They say time heals all wounds.
But is a year really long enough to cure 50-0? Let that sink in. Fifty. Five-zero … to nothing.
As we prepare for one of the more intriguing games in the crosstown rivalry’s history, whose winner punches its ticket to the Pac-12 Championship game, it’s hard to believe that USC was mopping the field with UCLA just one year ago, with the largest margin of victory in the rivalry in 81 years.
Fifteen to zero would have been one thing, but 50 is like sleeping in for the final exam in the last class you need to graduate, which you had to retake 12 times, before vomiting on the scantron and turning it in. Years from now, 50-0 will jump off the pages of the rivalry’s archives. How did the Trojans hang half a hundred on a team that, according to its head coach, had “closed the gap?”
Coach Jim Mora wasn’t there, of course, but as he’s done since Day One, Mora refuses to talk about the past and demands that his team “normalize” rivalry week. When both statues are in a box and male genitalia are graffitied on the gateway to campus, it’s hard to ignore the omnipresent implications behind this game, which made last year even worse.
“Who won?” joked Mora when asked if he watched the program’s implosion at the Coliseum.
Is that sort of defeat, an absolute embarrassment, something you simply forget about and move on?
Dr. Bob Corp, director of the Sport Psychology Program for UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological center, seems to think so.
“A year is a very long time for someone to keep a memory that is going to have an immediate effect on them a year later,” Corp said.
“Technically speaking, that’s a very long time to hold on to the emotion of that moment.”
“The psychology of it is that our beliefs are affected by a lot of different sources of information, one of them being, “˜What happened the last time we did this?’ If they just think, “˜The last time we played USC, we got killed by 50,’ yeah, they’re going to have a problem with self confidence
“But if they think, “˜Since then, we’ve gotten bigger and stronger. We’ve got a new strength coach who has made us better. We’ve got a new freshman quarterback who has been doing a great job,’ if they go through the whole progression, I think they’re going to say, “˜It’s a new day.’”
Not only does the doctor’s analysis bode well for UCLA’s players, Corp says Mora shouldn’t have to apologize for answering every question about the rivalry with “We’re just focused on the process right now.” Mora might be smarter than we think.
“If the coach is staying focused on the process and not worrying about what everyone else is doing and things they can’t control, that’s good psychology and it’s good role modeling, which is how athletes learn,” Corp said.
The players are maintaining that focus by reminding themselves that this year’s team is completely different than last year’s and they’re right. Half of last year’s starters are gone.
“I hope they come in thinking we’re the same team because we’re not,” senior safety Dalton Hilliard said. “We’re going to be more prepared this year.”
Nonetheless, the majority of them were there, either on or between the sidelines. Take it from the guy who was sacked four times and intercepted once by the very same Trojan defense that will visit the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
“It’s embarrassing,” redshirt senior quarterback Kevin Prince said. “I’m not proud of the fact that my name is attached to that game.”
One thing is certain. The least important of these parties, the fans, haven’t forgotten 50-0. They haven’t forgotten that 2006 is the only spotless Dalmatian in a litter of 13.
“The only positive was that I made the smart decision not to attend the game in person,” said the biggest UCLA fan I know, who could not be identified because he’s still wearing a bag on his head.
But, as he points out, it wasn’t just that the Bruins lost, but the way in which they lost. The drive chart looks like a chubby kid took over your neighborhood teeter-totter. UCLA turned the ball over on downs three times. USC threw six passing touchdowns.
UCLA was uninspired, unimaginative and unwatchable. Rick Neuheisel was fired two days after the game.
“I hoped that he would reach in to the bag of tricks that I thought he’d bring with him when we hired him and finally show some gutsy play calling,” the fan said.
Neuheisel’s failings paved the way for Mora to change UCLA’s luck but last year’s game will live on forever.
A win on Saturday would put some much-needed ointment on the still very fresh gash in the Bruins’ pride.
“It’s going to be there until we do something about it,” Hillard said. “People will remember it and keep asking about it so it’s up to us to go out and make a new memory.”