ROSE BOWL — Geoffrey Strand looks forward, then back, then forward, holding up a sign directing the crowd when it’s time to scream.
“Not yet,” the sign reads, Strand glances back quickly at the field. No movement yet.
“Not yet.” Strand looks back again, sees the Arizona State Sun Devils prepare to line up on offense.
Ringing a bell in one hand, he flips the sign over. “But Now.” The crowd in the alumni section erupts in a roar.
On 1st and 10 on the UCLA 39-yard line, Arizona State quarterback Samson Szakacsy throws an interception to Bruin cornerback Alterraun Verner who runs it back 68 yards for a touchdown.
As the players celebrate on the field and the fans high-five each other in the stands, the 62-year-old alumni cheerleader, atop a sideline platform, faithfully waves a yellow UCLA flag.
It’s just another day at the Rose Bowl, although an exciting one. And when the weekend is over the senior vice president of Morgan Stanley changes from his old-fashioned cheerleader uniform into something more professional, counting the days from his office in Santa Monica until the next game.
This week, it will be against crosstown rival USC.
The corner office overlooking the Third Street Promenade is a miniature museum containing memories of the past 33 years that Strand has rallied the alumni section at the UCLA football games, a familiar fixture on the east side of the Rose Bowl where he makes his rounds up and down the sideline, ringing bells, waving flags and leading the 8-Clap cheer.
“My job more than anything else is to make people happy to be a part of the UCLA family, to be happy they put out the effort to support the team,” he said.
There’s the UCLA pennant on the wall of Strand’s office, affixed next to a pennant for the Naval Academy where his daughter, a pilot, attended. Below them is a UCLA football helmet, which sits next to a framed photo of Strand standing next to head coach Rick Neuheisel following the team’s season-opening win over Tennessee in 2008.
It was also from his office where Strand watched a group of University of Wisconsin fans partying on the promenade the night before the 1993 Rose Bowl game against UCLA, laughing as he saw a tall blonde wearing nothing but a blue and gold bathing suit skating in circles around the group for 2.5 hours, a woman whom he hired as a gag.
“The Santa Monica Third Street Promenade has played prominently in a number of UCLA games where football teams would come here the night before,” he said. “We have also had the marching band march up and down the promenade.”
Strand was a student at UCLA studying economics and geography when former basketball head coach John Wooden suggested to his then student to run for head cheerleader, which at the time was an elected position.
It was also a position that was dictated by the politics of the time when head cheerleaders would spout off anti-war sentiments before games than lead the students in cheer, Strand said.
With the help of student athletes, including Terry Donahue, Strand was elected after running a more patriotic campaign, focusing on school spirit than sit-ins.
So when Donahue was hired in 1976 as the new head coach, he called Strand and other school graduates to enliven the alumni section at the L.A. Coliseum which had suffered from the team’s unfavorable schedule of mostly night games.
“There was not much going on and my job was to bring in and change the whole situation,” Strand said.
The recent graduate was one of a half dozen core guys credited with building the alumni fan base at the games, drawing them in with free beers and pretzels at the newly established alumni tailgate section before kickoff, collecting names of alums from different areas of Southern California to start local clubs, arranging for buses to come in from the East Valley, Long Beach, South Bay and the Westside.
Organizing the fan base continued after game day, driving to club meetings during weekday evenings. By the third game of the 1976 season, there were already three specially arranged buses of fans coming to the coliseum.
Slowly but surely the growth became evident by looking at the alumni section of the stands where several blue-clad fans became a group of blue-clad fans and then a crowd.
The following year, Strand and his fellow alumni leaders started the Breakfast Club — today known as the Bruin Touchdown Club — where fans could gather the day before a home game to meet with players.
During the game is where Strand became most notable to the fans, wearing the same old V-neck sweater, long shorts and newsboy cap, ordering the fans to yell, stand up on third-down, telling “every man, woman and child” to cheer on the team.
He continued when the team moved to the Rose Bowl in 1982.
A witness to the highs and lows of the program, watching Rose Bowl victories on New Year’s Day and an eight-game winning streak against USC, but followed by a seven-game losing streak to the crosstown rival along with disappointing seasons, Strand has high expectations for the next few years.
“I am convinced within the next four to six years, Rick Neuheisel is going to do something spectacular,” Strand said.
But regardless of how it all turns out Strand said he will continue standing on the sideline podium, holding up the signs and ringing the bells, partly because he loves his alma mater, partly because he loves college football.
“It’s probably one of the best glues that keeps this country together,” he said.