9:36 PM PST, November 24, 2012
To use an expression he knows so well, I don't give a rat's [tail] what Jim Mora says.
I'm the guy trying to get the Rose Bowl named after him, and so after getting thrashed by Stanford I'm asking him if he had the Bruins just going through the motions Saturday.
I'm giving him an out instead of everyone jumping to the conclusion the Bruins have reverted to Rick Neuheisel form overnight.
It's football suicide if they win this game, sending UCLA to Eugene to play Oregon for the Pac-12 Conference championship game, so I know Mora's team had to lose to Stanford.
He spent 25 years in the NFL, so he knows how to assemble a game plan to make it appear as if his team is going all out when the goal is really to show the other team nothing.
I understand his genius and why his NFL career has prepared him like no other college coach for this chance to play a team two straight weeks.
It was routine in the NFL to play a team twice in the same season, and knowing this one meant nothing but disaster if UCLA won, I wanted to give him credit for tanking without making it obvious.
If the Bruins weren't tanking it, then one can only conclude they don't belong on the same field with Stanford.
I figure after the first quarter, the score tied, 7-7, Mora realizes UCLA can beat Stanford so he holds the Bruins back.
I'm giving him credit for UCLA running 13 plays and gaining 13 yards in the second quarter and falling behind, 21-10, and then 35-17 after three quarters.
"We're competitors and those guys in there don't spend all the time they spend preparing for a game in the off-season, during the week, the sacrifices they make to not go out and try their best to win every opportunity they get. So that's what they did; they tried their best to win and we came up a little short."
It was a fine rambling speech, stern in delivery and the guys in the locker room will like the flattery.
But come on, don't you think the guys in the locker room would like to play in the Rose Bowl and know the best chance to get there is a game with Stanford rather than Oregon?
"To insinuate our players didn't give their best effort would not be correct," Mora says.
I'm trying to make a case that UCLA can win next week, so I'm insinuating Mora found a way to hold back the Bruins and the players would never know it.
"I never in my life stepped on the field to compete and not given my best nor will I ever," Mora says, and I can see him running for office one day.
I reminded him that's not true. Mora coached in close to 100 NFL exhibition games and probably never once giving a hoot who won or lost.
"Those games didn't count," Mora says, and this one didn't either.
The Bruins were going to the Pac-12 championship game whether they won or lost this one. It was the closest thing to an NFL exhibition game.
"You know how to coach a game so that you don't reveal things," I suggest.
"You're making a statement; I don't know, is there a question in there somewhere?" Mora says.
I've never thought reporters were just stenographers to ask questions and write everything down without offering some feedback. Often the feedback leads to better answers, a coach taken out of his automatic-pilot response to most questions.
"I'll comment on a question," Mora says.
So someone else asks if Mora would say his players were "as emotionally into this game as they were against USC?"
"I would," Mora says.
OK, so everyone in the room knows now they aren't going to get the truth, Mora just going coach-speak on everyone.
"We're trying to develop a culture about winning," Mora says. "And the way you try to win, you go for that every single time you step on the field, and if you don't you cheat everybody. We're trying to be great."
Yeah, and win one for the Gipper while you're at it.
How about a reality check here?
If UCLA wants to develop a culture of winning and be great, how about playing in the Rose Bowl, a date with Stanford on Friday providing the best path.
"Is that a question or a statement?" Mora says. "If you're asking me a question, I'll be happy to answer it. If you're going to make statements, then make them."
"So we can put it in first-grade terms, do you agree or disagree the best way to get to the Rose Bowl is playing Stanford again?"
"I hadn't thought about it," Mora says, and how many believe that?
"All I had thought about was beating Stanford; that was the end of the world for us."
Gosh, then he must be really devastated, and I sure hope UCLA is able to pick up the pieces.
"I'm just trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe you held things back and there's reason to believe UCLA can win next week," I say, and I think I know what's coming.
"Is this a press conference? If you want to come up here and take the mike and make all your statements, I'd love to have you up here with me."
He does struggle with the truth at times.
"No, you wouldn't," I say before realizing it wasn't delivered in the form of a question. I bet Mora grew up watching a lot of Jeopardy!
"Sure, I would," Mora says. "You don't scare me."
The question is: Can UCLA throw a scare into Stanford?
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