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SPORTS EXTRA / COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Letdown Is Felt in the Stands

UCLA: Foster's judgment comes under fire from disappointed Bruin fans. Teammates say he simply made a mistake.

November 11, 2001|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Word is Eric Laneuville is not a UCLA booster, didn't go to games, isn't much of a sports fan.

So the actor-director who gave UCLA tailback DeShaun Foster use of a 2002 Ford Expedition probably wasn't at the Rose Bowl to watch UCLA's crushing 21-20 defeat against Oregon on Saturday.

Too bad. He might have gotten an idea for his next movie. It would have a catchy title: "Betrayal of Loyalty."

Joe Bailey, 14, of Santa Maria certainly felt let down. His father, Sam, bought tickets to this game six weeks ago because Joe wanted to watch his favorite player, a certain Bruin Heisman Trophy candidate.

UCLA losses the last two weeks could not dampen Joe's enthusiasm. He is one of countless Foster children, a Bruin fan in the throes of hero worship.

"I really wanted to see him play," he said, swimming in an oversized No. 26 jersey.

So did most of the 78,330 who paid admission. Instead they got Akil Harris, Manuel White and Matt Ware. They got Cory Paus, Brian Poli-Dixon, Craig Bragg and Ryan Smith.

Not exactly Foster impostors, but not the guy who will command a multimillion-dollar NFL contract, either.

"We had to show everybody and prove to ourselves we could play well without DeShaun," Harris said.

Play well they did for the most part, even though the Bruins lost their third in a row. The crowd got its money's worth. But it was like watching a movie when the actors aren't recognizable. Some people need a star.

Make no mistake, Foster's electrifying runs give him star power. As his yardage total grew this season, so did the number of Bruin fans wearing his jersey number.

And three days after he was declared ineligible by the NCAA for accepting the extra benefit of extra wheels, his was still the most popular jersey among the sea of blue and gold.

"I'm not going to buy another jersey just because he's not playing," said Art Romo of Montebello.

Romo, 31, has been to every Bruin home game for 10 years. He's angry with Foster for his poor judgment, for letting down loyal fans. Still, he wore No. 26.

"It was really stupid, just a stupid mistake," he said. "They make movies about it....Ever see 'Blue Chips' or 'The Program'?"

Those films about the corrupting influences in college athletics were more popular than just about anything directed by Laneuville, whose credits are mostly limited to television.

He did direct episodes of "ER" in 1994 and "NYPD Blue" in 1993. And he co-starred in a popular television series, "St. Elsewhere."

But Foster was elsewhere Saturday because Laneuville either innocently tried to help his young friend or bestowed the favor on behalf of an agent--the jury is still out on his motive.

Teammates believed Foster was at home in Tustin with his parents, watching the game on television, no doubt cringing when Chris Griffith's 50-yard field-goal attempt missed with no time remaining.

Would Foster have been worth two points?

"Nobody's mad at him," Harris said. "He is a good friend of everybody, he just made a mistake."

Perhaps nobody in the locker room was angry. But those who paid admission, then pulled out their wallets again for a jersey, felt the sting of betrayal.

Clayton Green of Oak Park considered wearing his No. 18 Cade McNown jersey but grudgingly grabbed No. 26 on his way out the door. He is only 17, but because he has followed the Bruins "since I was in my mother's womb," he is not nave.

"After the handicapped-parking thing, I'm used to it," he said, shaking his head. "But I was very upset with DeShaun Foster. After all we've gone through with this team, to think he would do that."

The fans spoke the same way they had when Oregon took the field--a forceful, unified expression of anger. Foster let them down.

But history shows fans are forgiving. Gary Sheffield knows that much. If Foster is reinstated next week, every Bruin follower who ventures to the Coliseum for the rivalry game against USC will scream his lungs out for a touchdown run from No. 26.

Absolution might not come as easily to Laneuville. Unless, of course, he is able to provide more favors.

Marty Trevino, 37, of Bell Gardens will be the first in line.

"I work two jobs, I served in the military, I pay child support," he said. "I've got a '67 Malibu and it doesn't run.

"Give me a car."

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