The wife of an official in the UCLA athletic department, lamenting the fate of the Bruin football team, told her husband this week: "We're three plays from being 6-2."
Replied her husband: "We're one play from being 2-6."
Indeed, if UCLA hadn't rallied in the last few minutes to beat San Diego State, Coach Terry Donahue might be found climbing the Golden Gate Bridge today at 1 p.m. instead of standing on the sideline at Stanford Stadium, where the Bruins will play the Cardinal.
As it is, UCLA (3-5) still has an outside chance for a bowl bid.
If the Bruins, losers of three consecutive games for the first time since 1979, can avoid losing four in a row for the first time since 1971 and close out the regular season with victories over Stanford, Oregon and USC, they might extend their season.
On a more realistic note . . .
In all probability, this will be UCLA's most meaningless November since 1980, when the Bruins were banned from postseason play by the Pacific 10 Conference for academic transgressions.
If USC beats Oregon State today and Arizona next week at Tucson, the USC-UCLA game Nov. 18 at the Coliseum will not even have a bearing on the Rose Bowl race.
Donahue's task is to find a way to motivate the Bruins.
"I think what you do is, you play for fun and you play for pride," he said. "You play because you're at UCLA and you have a work ethic and a standard of excellence that you accepted when you came here."
That's probably a lot easier said than done, of course.
UCLA, a 42-7 loser at Arizona three weeks ago, followed that with a pair of one-point losses to Oregon State and Washington, allowing both the Beavers and the Huskies to drive almost the length of the field to the game-winning points.
In last week's 28-27 defeat by Washington, the Bruins squandered a 21-0 second-quarter lead.
"Who are we kidding?" said Donahue, again addressing the subject of motivation as UCLA heads into its last three games. "Our players are obviously very disappointed and upset right now. So are the coaches and everybody who follows UCLA football.
"But there are lots of teams that play every week without any opportunity to do anything (beyond playing out the regular season) and they play hard and they play well.
"It's unusual for us, but we have to learn to do it. It's my hope that we can do it well."
At this point, though, the Bruins' confidence might be shot.
"It's like all these teams know it's their year to beat UCLA, and we know it, too," one player said. "It's like we know we (stink)."
Imagine how Stanford must feel.
If not for an improbable rally against Oregon, in which the Cardinal turned a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit into an 18-17 victory by scoring all of its points in the last 7 minutes 19 seconds, Stanford would be 0-8.
The Cardinal has lost five consecutive games, including a 19-0 defeat to USC last Saturday, when it managed only 140 total yards, including minus-six on the ground.
This isn't what Stanford had in mind last January when it hired Dennis Green to succeed Jack Elway as head coach, but the Cardinal has been beset with injuries.
Junior quarterback Brian Johnson, listed as probable for today's game, has made only one start because of shoulder and knee injuries, giving way to redshirt freshman Steve Smith, who has completed 56.3% of his passes for 1,347 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Cardinal running game has been hampered by the absence of all-conference halfback Jon Volpe, who ran for 1,027 yards last season. Volpe has missed six consecutive games with a knee injury but is listed as probable for today.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," Green said of Stanford's worst start since 1983, when the Cardinal was 1-10. "We're not necessarily frustrated or discouraged, but we're disappointed because we felt going into the season that we had an opportunity to play some pretty decent football and get more wins than we have right now."
So is UCLA.
Shawn Wills is expected to start at tailback for UCLA in place of freshman Kevin Williams, who is out with an ankle injury and did not make the trip. . . .Linebacker Meech Shaw, who missed three games with a pinched nerve in his neck, is listed as probable. . . .UCLA has won its last three games at Stanford Stadium, including a 49-0 rout two years ago. . . . Stanford Coach Dennis Green is 11-52 in more than 5 1/2 seasons as a head coach, including a 10-45 record in five seasons at Northwestern. . . . Stanford quarterbacks have been sacked 38 times in eight games. . . . UCLA is a slight favorite.