This Saturday, I went over to the dark side: I went to a UCLA football game that didn’t involve USC.
A friend of mine offered me a ticket to the Bruins’ game against Oregon, and with the Trojans enjoying their bye week, I decided to take the opportunity to see how the other half lives.
The results were not pretty, to say the least.
After a grinding first half, the Bruins led 3-0 and fans were hopeful that UCLA was about to get its first win against a ranked opponent and garner a few top-25 votes. The Bruins were on the cusp of their fourth win in five games, something they badly needed to stay afloat in the Pac-10 race.
Then all hell broke loose. Four minutes of complete chaos in the form of an absolute meltdown by USC’s cross-town rival.
Oregon defensive back Kenjon Barner caught the opening kickoff of the third quarter and 100 yards later, the Ducks were up 7-3.
On the first play of UCLA’s next possession, redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince’s pass was intercepted by Oregon’s Talmadge Jackson and returned 32 yards for another score.
Ducks 14, Bruins 3 — in just 36 seconds since halftime. But the Bruins weren’t done screwing up.
On their next drive, Prince dropped back to pass again and was hit from behind, causing a fumble that the Ducks recovered. A few plays later, junior wide receiver Jeff Maehl caught a short pass and turned it into Oregon’s third touchdown in four minutes, effectively putting the game out of reach for UCLA’s anemic offense.
Describing UCLA fans’ reaction to the horrible sequence of events they paid to witness would go something like this: mildly discomforted by the kickoff return to utterly pissed off by the interception return, to wholly dejected and devoid of all hope or reason to live after the fumble and third touchdown.
As my friend — a diehard Bruin supporter — aptly observed, that must have been some halftime speech by UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.
The Bruins didn’t have the offensive firepower to mount any sort of comeback (they failed to score a touchdown in the game), so they were pretty much sunk after that.
The Rose Bowl crowd of more than 77,000 started heading for the exits, many talking about how they would have to drink away their sorrows after the 24-10 loss.
And I don’t blame them. Being the compassionate human being that I am, I felt sorry for them.
I don’t know how UCLA fans continue to hold on. It seems like with the Bruins, it never just rains — it storms, with lightning and tornadoes.
Like last year when quarterback Kevin Craft threw four interceptions against Arizon State, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Or when they had a win in the bag against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl two years ago and got their game-winning field goal blocked.
The saddest part is that all signs pointed to UCLA rising from the dregs of the Pac-10 and narrowing the gap between USC. Neuheisel deserves credit for injecting some energy over the past two years and creating excitement in Westwood about something other than basketball. Bruin fans buy into this and believe that their program is going to get there one day, that any time now things should turn around.
So when they don’t, people get angry. They want answers. Why can’t the Norm Chow-engineered offense put points on the board? Why aren’t Neuheisel’s top recruits panning out? Why can’t the offensive line pick up a blitz? Why can’t tight end Logan Paulsen catch the football?
When these questions are answered only with sighs, eye rolls and expletives, people start to point the finger — at Neuheisel, at Chow, at players and at each other. It morphs into a losing attitude that feeds on itself and infects the very team everyone is there to support.
Neuheisel tried to keep the sinking ship afloat after the game by grabbing a microphone and addressing the fans, something he does after every home game. He asked the fans to keep believing in the team and said he hoped his Bruins could do better next week.
That has to sound like a broken record to Bruin fans by now.
It’s not easy being a UCLA football fan. Trojan fans simply don’t know how lucky they are, especially those that don’t remember USC football in the 1990s. I was at many of those pre-Pete Carroll games and the atmosphere in Pasadena Saturday took me back to those unspeakable losing days at the Coliseum.
But even as I witnessed UCLA fans become unhinged before my eyes, what I was feeling wasn’t quite sympathy.
It was pity.
“Middle Ground” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Josh at email@example.com.