One night this week, a woman in a restaurant asked Matt Stevens about the UCLA T-shirt he was wearing. She said she was a real Bruin fan and watched all the games on television, although she didn't recognize Stevens.
The fan sadly shook her head. She told Stevens she was still upset about the Bruins' loss Saturday to Stanford. He expressed his sympathy.
"But you know the worst part?" the woman angrily asked Stevens. "I couldn't believe the stupid quarterback threw that interception that lost the game."
Stevens then introduced himself to one very stunned fan as that same stupid quarterback.
And so it goes for Matt Stevens. Wherever he goes, he's on the menu, usually as grilled quarterback. As UCLA finishes what so far has been a disappointing season, it is clear that Stevens is a player who needs no introduction--to trouble.
For instance, there probably won't be a Jan. 1 bowl game for the Bruins this year, a turn of events that has Stevens muttering to himself. It'll be his fault, he is sure.
"I could easily be depressed about that fact," he said. "The Stanford game could be blamed on me, but I've thrown two picks (interceptions) since the Oklahoma game before Stanford. You can just see, here in L.A., the Marc Wilson syndrome is sort of snowballing. I get blamed a lot.
"I think I've been rapped too much," Stevens said. "I don't know if it's because it's L.A., who's doing it, or what. But I feel I've been used as a scapegoat a lot on this team. By the press, by I don't know who, just the whole thing sort of. Like, 'Hey, it's his fault what's going on.' "
So Stevens has gone on the offensive to save his reputation. Maybe he has to, since he only has games at Washington on Saturday and then against USC to get it done.
Will history treat Air Matt kindly at UCLA?
"That remains to be seen," Coach Terry Donahue said. "There could be a great moment coming. But there may not be. If there isn't, unfortunately, Matt will just have to understand."
Understanding this is giving Stevens a little trouble.
After nine games, the Stevens file is still open. His personal statistics are pretty good, but the fact remains that UCLA's record is only 6-3, and that very well could be the standard by which Stevens is judged.
Part of his problem is that Stevens got off to a gruesome start, throwing five interceptions in a 38-3 loss at Oklahoma in the Bruins' opener. Now, eight games later, Stevens has completed 55% of his passes for 1,501 yards. He has thrown eight touchdown passes, but he has also thrown eight interceptions.
His 121 completions rank seventh on UCLA's single-season list, and his career mark of 202 completions is fourth behind only Tom Ramsey, Dennis Dummit and Gary Beban.
All things considered--he was the quarterback of record in the Bruins 45-28 annihilation of Iowa in the last Rose Bowl game, completing 16 of 26 passes--Stevens figured he'd do pretty well in a job performance review. And that makes him wonder what's happened to him this season.
Among other things, Stevens wondered why his coach felt it necessary to give him a vote of confidence in mid-season and why his teammates seem to get more credit for a victory than he does. Stevens also questioned whether he was receiving enough support from his teammates and whether the media were picking on him.
Stevens said he is still puzzled by Donahue's motives for the vote of confidence after UCLA began its Pacific-10 schedule by losing to Arizona State.
"I don't know why he said that," Stevens said. "Maybe he was panicking. We were 2-2, things didn't look good, he was looking for changes and I was the first one he could turn to. All I know is we definitely would not be where we are if I had been pulled at that time. He's got to realize I can't do it all sometimes."
It is Stevens' opinion that the Bruins never reached their potential this season, especially the offense.
"Last year's team was destined to go to the Rose Bowl," he said. "There was so much talent on it. You could do anything you want and gain 10 yards. This year, it hasn't been that way.
"Either I had to throw it or it was Gaston (Green) on the sweep or Gaston to the weak side of the field," Stevens said. "Those have been the plays. We just don't have as much offense as we had. I don't know why. Maybe it was because of Eric Ball being hurt, Marcus Greenwood, now Mel Farr, Derek Tennell not being there for the whole fall camp. But you can't say it's all my fault."
The process of assessing blame and dispensing credit rankles Stevens, who said he's had too much of one and not enough of the other.
"I have a spectacular second-half against Arizona, but it's Gaston Green who is the highlight," Stevens said. "I get a little credit. I play consistently in the other games, but they don't need me that much. Against Cal, I go 9 for 15 and throw two touchdowns and it's just, 'Matt, good job.' We were beating them so bad, I really didn't matter. We had three or four games like that.