Rick Reilly® has some kind words for oily mediocrity Rick Neuheisel, a coach whose sole discernible talent is that he tricks people like Rick Reilly® into writing kind words about Rick Neuheisel — and, in this case, into rewriting history.
The column is about Neuheisel's campaign to annoy the bejesus out of Pete Carroll, which would be a lot more amusing if it weren't another in a long line of allegedly fun-loving stunts designed to momentarily distract fans from Neuheisel's general scumminess. (The coach was lucky to get fired from Washington for participating in a betting pool; it made him look like a martyr to the NCAA's narc rigidity, when in fact he deserved to get canned for any number of legitimate reasons, many of which were detailed here.)
Reilly, unsurprisingly, was taken in by Neuheisel's rosy-cheeked charm:
Neuheisel, 48, is as optimistic as a little girl opening a pony-shaped present. He's the Monty Python knight who'll bite your legs off if you'll only get close enough. He's Lane Kiffin Lite.
And to illustrate Neuheisel's relentless optimism, he shares this little anecdote:
And just for the record: QB Neuheisel and a severely underdog 1983 Bruins team whipped USC his senior year and went on to win the Rose Bowl. "I've seen it happen here before!"
This is an important anecdote because it puts Neuheisel right in Reilly's wheelhouse. Neuheisel is a plucky-underdog story now, and if Reilly knows anything, it's plucky-underdog stories. He writes this column once a month, only instead of a kid with stumps for legs, we get a coach with UCLA for a football team. The anecdote says, Hey, crazy as it sounds, this could happen; the guy's done it before, just for the record.
So it matters just a little that the anecdote is demonstrably false. USC went 4-6-1 that year. UCLA went 7-4-1, ending the season with a thumping Rose Bowl victory that made Illinois look like the Washington Generals in shoulder pads. Going into the USC game, the Bruins had won five of six; they were 5-1-1 in the Pac-10. On its face, "severely underdog" is a stretch. And, sure enough, a quick spin through the archives turns up a preview, by UPI's Rich Tosches, in which he writes:
UCLA, 5-1-1 in the Pacific-10 and 5-4-1 overall, needs a win or a tie to keep its hopes alive for a repeat appearance in the Rose Bowl game. That's likely. The Bruins are 3-point favorites.
Just for the record.
Big enough for two? [ESPN]