UCLA Football and the Hope that Kills You
Time to talk about Ted Lasso on this here website.
Technically, I am a sportswriter on the internet, which means it’s finally time to talk about Ted Lasso on here.
For those of you in the dark, Ted Lasso is a show about an English Premier League squad that hires an American football coach to take over for the remainder of their season. The charm of the show is that Ted, despite not knowing much about the intricacies of soccer, is constantly able to win people over just by being a good person. It is a tremendous show that is currently airing its second season and I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.
All that said, some of you may be wondering how Ted Lasso relates to UCLA football, and, frankly, that’s the easy part. Ted Lasso is full of endlessly quotable little sayings, from “Be a goldfish” to the Believe sign to my personal favorite of “Football is life” (if you aren’t a Dani Rojas fan then we cannot be friends). But when I watched the series again a month ago in preparation for the new season to begin, there was one saying that stood out to me:
“It’s the hope that kills you.”
Mild spoilers ahead, but in context, this phrase doesn’t show up until the first season finale and it’s a common refrain amongst the fans of AFC Richmond. The general idea is that the fans are afraid to completely give in and support the team in their final game because they know that, should they do so and Richmond loses, the hurt from that loss will be worse than if they didn’t care at all. It’s a profound distillation of being a fan of a team that consistently disappoints, and yet the fans in Richmond still end up giving in to the hope and believing in the team again in that final episode.
This brings me to UCLA football.
UCLA football fans are intimately familiar with the concept of “the hope that kills you”. After all, take a look at the last few decades of the program:
A miracle upset of the Pete Carroll dynasty told fans that maybe the Dorrell experiment could work, only for it to collapse just a few seasons later.
The excitement of bringing a winning Pac-10 coach and former Bruin home was quickly eroded by years of poor recruiting, stemming back to the Dorrell era.
Jim Mora led the Bruins to more traditional heights with Rick Neuheisel’s recruits before his wings melted and the program crashed back down into mediocrity as recruiting cratered.
Josh Rosen showcasing moments of individual brilliance before the rest of the team gave things away.
The hiring of a proven winner in Chip Kelly quickly gave way to the current reality of 10 wins in three seasons.
At every opportunity, as soon as UCLA began to give fans a reason to hope, it was cruelly yanked away from them. Even consider last season: The Bruins had double-digit leads in the 4th quarter against Southern Cal and Stanford and found ways to blow both games instead of closing them out. If ever a program needed a late-night meeting to exorcise some demons, it’s this one.
Yet here we stand on the precipice of a new season, and once again hope is beginning to fill the air around Westwood. Dorian Thompson-Robinson took a major leap last season and finally looks ready to be a consistently good quarterback. The offensive line looks to be the most skilled and deep it has been in years. The defense returns a ton of experience at all three levels. This is a team that was probably better than their 3-4 record indicated last year, as they lost those four games by a combined 15 points. With this being Chip Kelly’s 4th year in charge, expectations are clearly high.
This is not a clarion call to abandon hope. It’s far from it. The big takeaway from that episode of Ted Lasso wasn’t that hope is a bad thing, but that hope is something that should be sought after and given in to whenever possible. The fans in Richmond weren’t upset that their faith was once again trampled over at the end. They were thankful to get the opportunity to have that faith in the first place. And that’s where I’m at with UCLA football. I’m guarded against the idea that this can be a good season because every rational part of my brain is screaming at me to consider track records and schedules and everything else that could derail this season, and yet I’m sitting here typing this out and feeling more optimistic that things could go well this year and that I will enjoy my Saturdays this fall. Hope is a powerful drug. We should not be afraid to place our hope in UCLA football, despite all the recent evidence that says doing so will ultimately prove fruitless.
While writing this, I thought back to a song by I Fight Dragons titled “No One Likes Superman Anymore” because the message again speaks to the cycle of being a fan. The song is about the idea that people are bored with Superman because he always wins, and, while I think there’s a more nuanced discussion to be had there, the general idea that people find it hard to root for the unstoppable force does have some merit. Since Homer was out here telling the story of Odysseus trying to make his way back home, humanity has been more enamored with the journey and the struggle inherent to life, and sports is much the same way. We live and die with our teams, suffering the hardships alongside them, which makes it that much sweeter if they do overcome those setbacks. Think back to this last postseason run for UCLA basketball. How much sweeter was the trip to the Final Four knowing that we were finally done with the Alford era of the program? It’s the same across the spectrum and, once UCLA figures things out again on the football field, it will be that much sweeter.
And so, we now launch into another season of UCLA football, once again hoping that our faith will be rewarded and won’t be the cause of our pain.
Cheers to hopemju and to better days.
Football is life.