He says ‘Bruins,’ they say ‘Go’
The world’s oldest living cheerleader knows he can not only inspire, but irritate. He knows his corny chants can grate on every man, woman and child. He knows there are folks who wish he would just sit down and shut up.
But until recently, he never quite realized UCLA officials were among them.
After 36 years, Geoffrey Strand was benched in a phone call that lasted five minutes.
“All I have to say about that is, ‘Go Bruins!’ ” he says.
Strand was told he was being suspended for at least two games for at least two incidents. There were complaints about a, “Who does the Taliban not want you to be…Bruins!” cheer that he has done several years. There were also complaints that, without authorization, he had used a golf cart to drive a sweltering student in a Bruin costume out to the field to spare her the walk.
The call was quick, but the message was clear. With the Bruins embarking on an updated and edgier marketing push, they feel the relevance of a 64-year-old man leading cheers in a college sweater and newsboy cap is gone.
“I’ll say it again ... ‘Go Bruins,’ ” he says.
When I talked to Strand on Tuesday, he thought his cheerleading career was over. Later, upon learning I was writing a column, a UCLA spokesman told me Strand’s suspension will end after this weekend’s game against Utah, and he will be allowed back on his platform for the Nov. 3 homecoming game against Arizona.
The world’s oldest living cheerleader was thrilled to hear the news, but he understands the implications. He figures the final three home games will be his final sis, boom and bah. And he’s going down cheering.
“Whatever happens, I will not question their decision — to do anything else would be to betray everything I’ve worked to promote for 36 years,” Strand says. “I’m a cheerleader, and I can’t change that.”
This is not the column I thought I would write. In an era when the sports world drips with overwrought self-importance, this is not how it usually goes.
When I heard about Strand’s sudden disappearance after the Bruins’ Houston opener, I thought two things. I thought many fans would be thrilled Strand’s polarizing presence would be gone. And I thought Strand would get caught up in believing he had become as important as the program he supported and would rip the Bruins for pushing him aside.
I was wrong twice.
The emails I’ve received from fans, and the buzz I’ve heard around town, has been mostly supportive, as if their annoyance has evolved into a sort of respect for one man’s undying Bruins love. Who else would dare stand up and lead cheers for nearly four decades of mostly mediocre football? Even those folks who said he drove them crazy thought he deserved better than to be driven away with a brief phone call in the middle of the season.
As for Strand being critical, well, I should have figured. This is a guy who has started seasons by asking his cheering sections to raise their right hands and pledge to not boo. Strand did not return my initial call for the story, and when he finally agreed to talk, it was about anything but himself.
“I’m a tiny bit player; I’m less important than those who bring Gatorade to the players,” he says. “My role is not to be a controversy; my role is to be a cheerleader.”
He’s wrong about one part. He is not a tiny bit player, just ask those who have either cringed or cheered at his constant “man, woman and child” exhortations. As the years have passed — he returned to his alma mater as a cheerleader in 1976 at the Coliseum — Strand began mixing bits of patriotism into his cheers while becoming more of a dominating presence in the Bruins football environment.
Strand constantly exposes himself to as much ridicule as praise, yet he doesn’t need any of it. He has a real job as a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley. He is a season-ticket holder who often buys bunches of tickets and gives them away.
“I love my school, I love those kids, and I’m just trying to do the best job I can with honor,” he says. “Some people will be glad to have me shut up, I understand that. I’m just a guy trying to honor a commitment.”
For the first game of his suspension against Oregon State, Strand wore his cheerleading outfit during his many tailgating appearances before the game and while he rang the bell to signal the start of the Bruin Walk. He then changed into regular clothes and donned a giant straw hat when he entered the stadium so he wouldn’t be a distraction. He will do the same routine Saturday against Utah, and then prepare for what will probably be his final three games.
“We are constantly looking forward to improving the fan experience in all our sports,” Bruins spokesman Nick Ammazzalorso said. “That said, we will evaluate the football fan experience at the end of the season and devise a plan going forward.”
With new facilities, it’s smart of UCLA to roll out new game presentations to attract new fans. It’s even smarter for the Bruins to offer a dignified farewell to the guy who has always been there.
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