It’s been decades since I covered high school football, UCLA and Rice bringing back so many memories.
The hope, of course, is that some of these players might really improve and go on to play in college one day.
They have the seats covered at both ends of the stadium for the first game of the season because no one is really expected to be here except maybe the parents of those playing.
It’s not exactly Friday Night Lights, those guys so much better than any of these. Besides, it’s Thursday.
Rice begins the season 118 games below .500 as a football program.
It only feels that way at UCLA.
They say the game is on TV, something called the CBS Sports Network. But that’s not like the CBS most folks know, and they can’t even pick up the game at the stadium.
A reporter asks a UCLA publicist if he will check with his wife at home to see if the coaches were interviewed by a TV reporter on the field at halftime.
He has to tell the reporter that his wife isn’t getting the game on TV as well. He didn’t say whether she was happy or not.
UCLA takes a 19-0 lead before the first quarter is half over. And though we’ve been told this program is now all about toughness, the Bruins can’t handle the moment -- against Rice!
If Rice’s quarterback doesn’t get knocked out of the game in the final minute of the first half, UCLA goes to the locker room leading only 29-24.
If Karl Dorrell or Rick Neuheisel is on the Bruins’ sideline, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero is being asked at halftime when he’s going to make a change.
If you watched this bungle-fest, things at UCLA are only looking up right now because it is playing Rice.
“OK, like all games,” says Mora after the 49-24 win, and this is his first, but there is more defiance than celebration in his postgame remarks.
“OK, like all games there’s some good things and some bad things and some things we can improve on,” he says. “But it’s a win, and you take a win any time you can get a win.
“It’s a good start, and there’s a lot of learning that we can take from this and move on.”
I left the Dodgers for this? A win is a win, and they charge people to watch this, supposedly put it on TV and send some of us across country to write about it?
Some Bruins fans will take delight in this because how often have they felt delight in the last few years?
It won’t be the first time they’ve fooled themselves into thinking the corner has been turned. Neuheisel won his first game over No. 18-ranked Tennessee in overtime.
Good thing this one didn’t go into overtime. UCLA’s kicker has three of his tries for extra points blocked in the first half.
The same guy for Rice blocks all three, an NCAA record, and he’s probably now the leading candidate to be homecoming king.
UCLA has fallen so far off the football map, there is more excitement here for a preseason Texans football game, and the Texans aren’t playing their starters.
But that doesn’t dissuade Brett Hundley, who touches the ball for the first time in his UCLA career and runs 72 yards for a touchdown.
This prompts Neuheisel to tweet: “The recruiting was worth it.”
Neuheisel certainly has a monopoly on chutzpah.
UCLA again scores on a Johnathan Franklin 78-yard run, but does so against a defense that has ranked, on average, 107th in the nation the last five years.
It’s so traditionally horrible, the defensive coordinator was replaced by the defensive backs coach who oversaw the 112th passing defense in the nation last season. The head coach, who must also be a tenured PE professor, is 10-25 over the last three seasons. It’s the only way to explain why he’s still employed.
You want to start your college career as a coach, you want to play Rice.
But Mora comes to UCLA boasting about 98 years of NFL experience on his coaching staff and six Super Bowl rings, and now he’s got Rice looking like the Green Bay Packers.
In the final minute of the first half, UCLA is hanging on with everything it has to keep Rice from going ahead.
I mention this to Mora.
“That’s one of the worst teams you will ever see, so weren’t you startled how your team unraveled in the first half?”
And Mora says, “I think every opportunity to go out and play is an opportunity to get better.”
He hasn’t really answered the question and almost never does. “So you weren’t startled when your team unraveled in the first half?” I almost always ask the question again if not answered the first time.
Mora says, “Nothing that has ever happened in a football game has startled me in 25 years. Football is a crazy, wild game and things happen all the time. The most important thing is you win the game.”
Just a hunch, but his streak of never being startled might come to a close at some point while he’s at UCLA.
I also wanted to know why he was going for two points, already ahead 47-24 with a little more than seven minutes to play and Rice spent?
“I went for two in the end because we had three extra points blocked,” Mora says. “That was the only reason.”
But why not take the opportunity to “get better, every opportunity to go out and get better,” his mantra, and kick the extra point and not further embarrass Rice?
“Go ahead,” he says, while turning away to take someone else’s question.
And I asked it again, but really, all he had to say was, I just want to be like Lane Kiffin, even if there’s really no chance.