PASADENA, Calif. -- This is why they fired you Karl Dorrell. This is why UCLA welcomed home an NCAA felon to win back the city, the conference and -- thinking way out of the box here -- a national championship.
|'Slick Rick' addresses the crowd after the win. (Getty Images)|
Only Neuheisel could stage the pep rally after the game. Yes, that was the UCLA football coach making his first postgame comments to the crowd after grabbing a microphone on a cheer stand at the Rose Bowl. He pumped his fist, led the crowd in UCLA's traditional 8 Clap and was done. For now.
This, dear Karl, is why Neuheisel was hired. It is because he can lead, because he cares, because he's a 47-year-old kid who has been an NCAA pariah and made it back to his alma mater, because college football is still a place where those kinds of things can choke you up. The average team around him knows it after their 27-24 overtime victory over No. 18 Tennessee.
"There's so much passion associated with college football," Neuheisel said after coaching his first college game in five years. "Not that there isn't any in the NFL ... but it doesn't have the same feel, everything hinging on every play. You have to get used to that."
His players danced on the floor of the Rose Bowl like they had just beaten USC. In a small way, they had.
"He's the only guy we have a chance to neutralize the other side of town with," said a close friend of the coach who identified himself only as Gary.
That's a big part of what took place, taking down USC, brick by brick. The Trojans have ruled the city (and pretty much the country) for the last six seasons. There are more conventional ways than rallying back twice in the fourth quarter, but you get the picture for the moment.
"We're tired of hearing about SC," receiver Taylor Embree said. "We want to start our own thing."
They started something Monday night. It's something that Dorrell never could have ignited. Neuheisel told his former Bruins teammate before he took the job last year: Be more emotional. Let it show.
In the middle of his team's comeback from oblivion, an official turned to Neuheisel on the sideline and said: "Are you having any fun?"
"I can't believe how much fun I'm having," the coach shot back.
The man who sued his employer (Washington) and the NCAA -- and won -- was radioactive for the past few years. The comeback started in the Northwest where he humbly returned to the game as an assistant high school coach. He worked his way up to Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator. After Dorrell was fired, UCLA AD Dan Guerrero had to be talked into taking interest in the former Bruin quarterback.