Coming upon a UCLA football practice, one at first notices only tangential and frivolous details: the fluffy yellow pads the size of watermelons that defenders wear on their forearms, the nearly erotic ease with which Running Back Freeman McNeil absorbs the impact of the ball as he takes it from Quarterback Tom Ramsey.
But gradually, if one looks long enough, larger patterns emerge: how the receivers slip along the seams between cornerbacks and safeties, how the linemen coordinate their protection of the quarterback like water buffalo ringing their young. At length one may see this meticulously timed and repeated activity as embodying order blossoming into chaos and then shifting back to order again.
Blue-clad assistant coaches scurry and shout after their charges. One man, with a serious mien and a constantly outstretched arm and pointing index finger, as though it is imperative that he always be in a posture to instruct, holds in his other hand a piece of paper on which plays are written. He is Homer Smith, 49, the coordinator of the UCLA offense. He moves, watching from different angles, talking to the quarterbacks, talking more loudly to a tight end who seems confused about his assignment on a draw play. Once Smith accompanies the backs on a sweep, staying beside them with a precise, sprinter's stride, shouting, "I want speed! I want speed!" The paper with the plays is crumpled in his hand. He has to smooth it out before the work may continue.
When an offensive lineman goes offside, Smith yells, "Bruins!" His tone is one of pain. "Front!"
At once the players fall to the ground, their faces in the dusty turf. Then they leap to their feet, running in place, knees high, eyes searching for the cause of this punishment.
"What's going on?" Smith shouts, still wounded. "Front!"
Again the players hurl themselves down and come churning up.
"I'll take the blame...front!...for last week...front!...but if you lose again...front!...it's your own fault!"
The week before, the Bruins had had a record of 6-0, were second in the polls and, halfway through their game with Arizona, had been presented with the news that No. 1 Alabama had been beaten by Mississippi State. Yet in the second half Arizona held off UCLA to win 23-17.
Now Smith and Head Coach Terry Donahue seek to ignite some emotion in their players for a game with Oregon, two days away. They hold races, the fastest players sprinting through a corridor of howling teammates, running for the honor of the defense or the offense.