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Celebrating the unforgettable memories and a team that became family -30-

Sam Settleman stands for a portrait. (Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)

By Sam Settleman

June 11, 2023 9:59 p.m.

I’ll never forget covering my first football game.

The blazing September sun beating down on my black pants. Climbing escalator after escalator. Entering the Rose Bowl press box for the first time.

But what I remember most came long after the game had ended. Walking across the field after the postgame press conference, I took a moment to look up around me. There it was. One of the most iconic stadiums in the world – one that had held nearly 70,000 people just an hour before – entirely empty.

In a night full of unforgettable moments, that one felt surreal – and maybe even a little lonely.

As I sit here writing one last article for the Daily Bruin, I might as well be standing at the 50-yard line of a vacant Rose Bowl. Or traversing the mats and equipment to escape a gymnastics meet that ended hours ago. Or running through the halls of an empty T-Mobile Arena that just played host to an instant classic and now sits dormant. Or left waiting in the Pauley Pavilion media room – the last one there.

But it doesn’t feel lonely this time. It just feels surreal.

The Daily Bruin gave me a purpose, an outlet for an obsession – and three years later, a treasure trove of memories I’ll cherish forever.

Ironically, my first true introduction to the Daily Bruin started in an empty arena, as if I had skipped straight to the finish line. But this one I had the pandemic to thank for.

A wide-eyed sophomore walking into Pauley Pavilion for UCLA gymnastics’ 2021 season opener, I felt equal parts excited and confused as to how I ended up there. I made the half-lap from the north entrance of the arena to the media seating, chills making their way down my spine as I took in the blaring warmup music with not a soul in sight.

I had barely sat down before I spotted Norah Flatley in a boot on the sidelines. “Surely I should tweet about that,” I said to myself – a thought I would ponder thousands of times over the next three years.

Truth be told, I barely remember the meet itself. But who could forget the days of Zoom press conferences from inside the arena? Trying to force my words through a combination of nerves, a mask and a computer screen, I managed to ask Nia Dennis what her floor routine meant to her.

By the next day, Dennis’ performance had gone viral. And the quote from her answer to my very question had appeared everywhere across the internet, from the Daily Bruin to CNN. Oh, and my Twitter following? Let’s just say I had earned more social media followers in three hours than I had in the rest of my life combined.

Little did I know the “gymternet” would become a significant part of my life and gymnastics my favorite sport on campus.

I wish I could sit here for hours and tell my favorite stories, but there’s a million more moments just like those that I could recount in perfect detail.

If you had asked me about my favorite memories before I got to UCLA, here’s what I’d tell you: The New England Patriots winning Super Bowl 49. The Patriots winning Super Bowl 51. The Boston Red Sox winning the 2018 World Series. I could go on, but I imagine I’ve already lost most of you.

I never thought those memories could be replaced, and yet here they are relegated to the back page on a spread chock-full of unforgettable days with some of my favorite people.

Thank you to Kyle Boal and Nico Edgar for giving me someone to talk to as an intern in an isolating year. Without our nonstop conversations about gymnastics and water polo, I would never be where I am today.

Thank you to Bryan Palmero, Francis Moon, Olivia Simons and Jon Christon for showing me the joy in working with friends. The Daily Bruin never felt like a job to me, and you four are a large reason why.

And a special thank you to Jon for helping me every step along the way. I owe a lot of my accomplishments to you.

Thank you to Amy Ionescu, Grace Whitaker, Jack Nelson, Joseph Crosby and Lauryn Wang – the best assistant editors I could’ve ever asked for. I grew up loving sports because there’s nothing like being part of a team. With you five, I found not just a team but a family.

And thank you to Isabelle Friedman, who celebrated every achievement, listened to every rant and shared every laugh. Your support has meant the world.

It wasn’t until UCLA gymnastics bowed out of the NCAA championships and I sat in an empty Dickies Arena that I realized I had closed what had become the most important chapter of my life.

It felt as if everything had gone silent. As if I were standing at the 50-yard line of the Rose Bowl, watching above me as the stadium lights shut down one by one.

I wish they would never turn off. But even when they do, I’ll never forget what came before.

Reminiscing on those memories will forever feel surreal.

Settleman was a Sports contributor, reporter and staff 2020-2021, assistant Sports editor 2021-2022 and Sports editor 2022-2023.

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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