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Pac Ten Week: Meditations Concerning the Uncertain Fate of the UCLA Bruins


By Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
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UCLA is an enigma: an experienced, talented team, one that defeated mighty USC for the first time in eight seasons and returns a conference-best 19 starters, but that has also compiled records of 6-7, 6-6 and 7-6 in three of its head coach's four seasons and lost each season to a team (Washington, Arizona, Washington State, Stanford) at least two full games under .500 in the league. The Bruins' preseason standing ranges from the top ten to absence from the poll altogether.

For answers, SMQ has turned to the wisdom of the legendary, dead Russian thinker to address an epic mystery worthy of his eternal, deceased status. Excerpts are from his underground pamphlet, "Victory and Inevitable Death," published in America under the title "I Know Why the Caged Coach Screams: The Incredible Upset that Shaped a Man, a Rivalry and a Nation Forever."
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"What's this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way under me," he thought, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of his pass to find its target was ending, and eager to know whether the slot receiver had made it past the first down marker or not, whether the chains had been moved or stood cruelly fixed, with the mocking number `4'. But he saw nothing of all that. Above him there was nothing but the sky -- the lofty sky, not clear, but still immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds creeping quietly over it.
 - On Ben Olson's season-ending knee injury at Arizona.

While enduring a four-game losing streak Patrick had learned not with his intellect but with his whole being, by the game itself, that the game is created for success, that success is within him, in the satisfaction of simple slant routes, and that all unhappiness arises not from lack of arm strength but from trying to force the ball into double coverage. And now during these last three weeks of the regular season he had learned still another new, consolatory truth - that no quarterback in this world is truly terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be perfectly happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he cannot check down to the receiver in the flat. He learned that suffering and survival have their limits and that those limits are very near together.
 - On Patrick Cowan's development as a starter.


Dorrell discovered in time no obsession so elusive as that of ture happiness.
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Dorrell, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of joy he had so long envisioned when he gazed at the lush hills beyond  the Rose Bowl. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing themselves awash in happiness as the realization of their desires. For a time after being bathed in syrupy sports drink, he had felt all the delight of victory in general, of which he had known nothing before, and of bragging rights in this oldest and fiercest of rivalries - and he was content, but not for long. He was soon aware that there was bubbling up in his heart a desire for desire - longing. Without conscious intention he began to fantasize and then mentally command defenders to leap at even the slightest pump fake, mistaking the motion of the quarterback for a desire and an object of his obsession. These thoughts drove him mad.
 - On Karl Dorrell's off-season film sessions.

Several times he asked himself, "Can it be that I have overlooked something, that there is something which I have failed to understand? Is it not possible that this state of despair is common to all coordinators?" And he searched for an answer to his paralyzing doubt in every area of knowledge acquired by practitioners of the West Coast offense. In his mentor Callahan he encountered a sudden coldness that pushed him into the wilderness of the world. For a long time he carried on his painstaking search; he did not search casually, out of mere curiosity, but painfully, persistently, day and night, like a dying man seeking salvation. He found nothing.
 - On the philosophy of first-time offensive coordinator Jay Norvell.

Quite often a man goes on for years imagining that the recruiting ranking that had been imparted to him since adolescence is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him.
 - On the prospect of Ben Olson living up to his number one recruiting ranking as a senior.

Humanity unceasingly strives forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of the zone blitz to one more general and more lucid. And in this, as in every movement, there are leaders - those who have understood the design of hot routes more clearly than others - and of those advanced men there is always one who has in his blitzes and coverages, manifested this understanding more clearly, accessibly, and strongly than others. This man's expression, with those superstitions, traditions, and myths which usually form around the memory of such a man, is what is called a philosophy. Philosophies are the exponents of the highest comprehension of available option routes within a given set of formations in a given offensive system. It is a basis for evaluating human sentiments. If more blitzes bring the defense nearer to the philosophical ideal, they are good. If these estrange the players from their responsibilities, and oppose them, they are bad. If such a man has expressed this sort of understanding, it is because he has been led to understand himself. There is no magic in it.
 -On the vast improvement of UCLA's defense under NFL-bred coordinator DeWayne Walker.

If the players of UCLA are enslaved by mediocrity it is only because they themselves live and have lived by mediocrity, and do not recognize the eternal law of talent inherent in their position.
 - On the program's finishing at or within a game of .500 overall three of Dorrell's first four years.

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Leo Tolstoy is the author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and dozens of other novels, stories and essays that form a significant portion of the Western canon, as well as a tireless advocate for the adoption of rules limiting pre-snap motion and the use the forward pass a safety measure. He died in 1910.