UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel takes reporters' questions during Pac-12… (Mark Boester / Los Angeles…)
Rick Neuheisel and UCLA have my total support this year, and to prove it, I've asked Tom Lasorda to deliver a pep talk to the guys before they take on Texas.
Lasorda, a gold medal miracle worker with the U.S. Olympic baseball team, says the football teams he has addressed are 15-2.
Air Force failed to win, he said, because the referees didn't call a penalty that he would have called, and Wisconsin lost because it had a short attention span.
"I had talked to Wisconsin before three different Rose Bowls and they won each of them," Lasorda said. "But one guy wanted me to talk to the team the day before the game. That's not good; my speech wears off.
"But they did cover the spread," he added.
Hard to believe Lasorda's speeches wear off, but to prove the point he said Manager Don Mattingly asked him to speak to the Dodgers this year in spring training.
"You see what I mean? It wears off," Lasorda said.
I happened to be talking to Dwyre, you know, wondering what jockey he might interview next, and he said he remembered another Lasorda loss. He said Lasorda spoke to Notre Dame, which then went on to lose to Tennessee.
"I don't believe I remember that one," Lasorda said, which explains why his record still stands at 15-2.
Lasorda said he will be happy to speak to the Bruins before the Sept. 17 game against Texas in the Rose Bowl.
"I think I can turn them around — for that game," said Lasorda, who already has a thing about wearing blue.
Neuheisel said he welcomes Lasorda's help.
"He'll connect with our kids," Neuheisel said.
Now some might say I've been Neuheisel's biggest critic and would even like to see him fired. It's true, I've teased Neuheisel since his arrival at UCLA, but it's others who have taken it a step further.
"Rick knows there is maybe one shot to straighten this thing out," is the way UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero put it when we talked after last season.
Now I know Guerrero was just trying to appease me so I didn't start teasing him, but I don't think I have ever called for someone's firing in sports.
If sports are just fun and games, how can anyone call for someone's dismissal?
"No one needs to worry about me, I'll land on my feet regardless," Neuheisel said. "I've been up against it in the past and things have always fallen in my direction."
It probably doesn't help him, though, if the teasing here continues. In fact I recently found out what it's like to be on the receiving end.
The 7-Eleven Kid is now going to school, but instead of telling everyone her grandmother is named "Geeky," she calls her "Grandma." Instead of Aunt Bibby, as she calls my daughter, Tracy, she tells the kids at school she has an Aunt Tracy.
I'm "G.P.," and so when I asked her what she says about me at school, she said, "I never mention you."
So that's what it's like to get the Page 2 treatment.
That's why I called Neuheisel on Monday to tell him I'm now on his side and pulling for UCLA to win a bowl bid, thereby allowing him to keep his job.
"Don't go so far overboard that people think you've been taken by aliens," Neuheisel said. I have to admit it sounds wacky, but I'm also thinking of embracing the Chargers this season because they will be moving here in February.
But first the Bruins, who open at Houston.
"A huge game," as Neuheisel put it, because of what it means in terms of public opinion and how UCLA's overall season might go.
The Bruins then play at home against San Jose State, and if that's not a victory, I'll be devoting almost all my attention to the Los Angeles Chargers sooner than I thought.
A 2-0 start with Lasorda and Texas next on the schedule would put the Bruins back on the local football map.
UCLA will need six or seven wins to finish the season in a bowl game. Right now San Jose State, Washington State and Colorado look like free squares.
"A bowl game is realistic," Neuheisel said, and you notice for the first time in memory, I'm not scoffing. "The bottom line — UCLA deserves postseason football and I'll be very disappointed if we don't get that accomplished.
"It begins with becoming mentally tougher in conference games. We're 5-1 against the Washington schools and 3-18 against the rest of the conference. An everyday lousy team could go 3-18. But we're more talented, better than that and must show it."
The media members who cover the Pac-12 have predicted UCLA will finish fifth in its division. But that was before reporters and broadcasters knew Lasorda was going to throw his weight behind the Bruins.
Lasorda spoke to USC's offensive unit before the 2005 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.
"And the Trojans won 60-something to something," Lasorda said. The final score was really 55-19. One of the benefits of having Lasorda on your side is that a team's accomplishments sound so much better in the telling of the story years later.
UCLA could use a lift like that, but what could Lasorda possibly say to motivate a team as disappointing as the Bruins?
"I will tell the players in closing that in the next year — what with all the traveling and talks I give — I will probably speak to a million people," Lasorda said. "And if 'you don't beat Texas, I'll make sure a million people know just how [crummy] you guys really are.'"
And guys, he will.
After all, his record of motivating teams after the Texas game will either be 16-2 or remain 15-2.