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Sports Allegiances:
They All Connect to Home
February, 2018 - Issue #161
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

Standing there with 92,000 of my closest friends at the 2018 Rose Bowl, I got to thinking: Sports allegiances are a bit of a moving target, but somehow the target always circles back to home.

I grew up here, in the Santa Clarita Valley. I'm what you'd call an SCV old-timer, and unless you were on the city formation committee I've probably been here longer than you. I formed my earliest and most long-lasting sports allegiances here. In no particular order: L.A. Kings. "Los Dodgers." L.A. Raiders. The Lakers, if you pressed me into actually watching basketball. Saugus High School, where I played on the Centurions' last good football team of the '80s, and the first bad one. College of the Canyons. And, because we're hockey people in my family, the Valencia Flyers.

My wife went to Hart. I married her anyway.

As time went by, those sports allegiances broadened. My son Luc didn't follow in my Saugus footsteps - he went to Valencia. But, as a high school lacrosse player in the pre-CIF SCV lacrosse environment, my son played for Saugus, Valencia and Hart, because lacrosse at the time was a "club" sport. He played wherever there was a team during any given year.

So yeah. When my kid played "for" Hart, I rooted for Hart.
My son's first love, though, was hockey, and in addition to travel hockey, he played for his school, Valencia, in the high school league at the Ice Station. After high school, he played three years in the Junior A Western States Hockey League as a member of the Valencia Flyers.

Then, when my daughter Brooke hit Saugus High and became a cheerleader (Both sideline and competitive.), I got to circle back around to my Centurion allegiances. Home again!

Never did I imagine that my sports allegiances would change even more dramatically. My boy went off to play hockey for the University of Oklahoma, sentencing our whole family to forever answering the question, "Wait. Oklahoma has a hockey team?"
So, we've spent the past two years rooting for OU hockey. I'd never understood the whole "Boomer-Sooner" thing until my boy suited up in the crimson and cream. I get it now.

Fast forward to the 2018 Rose Bowl. OU was set to take on Georgia in a college football playoff, on New Year's Day, in the "granddaddy of 'em all," the Rose Bowl. I'd been to a couple of regular-season UCLA games, but never an actual Rose Bowl.

Having a kid who's a Sooner presented the opportunity: Luc wrangled us Rose Bowl tickets - in the student section, across the aisle and one row back from the Sooner marching band.

There are some experiences that can't be described adequately. This was one of them. We did the tailgating thing. We soaked up all the pregame atmosphere. But once we were inside that bowl, the energy was something I'd never experienced at a live sports event. This was an intense, electric, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating experience - frustrating only because the Sooners lost. But even in defeat, I knew I'd seen something special.

One of those Sooners was one we in Santa Clarita can now claim as one of our own: We cheered with extra vigor in the first quarter when Marquise Brown caught a touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield, close enough to our seats that we probably could have tossed the ball to Marquise, too.

Marquise Brown is originally from Florida - but after he spent a stellar season with College of the Canyons, we can officially call the Sooner speedster one of our own.

His path to Oklahoma via Valencia is a combination of luck, fate and hard work. COC football coach Ted Iacenda - a Hart grad who was a legendary running back in his playing days - had been recruiting a high school player in Florida and heard the player had a teammate who was pretty good, too. It was Brown. He was, and remains, a bit on the smallish side for a big-time football player, but he possesses blazing speed that makes him dangerous to opposing defenses.

Long story short, in the absence of major college offers out of high school, he ended up moving across the country to play for Iacenda at COC. While here, to make ends meet he did what so many of our community's young people have done over the years: He worked as a ride operator at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

There was an excellent pre-Rose Bowl piece on SI.com, which detailed Brown's journey from Hollywood, Florida, to Valencia, to Oklahoma, where he emerged as the Sooners' top receiver of this past season.

As we stood watching him in that dramatic, exciting, exhilarating, frustrating Rose Bowl, in which he caught eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, we couldn't help feeling a special connection to No. 5 on the Sooners - because whatever happens with Marquise Brown's career, he's one of us now.

That's how sports allegiances work here.
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