"What do you love more, Christmas or Signing Day?"
"That would be, uh, Signing Day!"
Happy Signing Day to you and yours, and may your team enjoy significantly less success than mine today. This is a day when collective adult male egos hinge on the televised hat selections of 17-year-olds, when fax machines regain momentary cultural significance, and baseless allegations of "cheating" abound when a prospect picks not your school.
College football fans are a delusional bunch, myself thoroughly included. We don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to play for our school, our coach, our program. There's a fierce loyalty bordering on religious zealotry that connects college football fans, and like fiercely religious types, the principle requirement for participation is belief. Belief that one day your team will reach the top. Signing Day is like Easter, bringing with it the potential for joyous rebirth each and every February.
If you were to compare sports fandom to a woman, college football is your craziest, most passionate lover. It doesn't have the first love simplicity of baseball, the nuanced sophistication of basketball, or the pretense of tennis. College football, like, say, a college girlfriend, can fluctuate wildly from year to year, week to week. She'll give you 13-9 one year and 0-50 another, to put it in UCLA terms. She can be unpredictable and elating and beautiful and then soul-crushing all within the span of a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in the fall.
College football is the girl your friends aren't sure about but you have trouble staying away from because there's too much fun to be had. You're young and you're stupid when you fall for college football, and as the years go on you'll always have a soft spot for the good times you had and might have again one day. Maybe you're always young and stupid for some things. You keep coming back because it's what you know, and when it's right it's so, so good that it makes you forget all those awful times you should have walked away.
This girl might not even exist beyond the recesses of your mind, the mid-afternoon Facebook breaks at work or the occasional run-in on a night out. She's a recurring dream for a time when not much mattered beyond you, your friends, and what you were doing that night. It may sound sophomoric or simplistic, but a lot of college football fandom can be explained this way.
I never had this fantastical football experience while in school. I got a taste of the pageantry, heard the roar of the stadium, and got to revel in what felt like big wins. But there were more downs than ups. There was always something missing. We never had the quarterback, our coach was strong in charm but lacking in substance, and we lost more than we won. There remained a persisting question of whether it all mattered on those long, tired bus rides back from the Rose Bowl.
For better or for worse, hope springs eternal in college football, even though only one fan base really gets to celebrate last year's season. Even in the darkest times; Thursday night drubbings in Tucson, 50-0 embarrassments in the Coliseum, you hope. You can't change your team, you love college football, and so you hope she doesn't let you down the next time.
Three years ago, UCLA got the quarterback. Two years ago, we got the coach. It would be ignorant to say the turnaround was as easy as that, but both events were of paramount importance in righting the ship. We've still got the coach and the quarterback and next year could be a special one.
What Coach Mora has done over the past two years has made for one of my most memorable UCLA experiences. I'm a firm believer in big-time college football because I believe it's the single biggest unifying force for an alumni base. We organized two buses and 140 recent grads to go from San Francisco to Palo Alto this past fall for the Stanford game. I got to see a ton of friends I don't see enough. That doesn't happen without football, and it isn't nearly as fun when your team isn't good, the result of that game notwithstanding.
Which brings us back to Signing Day. Today is the day that 2014 recruits can sign their Letters of Intent to enroll at the school of their choice. It's the pudding that proves last year's progress was meaningful, that you're closer to the ultimate goal than you were before, and that next year might be better than this one.
At any point in the day over the last several weeks, I could reliably log on to Bruin Report Online, my most visited website, and be amongst some two thousand other lunatics, enjoying the successes of the last two years and greedily pining for more. I ate up recruiting predictions, followed along on Twitter, and allowed my mind to drift in those idle times away from whatever Excel sheet needed updating.
My phone has been a non-stop stream of nonsensically impassioned group texts from friends old and new. "We're getting this guy," "we're not getting that guy," "this guy's going to be the difference breaker we've lacked," and "why does Brett hate UCLA?" I can tell you all about a wide receiver from Louisiana whose parents have known Coach Mora for 20 years who may spurn the SEC in favor of Westwood. I can tell you all about an aspiring Olympic long jumper with game-breaking speed who we've gotten in on late and who may shock the world with a commitment to UCLA today. I can tell you about an Alabama-Auburn coaching staff dance-off at an 80-year-old's birthday party where both parties were trying to court a stud linebacker prospect who may reject both in-state suitors and come to California. What I can't particularly tell you is why I bother to know all this.
My roommates think I'm crazy. "Why don't you just wait until Signing Day and see who they get?" On the one hand, I would certainly waste less time doing that. On the other, so much of the fun is feeling like you're somehow along for the ride, in understanding the significance of what it would mean to pull 5-star guys out of SEC country, in marveling at the ups and downs of the recruiting process and as a reason for keeping up with your friends.
College football is irresistible because it's about hopes and dreams, for both the players and the fans. Ultimately, Signing Day presents an opportunity for a better future, and we love it because what's more American than that? Happy Signing Day and Go Bruins.