October 13, 2011
When is OK for you, at a college game, to boo your home team's starting quarterback for the simple act of entering a game?
The correct answer is "never," but that didn't stop UCLA's unfaithful Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
Kevin Prince was forced into the thick of the Washington State plot only because starter Richard Brehaut broke his leg. Prince, last ridiculed after three first-quarter interceptions against Texas, was greeted with derision before even being allowed the chance to throw another pick — which he quickly did.
The song, remember, says be true to "your" school.
Prince's crime was accepting a scholarship to UCLA and maybe not being as good as he was supposed to be. But, remarkably, he was able to tune out the boos long enough to rally UCLA to its most important victory of season.
Boos turned to cheers. Oops, sorry — great job Kevin!
There has to be a distinction between the way college players and professionals are treated.
Tom Ramsey, a former UCLA great, recalled his first game with the New England Patriots. It was against the Cowboys. Ramsey threw a pass that was deflected imperceptibly by Ed "Too Tall" Jones. It looked like a wayward toss and New England fans let him have it.
"I would expect that in pro ball," Ramsey said. "But it makes me uneasy when college kids get booed."
Prince, for the price of a scholarship, has given up body parts all over America for his school and then showed up for class Monday. How many concussions have you endowed to your alma mater?
Prince left teeth and blood in Tennessee's checkerboard end zone, walking off the field with a broken jaw. He's suffered dislocations to both shoulders, strained his oblique muscle and fought back from a knee injury.
Prince seems to try hard every play even though he obviously wobbles too many passes and requires the medical staff to be on standby every time he takes off with the ball.
None of that justified what UCLA fans did to him Saturday.
There have to be guidelines and protocols for booing. In fact, booing should be encouraged at all college levels — within parameters.
It is certainly appropriate to lose your larynx screaming at the other team and its star players.
Sport needs heroes and villains. Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, with his outrageous talent and sometimes boorish behavior, is the perfect antagonist.
Booing your archrival should be a core course required for graduation. You can let the referees have it too. You can boo your own team off the field, as a collective unit, if they're trailing some school like Colorado 26-0 at the half. You can boo your own team if it doesn't cover the spread.
What if your star player, who might have cost you a Las Vegas Bowl berth, trots to the huddle after a three-game suspension for a stealing someone's computer out of a backpack? OK, go ahead — but keep it short.
However, there is no excuse for singling out a player who is not a threat to society.
Some UCLA fans would argue the price of admission buys them the right to browbeat any Bruin they please.
Former Bruins quarterback Matt Stevens agrees, sort of.
"I've been booed before," said Stevens, who had five passes intercepted against Oklahoma in 1986. "It's not right. But they pay for that opportunity to boo, even though it's classless."
How far down, though, would you take it in the amateur ranks? High school games cost money. Does that give you the right to harangue a sophomore because he fumbled away your playoff berth?
In college, the wrath should almost always bypass players and go directly to the millionaire coach and his almost-millionaire athletic director.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel understood this when he came to Prince's defense, telling reporters Sunday night that he wished fans would save their ire "for us coaches rather than young men who bust their tails and try their best on a weekly basis."
Stevens thinks Saturday's experience ultimately could help Prince.
"Let's say Kevin Prince has a storybook second half," Stevens said. "Those people who booed him, think how awful they'll feel if he leads them to the Rose Bowl?
Forget January. Think how they felt Saturday after Prince led a comeback win.
Or did they?
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