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Bruins Eligible and Inviting

UCLA is taking over the town with a rollicking team that produces almost as many chills as thrills.

November 05, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

A gallon-sized guy named Mike Seidman caught the ball on a dying patch of grass and rumbled through the end zone, through the security guards, directly to the edge of the stands.

Once there he began slapping hands with blue-and-gold covered kids, screaming into the night, a grand old stadium quaking around him, and you wanted to join the chorus.

This is college football. This is how it works. This is what this town deserves.

UCLA barely won another game Saturday night, gasping and grappling to beat an overmatched Stanford team at the Rose Bowl, 37-35.

It looked like the Bruins were going to romp. Then it looked as if they were going to get whipped. Romp. Whipped. Romp. Whipped.

Back and forth it went, for a team both brilliant and bone-headed, a team displaying only one consistent trait.

They try. From the afternoon heat to the evening mist Saturday, they flew. Maybe not always in the right direction, and sometimes upside down, but flying nonetheless.

There were outrageous passes, and dumbfounding mistakes, and a defense that couldn't tackle the Stanford tree.

But there was drama. There was emotion. There were nearly four hours' worth of reasons for 64,000 fans to come back again.,

The Bruins get it. They have become the most interesting, most dominant college football program in town because they get it.

The win qualified them for their third bowl game in five years under Coach Bob Toledo. Any of those little towns that host teams with more than a couple of losses would be lucky to get them.

The Bruins might give up 60 points, but you might want to be watching.

"Never a dull moment," Drew Bennett said with a smile.

He was the quarterback last year, remember? On Saturday, he caught a 30-yard pass that led to a touchdown.

"The possibilities on this team are endless," said Ed Ieremia-Stansbury, rolling his eyes.

He is a 258-pound fullback, remember? On Saturday, he completed an 18-yard pass.

"I got it there, didn't I?" he said.

That makes eight different players who have thrown passes for the Bruins this season.

With Seidman's first college touchdown grab on a 22-yard play in the third quarter, that also makes eight different players who have caught touchdown passes.

"I really wanted to jump into the stands," Seidman said. "But I was worried I wouldn't make it."

That may have been the only time Saturday that the Bruins seemed worried about anything.

For the umpteenth time under Toledo, it wasn't what the Bruins did, but how they did it.

Their most incredible pass completion, for example, occurred on a rainbow 56-yard pass while they were running out the clock.

Freddie Mitchell wrestled the ball from safety Aaron Focht and landed on the Stanford 12-yard line with barely more than a minute remaining.

The only thing crazier than the pass from Cory Paus was that, well, Toledo didn't want him to pass.

"We wanted Freddie to go deep, and then we wanted Cory to run the ball," Toledo said. "Then I saw him cock the rock and my heart was in my throat."

Toledo paused.

"It was a great call, wasn't it?"

The amazing thing was everyone assumed Toledo actually did call it, just as he called for Paus to pass in the final two minutes of the first half, leading to two interceptions.

"I want to apologize to Bruin fans for being so conservative at the end of the first half and the game," Toledo said, tongue firmly in cheek.

Actually, crazier then the pass and the play was that, moments later, DeShaun Foster fumbled it away and gave Stanford four final shots at moving into field-goal range.

Lucky for the Bruins, effective Stanford quarterback Randy Fasani re-injured his knee during the game and young Chris Lewis was burdened with a comeback effort that proved too large.

"We knew we would eventually stop them," said safety Marques Anderson, which is more than anyone else knew. "We take chances, we get burned, but we make plays."

It is these sorts of plays, and games, and effort, that has allowed UCLA to run a flea-flicker on the aura of USC and leave the Trojans standing still.

Before Saturday, with five home games each, UCLA had outdrawn USC by nearly 10,000 a game, averaging 65,339 here, second in the conference.

"Every play, it seems, there's emotion on one side or another," said Bennett, who began here with Toledo. "It's always been like that."

On Saturday that system produced Foster, shrugging off a broken hand and turf toe to gain 196 total yards with two touchdowns, reminding folks that he might still win a Heisman before he is finished here.

"He's got a toe that if you saw it, you wouldn't want to walk down the steps with it," Toledo said, shaking his head.

It produced Jason Zdenek, a senior safety who has waited five years for a chance to play, running into a pass and returning it 56-yards for a touchdown.

"Many, many, many things have happened to me this year that I never expected," he said.

Mostly, the system produced the sort of combination of heat and chill and energy and breathlessness that turns a sport into passion.

The football Bruins get it. For now, this town is theirs.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:


Wait a Moment

A couple of plays that seemingly went one way and then the other proved crucial.





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