Broken Coverage



UCLA closed its 2017 campaign Tuesday night with a 35-17 concession speech to Kansas State in something prickly called the Cactus Bowl.

The Bruins won the first half but lost the halftime show and everything else.

UCLA finished 6-7—call it the end of an error.

Assuming quarterback Josh Rosen turns pro, which he most certainly should do, the three-year tenure in which he served finished 18-20. It was much more a reign of tears than terror, but the Jim Mora book is now, officially, closed. New coach Chip Kelly, like a GM, watched UCLA’s final strike out from a nice suite in a baseball stadium.

Call me a senile cynic, but the last chapter of Rosen’s final game (probably) seemed orchestrated to show just how much Rosen really, really wanted to play.

It unfolded like a bad made-for-cable screenplay written specifically for NFL franchises who may still doubt Rosen’s heart and desire.

Totally Hollywood, right? Lights, camera, out-of-action.

ESPN story tellers wanted you to know that only a team of wild horses (or team physicians) could have kept Rosen from joining his comrades for a bowl game the world could not live without. Rosen, who has suffered numerous head injuries this year, was trying to shake off the concussion that kept him out of UCLA’s bowl-clinching finale against Cal.

Rosen (protagonist) warmed up with his team but, just before kickoff, was ultimately benched by doctors (antagonists) wearing long, black, handlebar mustaches. These villainous cretins did everything but tie Rosen to the railroad tracks.

ESPN then spent the next three hours giving more air time to Rosen, mostly with camera footage of him coaching up teammates on the sidelines, than the actual game.

One ESPN in-studio analyst suggested beforehand that Rosen might want to play just to show the NFL he wasn’t concussion prone—even at the risk of suffering another one.

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The post-game quotes in my Wednesday L.A. Times perpetuated the theme.

Columnist Dylan Hernandez quoted interim coach Jedd Fisch as saying: “I want to be clear on this: Josh wanted to play.”

The insinuation, at least in my mind, was that not wanting to play in something called the Cactus Bowl would have been wrong.

It seemed to suggest that players like Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette, who sat out bowl games for Stanford and LSU, were lesser teammates.

My point is that Rosen and ESPN didn’t need to subject us to a prologue-and-pony show worthy of a curtail call from the cast from "Hamilton".

Rosen did the right thing by not playing. NO WAY on Kyrie Irving's flat Earth he should have played. Players with concussions, who may also be top NFL draft choices, need not apologize for sitting out bowl games created by ESPN.

Look, I’m fine with anyone who wants to play in a bowl game. But there are only a handful of players in America who risk millions by playing—and Rosen is one of them. He needs some spit and shine, for sure, but he is already NFL-ready. Have you seen the quarterbacks starting right now in the NFL?

Rosen didn’t need to collaborate with ESPN directors and producers to soft-light show us he really will make a good teammate for any other team except the Cleveland Browns.

Top players don’t need to explain themselves in these situations. The schools in the Cactus Bowl each received about $1 million for participating.

According to the L.A. Times, the players received a steel watch, a backpack with a laptop sleeve, a hat, a 30-ounce tumbler, portable cooler, waterproof Bluetooth speaker and a polar fleece picnic blanket.

Anyone think that’s a fair exchange for risking your anterior cruciate ligament?

That's a Wrap

More odds and ends on UCLA's disappointing 6-7 season, aka "what Chip Kelly is up against." The Bruins play their home games in the Rose Bowl, of course, but have not played IN the Rose Bowl since Jan.1, 1999. UCLA has not won a Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1986. Schools that have played in the Grandaddy since include several foreign to the historical Pac 12-Big Ten compact: Nebraska, Miami, Oklahoma (twice), Texas Christian and Georgia. Rutgers and Boise State have been considered for the Rose Bowl since the last time UCLA was considered.

My ex-LAT mate Chris Foster compiled a list of bowls UCLA has participated in since appearing in the Rose Bowl: Las Vegas (3), Silicon Valley, Sun (2), Emerald, EagleBank, Kraft Fights Hunger, Holiday, Alamo, Foster Farms, Cactus. The Emerald, Kraft and Foster Farms are the same bowls played with different title sponsors.

No one does interim bowl coaches quite like UCLA, which has employed FOUR since 2002. They have generally not been successful. In fact, only "towel waver" Ed Kezerian, who took over after Bob Toledo was ousted in 2002, has posted a win. He interim-led UCLA to a Las Vegas Bowl win over New Mexico.

Fisch, on Tuesday, became the third straight UCLA interim coach to lose a bowl game. He follows DeWayne Walker (2007 Las Vegas Bowl after taking over for Karl Dorrell) and Mike Johnson (2011 Fight Hunger after Rick Neuheisel).

Taxidermy State


Venerable Coach Bill Snyder is considered a stuffed shirt by some, but I had no idea Kansas State actually had a stuffed mascot until I saw a Wildcat player holding it up like a tiki torch at the end of his team's win over UCLA.

Me? I prefer live mascots on college campuses, particularly Uga at Georgia, Ralphie at Colorado and Traveler at USC.

I would not want to see any of these fine creatures gutted, glued, matted or mounted.

That said, Kansas State's "wildcat" mascot is the creepiest thing I've seen on TV since the last time I saw since Alfred Hitchcock's
"Psycho." Norman Bates, of course, was a practiced taxidermist who used his skills to preserve, among other things, his mother.

My guess is that Washington State Coach Mike Leach will never become head coach at Kansas State. He seems to have an affinity for animals that often fall prey to taxidermy after finding the undercarriage of an 18-wheeler. Leach, who coaches Cougars in Pullman, wrote a story this week for the Players Tribune. "When I was a kid I had a pet raccoon," Leach wrote. "I really like raccoons. Still do."

Norman Bates

We couldn't imagine Leach, who grew up in Wyoming, ever wanting to stuff his raccoon, whom he named Bilbo Baggins. "One night, Bilbo got particularly feisty, so my dad and I drove him out to woods," Leach wrote. "Once we found a good spot, we stopped and I put him on the ground and took his collar off. He kind of ambled about, taking in the new surroundings. I preface this next part by saying I do think humans and animals share an unspoken understanding, to some extent.

"That’s why it’s so easy to bond with pets. So this is how I remember saying goodbye to Bilbo: He wandered 10 yards away or so from the truck, and then he turned and looked at us and kind of had this expression like, It was nice knowing ya.It was this moment where like, both I knew and he knew that we’d had some good times, but this was it. It was onward and upward for both of us."

We're so glad Leach signed a contract extension to remain at Washington State. [/membership]