UCLA Coach Jim Mora greets his players before their Sept. 8 game against… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
So, here I am back at the Rose Bowl, when the sweaty mutant fan-blob in the seat next to me leans over and starts talking into my hair as if we're on a fifth date — something about Jerry Rice Jr. — and I'm thinking, 'Where did such a promising life go so wrong?' (Mine, not his).
I went to the right schools, dated the wrong girls, basically did everything my old man recommended, and yet here I am. It's not a low point in my life, more like a troubling baseline.
Philosophically, I guess you have to look at the big picture, which reveals that we're in the early innings of another wonderful college football season, where each week is like a playoff situation. I can think of no other sport where every game is so vital and the fans so feverish.
Out at the Rose Bowl, the war drums of fall are about to sound for a third straight week. I don't know Coach Jim Mora's secret, but like Jim Harbaugh, he seems one of those force-of-will guys who just gets things done. Mora for mayor? Bet he'd fix those L.A. schools.
Harbaugh is probably the best coach in the business — pro or college — and Mora seems cut of the same steel cloth. As a species, don't college coaches just seem more interesting than their NFL counterparts? Maybe it's all that "molders of young men" crud the alumni are always spewing.
How good have these Bruins become? So good that wild bears have begun showing up near the Rose Bowl, hoping for a peek. The first one they called "Meatball," because what else would you call something that walked more than a couple of miles to see (the old) UCLA play? The second bear got nailed by a car.
But still they're coming, these bears, and if you're into omens and horoscopes, which you probably are, you have to wonder whether there isn't something to all this. The Bruins sport an offense that could probably win back Cuba, led by a quarterback with the pulse rate of a sleepy priest.
My favorite, though, is this Steven Manfro, a slashing freshman who doesn't get much ink. He merely does everything Gen. Patton asks of him.
In short, the Bruins are more loaded than a roadie for the Sex Pistols.
On this night, they're close to blanking the Houston Cougars, a stiff, winless team that looks like it spent far too much time in the weight room. The players resemble video game figures, so thick of neck that they can't swivel to catch a pass. And the hapless Houston quarterback looks like a guy tossing beach balls into a ceiling fan.
Repeat after me: Deeeeeeeee-fence.
Out in the nearby pastures, in one of the most winsome tailgate venues in America, you can feel the vibe changing, the sense that UCLA is finally on solid ground. If I were USC, or anybody else, I wouldn't want to play this Bruins team.
Two hours before the game, a fog of barbecue smoke drifts over the tailgaters — a tone poem moment. To watch Brookside Golf Club load up for a game is to believe in the power of positive parking. Why don't the Dodgers hire these guys? Easy in, easy out, it is usually the best driving experience of any L.A. sports venue, save the Galaxy, which plays (I think) somewhere down near the border, where traffic is much lighter.
About an hour before the game, two clowns with a cooler show up selling coconut rum drinks in actual coconuts, six bucks a pop. At L.A. Live, you get a swizzle stick for that, or half an olive. So we buy two coconut drinks to toast this hot young Bruins season.
The bears are back. Bottoms up, baby.