Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Losing, Winning, and Why This Feels So Good

This past Saturday, rain was threatening the skies over the Rose Bowl, in a land where the sun constantly shines.  This day the sky was deep grey and ominous, as if some massive dark and foreboding thing were coming.

And then, as the crowd of 90,000 stood and paused for the National Anthem - it felt as if the darkened heavens were nearly torn apart by two Navy FA 18 Super Hornets, as they streaked low overhead.  A deep roar, a rush of streaking jet engines, and a massive wave of cheers from the stands, the sound of power both machine and human.  Everyone was ready.  Bring it.

As I stood there, in the crowd, beside my bride of 24 years, I should have known this splitting of the sky was a sign.  A sign that good things do happen to undeserving souls.  A sign that the little guy does not always finish last; that those little guys in 1776 got their freedom.    And from that little band of people with principles, great and amazing things would happen.  This is America, after all.  Another college football Saturday, and a game of great rivals, unparalleled in the nation.

Two great universities, so much tradition, so much pride on the line.  Perhaps for the Bruins, more pride than arrogant expectation.  That arrogance sort of thing is typical in Troy, a place derived largely from mythology.

Sometimes, after loosing for 12 of the last 13 years, things can improve.  And maybe, just maybe, the monopoly in LA college football is over.

It was a Battle Royal.  In the end, the Guys Who Don't Usually Win .... won big time.  It was decisive.  One team left looking at the ground, having lost their alleged hero in a crushing sack, a metaphor for his teams' season.  The winners who were expected to always win, lost.  And they have been doing that a lot this year.  The other team jumped, and hooted, and hollered and celebrated like little kids let loose early from school.  This was an innocent joy, born out of 13 years of mostly loosing.  Every single player on this team had never beat SC.

We won!  We did it! 

Why do I feel so emotional about this rivalry?  It's personal.  I am a Bruin, Class of 1980.  Much of the good I have experienced in life I can trace in one way to my University years in Westwood.  In this spirit, below is my twist on a classic column by the great sportswriter Jim Murray. The article was written in 1978 when I was in school.  I clipped it out of the paper, and hung it on the door of my dorm room. For months it was there, like an identity badge.  I have updated it for the modern day:
"You all know the kind of school SC is. The girls are built like chorus girls. The boys look like Abercrombe ads. Their fathers are all rich. The all live in San Marino or Newport Beach, and Daddy is a third generation real estate developer.  Their biggest worry is the hedge fund market or where to park the Mercedes at the California Club. Their families have always run things in this town and they all belong to fraternities where you have to prove you never drove a used car and you think Hoover was our greatest President. Even though their "Old SC" now has more people of color, different income brackets, and academic scholarship than ever before, they try to ignore this is happening.  They pine for the Old Days.  They have their little Cardinal and Gold tail gates at the Coliseum with Biff (Class of 78) and Muffy (class of 80).  Muffy was a Kappa Dinga Sigma Hey, Biff a Smega Chi.  They miss John McKay."

"And they'll never have to lay pipe or pour cement or sweep floors or serve drinks or wear a hard hat and they'll go through life getting guys to open doors for them and take their hats.  It's the world of Thurston Howell III.  Although a stereotype, that's the public image of SC.  The First World. A very private university, a very private club. That's the image SC projects. Tuxedos and patrons of art, a Chagall in the guest bathroom.  And all those "new" SC people, well, they always use the guest bathroom.  Please."

"UCLA on the other hand, suggests a whole bunch of people who are going to become, not judges, or CEOs, but storefront lawyers, or child psychologists or oboists in the Philharmonic, or delegates to the Democratic convention. If they go abroad, its with the Peace Corps, not the plutocrats and its Biafra, not Biarritz.  If they ever get into the Cabinet, it would be in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Assistant Director to the Undersecretary.  When they are in school, they are working at the children's clinic or the parking garage of the California Club.  Their student loans last for decades."

These Bruins tolerate the football team because it brings in money for the Occupy Westwood rallies.  They prefer Quiditch on the Quad.  They like badminton with the folks from the ACLU, and wish cancer researchers and cardiologists got million-dollar contracts instead of guys who barely passed remedial English on their own football team."

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