benjamin Franklin is the first president. I hope so. I would be pleased to hear that UCLA’s history classes at least mentioned Ben Franklin when Mitchell was there. I’m pretty sure none of UCLA’s history professors today teach American history or would even dare mention Benjamin Franklin or the names of any other oppressor presidents like, I don’t know, Alexander Hamilton or John Hancock. Times have changed. Roll with it.

Speaking of history, UCLA football has some. Not a ton, but more than Wazzu. UCLA shared a national championship in 1954. That national championship was closer in time to Frederick Douglass’ lifetime than the present day, though, so it’s not exactly what you’d call fresh. 

Remarkably, the Bruins shared that title with Ohio State, because UCLA couldn’t play in the Rose Bowl that year. The Rose Bowl had a no-repeat policy at the time, which sounds like a modern-day, participation-trophy kind of rule well before such things were popular. How ironic that UCLA, which would undoubtedly favor a rule that allows mediocre teams to play in the Rose Bowl game, would be injured by a rule that would seem tailor-made to help them (and Oregon State and other similar programs). Or maybe it did help the Bruins. Had they played Ohio State, they probably would have choked, and they’d still have the same number of national titles as Oregon. 

It has been 22 years since UCLA went to (and of course lost) a Rose Bowl. If we had a really stringent no-repeat rule today – maybe a rule that bars the same team from going to the Rose Bowl if they had already played a Rose Bowl game that decade – UCLA might go again sometime. But probably not. There are now 12 teams in the conference, after all. 

To see a UCLA Rose Bowl victory, you must go back even farther. UCLA last won a Rose Bowl when perestroika was still in the news. I was 12. Nobody had yet heard of Guns N’ Roses at the time. Frederick Douglass had died already, but I don’t think he had been gone very long.

In case you’re wondering, in the last 22 years, USC has been to 6 Rose Bowls (winning 5), Oregon has been to 4 (winning 3), Stanford has split its four trips, and Washington (1-1) and Wazzu have been as well. 

To be fair, in the new millennium, UCLA has won a Vegas Bowl, two Sun Bowls, an EagleBank bowl (?), and an Alamo Bowl. I think the UCLA bookstore is currently selling a Victory Pack where you can get a T-shirt commemorating each of those glorious wins for only $4.99. It also comes with a list of excuses you can use if you run into a Trojan. 

I think this walk down memory lane show that there have been some exciting teams in UCLA’s history. But it’s not all team glory. UCLA has some notable individual accomplishments, too. There may be no I in team, but there is an I in Heisman, and UCLA actually has a Heisman winner – though, admittedly, one of the worst Heisman winners in history, according to the Sporting News (and common sense).

Gary Beban won the Heisman in 1967 despite passing for about 100 yards a game with 7 touchdowns and 8 picks. I know the game was different then, but geez, those numbers are awful. Maybe Beban was a great runner, or a fiery competitor, or a fine square dancer. I don’t know. What he’s not is a legendary Heisman winner. Gino Torretta thinks Beban’s win cheapens the award’s prestige.

If you go to Westwood today, you can probably still see Beban’s Heisman. UCLA probably has a trophy room for football awards, maybe in the utility closet adjacent to the basketball trophy room. Only don’t go to Westwood today. Westwood is awful. I know it’s a high-rent district and some people choose to live there. But it takes an hour to drive to the nearest stoplight. If you want to go to the grocery store, you’ll have to fill up twice. I can’t stand the place. This is probably why strict-lockdown policies are so popular in west LA. It gives residents a great excuse not to have to drive anywhere. I’d stay hidden away in my apartment, too, if the alternative was to get on the streets of Westwood. Or if I were a UCLA fan and didn’t want to run the risk of running into someone from USC.

But we’re getting off-track a little. My intent was to be understanding. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s tough to be the little brother in a rivalry. Oklahoma State knows. So does Michigan State.  And Auburn. And Barry Gibb’s brother, whatever his name is. The point is, being the little brother affects your self-esteem, changes your priorities. For UCLA football, the only thing that matters is beating USC. National titles, post-Cold War Rose Bowl wins, self-respect – all those are pipe dreams. Just beat the Trojans. Do that, and all is right with the world.

This is why 39% of UCLA football season ticket holders have a “13-9” tattoo somewhere on their bodies. That 2006 upset was the peak, the absolute summit of UCLA football. It is well-documented that most Bruin families even have a pet or child named “13-9.” 13-9 was it – the Rose Bowl win for a program that doesn’t win Rose Bowls. 

Don’t misunderstand. UCLA still wasn’t any good in 2006. Even with 13-9, the Bruins still finished 7-6 with a loss in the Emerald Bowl. But they beat the Trojans. Life was great.

How did UCLA capitalize on the momentum of that big win? By winning six games in 2007 and losing to the worst Notre Dame team in history – that’s right, in that Charlie Weis-Jimmy Clausen three-win abortion of a season, UCLA was one of the three. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Bruin football. 

Now, to be fair, UCLA has never allowed a homeless guy to wander in off the street and join the squad for spring practices, meals, press conferences, and hot tub therapy. The Bruins have never been that sloppy. But they did allow Kevin Craft to start at quarterback in 2008, which is kind of the same thing. He threw the same number of touchdown passes as Gary Beban did: 7. Well, 13 if you count the record-setting six pick-sixes that he threw. Fun season, that. 

So what should we expect of the Bruins going forward? Well, their current head coach is in the process of running his third straight program into the ground. Well, that’s not fair. In UCLA’s case, the program had already been run into the ground, and Chip has simply piled more debris on top. Regardless, the program is no less accustomed to being buried in the conference standings now than they were when Chip arrived.  

Chip has beaten Clay Helton, however. It could even happen again, such things not being unheard of. But the glory that UCLA expected when Chip chose UCLA over Florida, well, that’s not happening, people. Chip Kelly will continue to lose. UCLA will continue to lose. Chip will eventually get fired. After that, UCLA will lose some more with somebody else. But occasionally they will beat USC. And that’s what it’s really all about for the Bruins. UCLA will eventually beat the Trojans, and for this guy, all will be right with the world. 

Aaaaah, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap….

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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