It’s been a rather soap opera-ish few days in Bruins land. Never mind almost blowing Saturday’s home contest against South Alabama as a 16-point favorite. Don’t bother that it was courtesy of an inexplicable fake field goal attempt that looked like it came out of Henry Winkler’s neon green notebook in “The Waterboy.”
Ignore the fact that Nicholas Barr-Mira was the hero with his 24-yard kick sailing through the uprights as time expired, Jake Bobo was the savior with his five catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, and the Bruin front seven looked about as effective as Joe Biden on a bicycle.
Disregard that the Bruins next game is against America’s worst Power 5 team, the 0-3 Colorado Buffaloes that have been outscored 128-30 on the season, and UCLA will almost certainly leave Folsom Field 4-0 for the first time since 2015.
So, what the heck are we talking about if not any of those things? Well, arguably the greatest football Bruin of all, 3x Super Bowl Champion Troy Aikman called UCLA attendance an “embarrassment,” suggested building a 30,000-seat stadium on campus, and solicited feedback from college football luminaries around the country including ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit.
Seemingly simultaneous to this Twitter debate unleashing into the realm of viral, was a video of the Bruins celebrating their uninspiring one-point escape like they were the 1998 Chicago Bulls emphatically accomplishing their mission of a surreal “Last Dance.”
I Think Therefore I Fan
I couldn’t make this up if I used all my inner Francis Ford Coppola channeling strength. Lost in all the memes, metaphors, and meaningful conversation across these topics is that those two events are deeply correlated. As a lifelong Bruins fan, alum and supporter, I was angered and embarrassed by the Bruins celebratory display.
I understand culture building, I get promoting young people’s confidence, and I appreciate celebrating any form of success. But a program can’t ask for blood, sweat, tears, loyalty, love, time, money, mental bandwidth, and emotional energy from a fan base if expectations are satisfied by beating South Alabama by one.
Mediocrity in, apathy out.
The Beautiful LA Mind
Fans only want two things from their teams: play the right way and play to win championships. UCLA embodies the former in spades, arguably like no other institution in the country, but that video was a spit in the face of the latter. As my emotions have troughed since Saturday, an epiphany dawned upon me.
The Bruins don’t have an attendance problem because their stadium is too big or their videos are too ridiculous…it’s because they aren’t giving “the LA fan” what they need. This city is Hollywood, Tinseltown, glamor, swagger, and sexy. This isn’t Salt Lake City, Eugene, Seattle, or Tempe.
To be a great LA sports team, you need to be two-dimensional: dynastic and dramatic. Being dynastic means playing to a level of excellence, dominance, and success that the expectation of multiple championships is actualized or reasonable. Being dramatic means having the characters, personalities, and storylines that keep the LA audience compelled for longer doses than an Oscar-winning film, an Emmy-winning show, or a Tony-winning play can sustain.
To understand the Bruins plight is to diagnose what they’re up against. Without further ado, the greatest LA sports teams of the past 25 years and where Bruins football fits in this decadent web:
Dynastic AND Dramatic
- 2000-2004 Los Angeles Lakers
- 2003-2006 USC Trojans Football
- 2017-Present Los Angeles Dodgers
These first two are the royal family of 21st-century LA sports teams. The Shaq-Kobe Lakers still to this day as the only other team besides MJ’s Bulls to Three-Peat (sorry Warriors fans). But beyond the rings was the Shaq-Kobe feud, the Zen Master’s mind games, Robert Horry’s buzzer-beater versus the Kings, Derek Fisher’s 0.4-second fling, the 15-point 4th quarter comeback against the Blazers, and the explosive disintegration against the Pistons.
The Pete Carroll Trojans were a worthy silver medalist. The 34-game winning streak, the BCS controversy in year one, the heavyweight demolition of Oklahoma in year two, the tragic defeat to Texas in year 3 denying the “3-Pete,” and the stunning demise to archrival UCLA in year four.
Matt Leinart courted Paris Hilton, Reggie Bush dated Kim Kardashian, while Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg were entertaining and subliminally recruiting on the sidelines. You had the “Bush Push,” the Fresno State behind-the-back, not to mention the 4th down goal line stops against Aaron Rodgers and Cal. And then there was that whole Heisman and sanctions thing.
The Lakers and Trojans epitomized the soul of Los Angeles like no other teams: cocky, flashy, authentic, unique, confrontational, and secretly vulnerable. A distant third is the current-day Dodgers…one-time champions, three-time pennant winners, perennial 100-victor residents, the 3-1 comeback against the Braves, the dismissive big brother to the renegade Padres, and being robbed of another ring by a team that literally cheated the game.
Eat your heart out Screen Actors Guild.
Dramatic But Not Dynastic
- 2021 Los Angeles Rams
- 2021 UCLA Bruins Basketball
- 2017 USC Trojans Football
These were the teams that had the drama, just not built to last. The reigning champion Rams with their Les Snead-Sean McVay formula, the three straight 3-point playoff victories, the hometown Super Bowl, Aaron Donald’s ring finger, and Cooper Kupp’s triple crown. The Rams are most certainly one-and-done, but it was a heck of a ride.
The Bruins literally lit up the most iconic buildings of the city blue and gold with their Cinderella First Four to Final Four run that was capped off with one of the three greatest college basketball endings in the history of the sport. While the Sam Darnold-led Trojans got off the mat from their 52-6 evisceration at the hands of all-mighty Alabama and 1-3 start to win eight straight games and the final 17 points overcoming a two-touchdown deficit in a dramatic Rose Bowl victory over the Saquon Barkley-led Penn State Nittany Lions.
The experience didn’t last long but the memories will live forever.
Dynastic But Not Dramatic
- 2019-2020 Los Angeles Lakers
- 2006-2008 UCLA Bruins Basketball
- 2008 USC Trojans Football
These were the teams that either had the makings of a multi-year run, were part of consecutive years of success, or were looking to extend an era of dominance. They just weren’t that interesting. Everyone forgets the Lebron-AD Lakers were the West’s #1 seed, but the bubble, lack of dramatic series outcomes, and the Clippers failure to set up an all-LA Western Conference finals make this team one giant blur.
In fact, the only things memorable about this team were an opposing player’s (Jimmy Butler) heroic Game 5 Finals performance and honoring the fallen Kobe Bryant. They were set up for multiple years of contention but Davis’ glass composition coupled with LeBron’s age and management’s puzzling decisions have kept this team stuck in neutral.
Bruins basketball of the mid-2000s had the likes of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Aaron Afflalo, and Jordan Farmar. Tremendous superstars with a historic three consecutive Final Four appearances. But short of a memorable 15-point comeback against the Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga Bulldogs, this team won all the games it was supposed to and lost all the games it was an underdog.
Finally, the 2008 USC Trojans went 12-1 and won the Rose Bowl as the last great Carroll team. The defense, led by Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga, and Brian Cushing, was so dominant surrendering only 12 points/game in the PAC-10, it made the year seem almost robotic.
We honor these teams for their banners and brag about them for their accomplishments…but our heartstrings were never tugged or our memories never jarred.
Neither Dynastic Nor Dramatic
- 2016-Present UCLA Bruins Football
- 2000-2011 Los Angeles Clippers
- 2017-Present Los Angeles Chargers
- 2000-Present USC Trojans Basketball
This is where recent UCLA football lies. Right there with the pre-Lob City Clippers, the non-San Diego Chargers and any sports USC plays that isn’t football. Even when Bruins football wasn’t being confused with dynastic, we still had the four 4th quarter comebacks of 2005, the 13-9 of 2006, Maurice Jones-Drew’s electricity, Josh Rosen’s brashness, and 34-point comebacks, Rick Neuheisel’s “the football monopoly is over” taglines that USC graffitied by adding the word “there” at the end, Jim Mora’s charismatic energy and Brett Hundley’s savior vibes that almost came to fruition in that 2012 PAC-12 Championship Game.
This is what Martin Jarmond needs to focus on. The ceiling is to be dynastic AND dramatic; the floor is to be dynastic OR dramatic…you just can’t be neither. A stadium doesn’t change that nor do social media takeovers.
You must win or at least be interesting in trying to win. It also helps to have game-day experiences, football alumni engagements, technology-enabled fan immersions, theatrical player entrances, alternative jerseys, team touchdown dances, engaging player NIL deals, and thought leadership in new media. And perhaps use the 20% of the recruiting class that doesn’t require a 3.0 GPA to get some colorful personalities.
It’s why this year for the Bruins is so critical – Chip Kelly’s best shot (and perhaps only given the number of key seniors this year) at laying the foundation to be dynastic. Or else come 2024, there may need to be a new coach that’ll enable the Bruins B1G entry to at least be dramatic.