USC-UCLA in the Rain – November 18, 2012

I like football best in real autumn elements. Sure, a glorious sunny day is great, but any weather is okay on the gridiron. Cold and wet, that’s football weather.

So for a change I anticipate my kind of weather at the Rose Bowl during the 82nd meeting of USC and UCLA. I also expect UCLA to compete for the first time in years. Both are talented, well-coached teams ranked in the Top 25. No blowout either way this time.

I’m wearing a western-style wide-brim wool hat, ski parka, and Doc Martens, sitting on my shoulder bag that holds my water bottle, game program, and sports section of the L.A. Times. Couples and families lay blankets on the aluminum bleachers, most red or blue with corresponding logo. Everyone’s dressed for what’s just beginning to fall out of the sky.

My cousin Bob and I are getting excited sitting in the cold wind during warm ups, spotting the coaches – a more challenging game since they don’t wear numbers.

Bob says, “I think Silas Redd is still hurt. I’m not sure how well the Trojans will run the ball.”

I shrug. “The Bruins give up a lot of yards. Key is how many points they allow.”

“I think the key is Brett Hundley. End of the year, he’s not really a freshman anymore.”

“He’s looked good. He’s got to manage the game. The turnovers will decide.”

Bob nods. “Hey, anything can happen in a rivalry game.”

Blue and red outfits pepper the stands, many couples sporting both. I’m surprised at the empty seats, but they fill up after the announced kickoff time. I guess many were tailgating while TV commentators recited their keys to the game. We prefer watching the teams run onto the field and warm up.

“Fight on!” rings out repeatedly, as do eight-claps. Two fingered salutes poke toward the Trojan Band in concert formation. The Bruin Band revs up the home crowd – for once the Bruins seem to have a home field advantage and this feels like a rivalry again.

The Trojans opt to receive. With the wind Jeff Locke drills the kickoff, Marquise Lee watching the ball soar past the end zone. Touchback.

Matt Barkley behind center, we all expect a running play, but Barkley takes a short drop, throws just past the line of scrimmage on the left – it’s picked off! Bruin fans roar with fists in the air, Trojan fans gasp with hands to cheeks or top of head, everyone’s jaw hanging down to the bleachers. We hardly believe it even as we watch the replay on the stadium screens.

Barkley threw between the slot receiver and the split end and the Bruin defenders outnumbered them. Good scouting, well-designed defensive call – I gotta say both, plus great execution.

A talented young secondary going against talented young receivers. Yes, the rivalry is back. Aaron Hester gets the best of Barkley and SC’s receivers on the very first play from scrimmage.

The Bruins cash in on Trojan turnovers, sprinting out to a 24-point lead. Unthinkable, even for UCLAn optimists. Bruins look dominant. Most impressive is their yardage running the ball with Jonathan Franklin’s multiple cuts and second and third efforts for first downs behind the young Bruin offensive line. Franklin dashes into the end zone. Brett Hundley also runs in for a score and is passing efficiently. UCLA 24, USC 0.

“No, no, no!” I shout. “It’s too much time to run off the clock.” Heavy rain bothers the Bruins end of the second quarter, but while they seem to go conservative, predictable, run-run-incompletion-punt two series in a row, USC keeps passing. Barkley seems in rhythm for the first time, UCLA mostly rushing three with no blitzes.

“The Bruins need more than 24 points,” I say to Bob. “Whoever wins is going to score more than thirty points, maybe more than forty.” Barkley tosses touchdowns to Lee and Telfer in the last five minutes of the half, coming most of the way back – UCLA 24, USC 14.

Bob goes for food late in halftime after the lines die down and misses the first possession of the second half. Bruins receive. Third down at the twenty-yard-line. In pouring rain the snap gets nowhere near Hundley in the shotgun set. Franklin picks up the bouncing ball but gets hit before he can tuck it. Hundley reaches for it but also gets hit, watching the ball squib past him into the end zone. Linebacker George Uko recovers for a Trojan touchdown – UCLA 24, USC 20. Nervous time for fans in blue; cardinal-clothed faithful get loud for the first time since the start of the game.

USC misses the extra point, the teams trade touchdowns, and USC makes a 2-point conversion to get within a field goal – UCLA 31, USC 28.

In the fourth Jonathan Franklin takes over. Like all great running backs he gets in rhythm as the game goes on, and as the defense tires he runs over, past, and around them. Franklin makes three cuts on a 29-yard touchdown run, staking UCLA to a ten-point lead that the defense cashes in.

Barkley has looked sharp on only two possessions. With Jeff Locke kicking through the end zone six times – with and against the wind – Marquise Lee got only one chance for a kick return after a UCLA penalty backed up Locke and put the kick into play. A good return but not a field flipper. Lee got loose for one touchdown in USC’s comeback, but he also fumbled a handoff he received in the tailback position. As the old saw goes, “You cannot hope to stop him.” The Bruin defenders have done a great job of containment.

Near the end, with just a wisp of a hope left, Barkley doesn’t sense impending doom rushing him from the backside. Converted H-back turned All-American linebacker Anthony Barr sacks Barkley, the full weight of both their bodies landing on Barkley’s shoulder – end of collegiate career. Get ready for Pro Day and the Combines.

Trojans go to 7-4 overall and a reduced impact date with The Irish in South Bend. Surprise, look who’s Number One now.

Bruins go to 9-3, Jim Mora tying Terry Donahue for most wins for a first-year UCLA head coach. UCLA clinches the championship of the Pac-12 South Division, next week’s final regular season game more important to Stanford and Oregon. Win or lose against The Tree on this same field Friday night, the Bruins will play the Pac-12 championship game on the road.

The Bruin players dash to the student section in the far corner opposite our seats. The UCLA Band plays on. The Trojan players trudge out of the stadium.

I am soaking wet, my black leather dress gloves bleeding dye that discolors my hands. Other than that I’m dry under my clothes. I’ll need to wear rain or ski gloves next time.

Bob and I watch the celebrations for a while, let the throngs exit the Rose Bowl, pick our way past the Trojan Band playing to grey concrete of an almost deserted section that had been clothed in red all game, find the serpentine line to board the shuttle buses to Parsons Engineering parking lot.

Hey, a glorious Saturday of football at the New Year’s Day site of the Granddaddy of Them All. An exciting game, a competitive game – eventually. Both teams came to play, it was the Bruins day.

The Victory Bell comes home for a coat of bright blue paint. Give me an eight-clap!

Sorry, Bob. Good luck against The Irish.

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Bowl Victory Belongs to the Excited Team – Jan 2, 2013

We see this every bowl season – teams that are excited to be in a particular bowl play up to their capability while other teams play as if their venue is beneath them.

Stanford and Wisconsin were both pleased to be part of a traditional Big Ten versus Pac-12 matchup in The Granddaddy Of Them All, the Rose Bowl. For the first quarter and half of the second Florida seemed bored being in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, playing as if a non-championship BCS game against a Big East team would be a walk-through.

The result: a Rose Bowl classic and a Sugar Bowl first half that Florida would rather forget. Which is consistent, because the Gators certainly forgot to bring their “A” game for the kickoff.

A full and enthusiastic full house in Pasadena rooted on an old-school example of power football. Two teams that run behind tight ends and a fullback lead on offense, mixing in some play-action to keep the defense honest. Both defenses physical and aggressive, true to their character, played the run and read pass to pressure the quarterback and cover well.

Stanford executed flawlessly on the opening drive, running scripted plays all the way to the end zone. The Cardinal ran almost half the first quarter clock on that drive.

Stanford’s defense made a quick stop and got off the field. The offense marched down again, 14-0. Two touchdowns on two possessions to dominate the first quarter.

Wisconsin answered in the second quarter with balanced play calling and a tweaked defense. Stanford prevailed, but Wisconsin was in it until the end.

Thousands of Sugar Bowl seats went unpurchased by Florida fans. Louisville fans showed up in force. The teams reflect the unbalanced enthusiasm. Louisville DB in good coverage on the opening play of the game. Driskel’s pass off target, receiver gets fingertips on it, DB does the tip drill – pick six. Louisville gets a defensive stop, long march to second touchdown – 14-0.

This, however, is a different two-touchdown lead from the Rose Bowl. Florida is not being true to character. The Gators are getting stuffed on the run. They don’t convert on third downs. They don’t protect the pocket. Their defense gets burned.

The Gators get on the board with a field goal at the start of second quarter. They finally wake up at the end of the half to score a touchdown.

The Cardinals score on their first four possessions and hold a 24-10 halftime lead.

The only way Florida acts like the team that only lost one game all season? The Gators, most penalized team in the SEC, pick up eight penalties in the first half.

Second half I’m watching the same Sugar Bowl. Florida plays out of character from the kickoff, going for their first onside kick attempt of the entire season. I think ESPN’s Chris Spielman is right, it’s a sign of desperation.

Credit Louisville Head Coach Charlie Strong for having his “hands team” on the field. A receiver collected the onside kick and wrapped his body around it.

A Gator on the kickoff team commits two personal fouls and gets ejected from the game. Both fouls are enforced, putting the ball on the Gator 19-yardline. Terry Bridgewater immediately throws into the end zone – Louisville 30, Florida 10.

The entire third quarter Louisville moves the ball, Florida does not. Louisville squanders additional scoring opportunities, missing an extra point, two field goals, and gets no points after a goal-to-go opportunity. Louisville maintains a twenty-point lead by pressuring Driskel and sacking him. Florida does not have the receivers to stretch the field and when they are open Driskel holds the ball too long.

Finally, with 1:46 remaining in the third quarter, Florida makes a play. A D-lineman tips a Bridgewater pass and the defensive back alertly pushes the receiver out of the way – permitted after the tip, Spielman points out – and secures the interception. Starting this drive in Louisville territory, Florida runs the ball like Florida as the third quarter ends.

Switching to the other end of the field, Florida takes advantage of Lousville’s excellent pursuit with a reverse for a first down. The Gators follow up with a nicely developing screen pass. Two nice calls in a row – but Driskel fails again to get the ball out again, hit and almost sacked as he throws incomplete.

A couple runs get stuffed. Driskel passes again, too high – Louisville DB Andrew Johnson intercepts in the end zone and returns it to the 20-yardline.

12:48 left in the game, Bridgewater milking the clock. Another running play keeps the defense honest. Bridgewater completes a pass for a first down.

A couple plays later Bridgewater passes for another first down, then he hands off and for the first time in the game Louisville gains serious yardage on the ground. Nine yards on one carry, twenty-five on another – this last the longest run from scrimmage the Gators have allowed all season. Louisville marches deep enough for their kicker to make a thirty-yard field goal. Louisville up 33-10 with just 7:54 left on the clock.

Louisville native Muhammad Ali participated in the pregame coin toss. A Cardinals fan holds up a sign with a photo of Ali in the ring standing over Sonny Liston with the caption, “We shocked the world!”

Under eight minutes to go, wrapped up, right? Except Louisville has the worst Big East kickoff coverage. Florida runs back the kick for a touchdown. 33-17.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp gambles again with an onside kick because Florida hasn’t stopped Louisville yet. Kick goes out of bounds, plus five yards for another Florida penalty (off sides).

Gators finally get a stop, but Louisville downs their first punt of the night (!) on the Florida 3-yardline. DE Preston Brown almost sacks Driskel again, almost intercepted.

Gillesley rushes to the 20-yardline, a 17-yard gain. Driskel hits a pass for another first down, another short pass, 4:30 left and counting. Driskel scrambles but gets tackled short. On third down he converts on another pass. Time stops for an injury, but there’s only 3:46 left and Florida is sixteen points down.

A couple incompletions, a big gain to the Louisville 2-yardline, a loss to the 5-yardline and time run off the clock, then a nice tight end delay for a touchdown pass. Florida is still alive.

Until Louisville sacks Driskel on the 2-point conversion attempt. Louisville grabs the onside kick with a minute and a half left and a ten-point lead. Louisville actually makes yardage and gets a first down, takes a couple knees, and celebrates a 33-23 win – Sugar Bowl champions.

Louisville head coach Charlie Strong turned down offers from Tennessee and other programs that were hiring. Teddy Bridgewater says after the game, “I thought Coach Strong was gone, him staying shows the loyalty he has to these players.” After the championship trophy goes to Charlie Strong, Bridgewater receives the Sugar Bowl Most Outstanding Player trophy.

Louisville has spent a lot in facilities upgrades and will move the ACC. In Coach Strong’s third year the future looks bright.

Florida, two-touchdown favorites, will hurt for a while, but with a top recruiting class the Gators might actually be better next year.

My Pet Peeve In Sports Reporting

My pet peeve in sports reporting cropped up most often several years ago at the Los Angeles Times, formerly one of my favorite sports news sources. I suspect it had something to do with the Tribune Corporation acquisition, but then I wasn’t on the inside. I was a customer, a subscriber. Anyway, I saw a trend – which I saw as an epidemic – of a bad story format.

Even casual readers of newspapers, eZines, and blogs know – at least subconsciously – to expect a hook, a headline, the why-should-I-read-this opening that gives us the punch line, the climax, the point. If it were fiction or TV drama it would be a spoiler. We want to know the result up front and then settle in and read the rest of the article – or as much as we have time for – to get the rest of the story.

So several years ago I read a lot of game summaries that irritated me to no end. The first paragraph summarized the climax and the next several paragraphs unfolded the full drama and denouement. So far so good, but the next section would jump back a bit, play out the previous part of the game, jump back again and play out another bit, jump again, and again, and so on.

The baseball summaries done in this fashion were the worst. If the drama was in the ninth inning, for instance, after the nice climax story came the setup in the seventh and eighth innings, then the fifth and sixth innings, then the third and fourth, and finally the first and second. Talk about anticlimactic. Just like a movie with too many flashbacks, a game summary like this takes the reader out of the story.

The reason we watch sports is to watch the development of the game. What happens early influences what coaches and players do late. A pitcher uses more breaking balls the second and third times through the order. A manager intentionally walks a guy who’s three-for-three in the game. An offensive coordinator abandons the run behind by two touchdowns. It’s the story of the game that should be the story of the article.

If the early stages didn’t factor in the victory, don’t bother going back and detailing every indecisive inning or possession. (That’s covered by box scores and drive charts.) Just leave it out, or better yet, summarize how it all brought the game to the climax. And please take us there from the beginning, even if you zoom through it.

Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers Are the Biggest Baseball Story of the Year

Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers are the biggest baseball story of the year. Except, maybe, if you’re a Yankees fan. Or a Brewers fan. Or…

The underachieving men in blue were truly pathetic after the first two months of the season. Then they got healthy. They got in sync. And most of all, they got Puig.

Yasiel Puig is a rare combination of multifaceted talent and charisma. He reminds me of some special prospects of decades past.

I remember seeing Pedro Guerrero deployed in right field in Dodger Stadium in his September call up prior to his rookie season. Just the way he stood, moved to shag fly balls, the effortless speed. I could tell he was enjoying himself. He had fun. He loved the game of baseball. He had that special something. He had “It.”

Dwight Gooden. “Doc” had a blistering fastball. But he had presence, too, like Bob Gibson. I mean, nobody is like Bob Gibson, but Doc was special.

Puig has something indefinable. Like Fernando, like Maury Wills. He has the potential to be a dominant heart-of-the-order hitter like Paul Goldschmidt or Buster Posey. I see him more as a Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval in blue. A dangerous streaky hitter for average and power, a potentially great defender. With more speed and power than Panda.

We’ve already seen potential problems, just as we saw problems for each of the players named above. Puig is just a rookie, so we’ll see more stuff come up. He seems to be doing fine. Don Mattingly thinks so too, and Donnie Baseball has a good baseball mind.

Mattingly also has the players. Even if they all just play average – for what they’ve done in their careers – the Dodgers are looking at several coming seasons of success. All their stars except Adrian Gonzales have had personal issues, but winning often makes those go away. Next to these guys, Puig is just a teddy bear.

As Poem: A Pure Part of the Abyss as Primeval Source of Existence

I think of an abyss

As a deep cavern

Or the depths of the ocean,

A deep

Dark

Cold

Forbidding place.

I feel a foreboding at that thought.

The depths of space strike me the same way.

Emotional abyss is a place

Of despondency

Of loss

Of desolation.

The classical abyss,

The philosophical/spiritual/mystical abyss,

The Abyss as Primeval Source of Existence,

This is different to me.

I have always felt a part of the Oneness

Of the Universe.

Beyond my very modest

Rational thought understanding

Of the quantum multiverse

I feel Oneness encompassing all existence

I feel myself in that Oneness

All-connected

All-related.

I am a white-capped crest of a wave

A miniscule part of the ocean of existence.

The word part is insufficient

For there exists no boundary

No threshold

Between the part that is me

And the parts that I touch;

We are one.

As a wave, I am

Not a piece of water,

But a pulse

Travelling through the water

Rolling across the vast Pacific

Leaving warm tropical waters behind

I move through colder waters

To break on a distant shore.

I become a vibration in the rocks

In the sand

In the air

In the trees

In a human sitting over a tide pool

Reading these words.

I breathe the air.

Is the air I am about to inhale

Me?

Is the air I just exhaled

Me?

Is the air in my lungs

Me?

Is the oxygen entering my bloodstream

Me?

Is the carbon dioxide exiting my bloodstream

Me?

Are the photons of sunlight entering

My skin

My lens, cornea, iris, and retina

Me?

Where and when

Does the packet of pheromones

And essence of lavender

And flavor of pesto

And rot of compost

Entering my nostrils

Become me?

Where do vibrations

My daughter’s voice

The rimshot of a snare drum

The whine of my dog

The purr of my cat

Become

My body

Vibrations?

I feel the radiant heat

Of a bruised muscle

A fraction of an inch

From my hand

As with laying on of hands

I reduce inflammation

Without skin-to-skin

Contact.

I feel the pulse of a meridian

I gently press a fingertip

Into an acupressure point.

I feel the chaotic, sickly energy

Of a migraine

In my hands.

I reposition the neck

Release the pressure

On the vertebrae

Release the tension

In the muscles.

Where does my client end

Where do I begin?

Where are the boundaries

Between my treatment table and my client

Between my client and me

Between us and the rest of the room?

Everything here

Is a room’s worth of nuclei

Kept apart by orbiting electrons

Electrons shared by nuclei

In molecules

Joined in communities

We identify as objects.

I feel oil and sweat

Of my client’s skin

Heat of my client’s muscles

In my hands,

The flow of my energy

Through and around my hands.

I sense the room’s atmosphere

Vibration

Mood,

Tone.

I feel one with

Wind and sound and damp at the ocean’s edge

A roaring football stadium as one team comes together

And another falls apart

A hand on a swooping sculpture’s curve

My mind’s eye

My heart

My body

As I grok a Frankenthaler painting.

As I watch a spider spin her web

A flight of pelicans glide over the beach

A butterfly flutter

A dragonfly whoosh

A deer tiptoe

A coyote trot.

I feel Oneness

With redwood forest

Glacier-carved granite cliff

Waterfall

New-fallen snow.

I feel this

In love

In sex

In grief

In memoriam.

I feel this

In gratitude

In appreciation

In communication

In understanding.

I know this

In my sum totality

Which I ignore

In my separate parts.

For those parts are inseparable

Though they know not.

As students in a class are inseparable

They are the class.

As a family is separate as individuals

Yet interwoven as a family.

As a community is an interdependent whole

Intermeshed in myriad ways

Visible

Apparent

And not.

I see you.

I hear you.

I feel you.

Yet I merely sense

My greater self

That includes us both

And all that we are.

We are one.

We are one in this time and place

This experience

In

Through

And beyond

Time and place

Alive with potential

Alive with history

Here and now.

Only here and now.

And now.

And now.

So full.

Vibrating

Pulsating.

Alive.

A Pure Part of the Abyss as Primeval Source of Existence

I think of an abyss as a deep cavern or the depths of the ocean, a deep, dark, cold, forbidding place. I feel a foreboding at that thought.

The depths of space strike me the same way.

Emotional abyss is a place of despondency, sense of loss, desolation.

The classical abyss, the philosophical/spiritual/mystical abyss, The Abyss as Primeval Source of Existence, this is different to me. I have always felt myself to be a part of the Oneness, the Universe. Beyond my very modest rational thought understanding of the quantum multiverse, I feel Oneness encompassing all existence and feel myself in that Oneness, all-connected, all-related.

I am a white-capped crest of a wave that is a miniscule part of the ocean of existence, but the word part is insufficient, for there exists no boundary, no threshold between the part that is me and the parts that I touch; we are one.

As a wave, I am in fact not a piece of water, but a pulse travelling through the water, rolling across the vast Pacific, leaving warm tropical waters behind as I move through colder waters to break on a distant shore. I then become a vibration in the rocks, in the sand, in the air, in the trees, and in a human sitting over a tide pool reading these words.

I breathe the air. Is the air I am about to inhale me? Is the air I just exhaled me? Is the air in the lungs me? Is the oxygen entering my bloodstream me? Is the carbon dioxide exiting my bloodstream me? Are the photons of sunlight entering my skin, my lens, cornea, iris, and retina me?

Where and when does the packet of pheromones and essence of lavender and flavor of pesto and rot of compost entering my nostrils become me? Where do the vibrations of my daughter’s voice and the rimshot of a snare drum and the whine of my dog and the purr of my cat become my body vibrations?

I feel the radiant heat of a bruised muscle a fraction of an inch from my hand as with laying on of hands I reduce the inflammation without skin-to-skin contact. I feel the pulse of a meridian as I gently press a fingertip into an acupressure point. I feel the chaotic, sickly energy of a migraine headache in my hands as I reposition a client’s neck and release the pressure of the vertebrae and release the tension in the neck muscles.

Where does my client end and I begin? If I take a non-attached view, what are the boundaries between my treatment table and my client and me and the rest of my treatment room? Everything here is a room’s worth of nuclei kept apart by orbiting electrons, electrons shared by nuclei in molecules, the molecules joined in communities that we identify as objects.

I feel the oil and sweat of my client’s skin on my fingertips, the heat of my client’s neck muscles in my hands, the flow of my client’s energy around my hands. I sense the room’s atmosphere, vibration, mood, tone, peace and agitation, dissipating tension, calming anxiety.

It’s the whole experience of wind and sound and damp at the ocean’s edge, of a roaring football stadium as one team comes together and another falls apart, of a hand on a swooping sculpture’s curve, of my mind’s eye and my heart and my body as I grok a Frankenthaler painting.

I feel this watching a spider spin her web, a flight of pelicans glide over the beach, a butterfly flutter, a dragonfly whoosh, a deer tiptoe, a coyote trot. I feel this in the redwood forest, glacier-carved granite cliffs, waterfalls, new-fallen snow. I feel this in love, in sex, in grief, in memoriam. I feel this in gratitude, in appreciation, in communication, in understanding.

I know this in my sum totality, this which I ignore in my separate parts. For those parts are inseparable, though they know not. As students in a class are inseparable, they are the class. As a family is separate as individuals, but interwoven as a family. As a community is an interdependent whole, intermeshed in myriad ways visible, apparent, and not.

I see you. I hear you. I feel you. Yet am I not merely sensing my greater self that includes us both and all that we are? We are one. We are one in this time and place, this experience in, through, and beyond time and place, alive with potential, alive with history, only here and now. And now. And now. So full. Vibrating, pulsating. Alive.