UCLA Football is Back


It’s Saturday, October 13, 2001. My dad and I are sitting in our usual spots, high atop section 17 of the Rose Bowl. It’s a temperate, clear day, and ahead of me and to the left I can see the San Gabriel Mountains over the lip of the stadium cutting into a sky as pure blue as the Bruins’ uniforms below.

But I’m not looking at the mountains or the sky. I’m watching DeShaun Foster – my favorite football player, then and still today – having a field day against the #10 Washington Huskies. He’s already scored the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Huskies’ defense all year, and he’s piled on two more for good measure.

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My dad and I, and 90,000 of our closest friends, are reveling in what is sure to be Foster’s Heisman moment. And then – AND THEN! – with the game out of reach and the Bruins running out the clock, Foster runs right, turns the near corner, and breaks 92 yards for his fourth touchdown. That image, of him running away to my right, and the entire bowl being swept up in the delerium of Foster’s 301-yard, 4-TD day, is still one of the clearest UCLA football memories I have.

It seemed like he was going to keep running forever.

Obviously he didn’t keep running forever. Two weeks later, the Bruins dropped a gut-puncher at Stanford, the first of a four-game losing streak. As for Foster, he was suspended for the final four games due to allegations of receiving improper benefits. He fell to the second round of the NFL draft the following spring and, despite a highlight here or there with the Carolina Panthers, never had the NFL career that many of his biggest fans were looking forward to.

The sour end to the 2001 season, the off-the-field embarrassments, and the inability to recover in 2002 ultimately cost Bob Toledo his job. What could have been a bounce-back season from the heartbreak of 1998 instead becomes the first real step in a ten-year journey through the wilderness. Goodbye, world. UCLA Football is going away.

I moved from Southern California to the East Coast in 2004, and that fall was the first time since the Bruins moved to the Rose Bowl that I didn’t attend a home game. I’ve attended one home game since, against Oklahoma in 2005, when I flew back for my wedding. (That’s right, I flew to California to get married but made time to see UCLA bottle up Adrian Peterson!)

After that season, my dad chose not to renew his UCLA season tickets. I wasn’t around to go with him. Neither my mom nor my sister were interested. Since he’s an Oregon State fan who only ever bought the tickets in the first place to see the Beavers come to town and to watch football with his son, it didn’t make sense to renew them, only to eat the costs of the tickets he was unable to sell. I understood the prevailing logic of it all, but it felt like a reliable tie to my past and my passion had been cut. 2006 was the first season in living memory where I wasn’t a UCLA Football Season Ticket Holder. UCLA Football was gone.

Then again, maybe Foster did keep running forever.

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He runs that 92 yards for as long as I can keep remembering it. For as long as that memory has meaning for me. He ran with me from Pasadena to Washington DC, that memory and countless others keeping me tied to the things of home while I built a new life in a new place.

In February 2014 my first child was born, a daughter. She attended her first UCLA game down the road in Charlottesville six months later. Now at 18 months, ‘boo’ and ‘yeh-yoh’ are the two colors she can identify with any regularity, and she’s starting to mimic the 8-clap on her own without daddy moving her hands for her. That’s Foster running from my generation to hers, the thread that sews up the UCLA fandom of the future while tying it firmly to the past.

Because there is no future, no #BruinRevolution, without our past. As tempting as it may sometimes sound, there’s no forgetting UCLA football from 2002-2011.

Ask a casual college football fan about Brett Hundley, and you’ll likely hear generally positive things. But you’ll also likely hear about unrealized hype, poor reads, and too many sacks. ‘Oh, yeah, that guy. His teams always seemed to fall short, and he never looked like the Heisman candidate we were told he’d be, which is too bad because he seemed like a good kid.’

And without the struggle, without the years we’d all like to forget, that might very well be the whole story. But for those of us that know, those of us that lived through Cory Paus->John Sciarra->Matt Moore<->Drew Olson->David Koral->Ben Olson<->Pat Cowan->McLeod Bethel-Thompson->Osaar Rasshan->Chris Forcier->Kevin Craft<->Kevin Prince<->Richard Brehaut->Nick Crissman->Clayton Tunney->Darius Bell? For us, Hundley will always be a hero, someone we tell our kids about.

This last December I joined Twitter. I was tired of missing articles from writers I follow because I only read their blogs in RSS. As an unexpected side benefit, I was reconnected with the larger world of UCLA fans for the first time in years. And while all fans are welcome, and sneering at the bandwagon is short-sighted and ignorant, you can tell which fans carry the scars, which are heavy-laden with painful memories of embarrassment and irrelevance.

As tempting as it may sometimes sound, there’s no forgetting UCLA football from 2002-2011.

But those scars and those memories bind us as a community of fans. Losing seven in a row to USC is as foundational to our fandom as was winning the eight in a row before that, as is winning three in a row now. That’s why I come back to Foster’s 92-yard run as the tie that tethers us. It’s a good memory singed with the sadness of what followed. When I set out to write this, I didn’t mean to crib from the Pixar movie Inside Out, but the central truths are the same: good memories and bad ones aren’t in opposition; they work together to make the whole stronger, richer, deeper.

So we’re entering a season where many of us, myself no exception, are expecting really good things from UCLA Football. If things go as well as we all hope, let’s not forget Foster, linking us to the past, to the scars we bear. Keep him in mind, and we’ll appreciate the success all the more. And if things go poorly, definitely don’t forget him. Those ties run deep and wide, forward and backward, and this season will be no less a part of our shared history as UCLA fans, part of the common story that shapes our far-flung community, part of the lore that future Bruins will learn at the feet of their parents.

UCLA Football may be back, but it was never truly gone.

Next: The 2015 Go Joe Bruin UCLA Football Preview

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