Jim Mora's Bruins keep memory of Nick Pasquale alive

The player's father says the UCLA coach visited his family hours after his son died in September and has kept them close ever since.

  • Pin It
UCLA players

Coach Jim Mora and the UCLA football team observes a moment of silence in memory of teammate Nick Pasquale before the start of a Sept. 21 game against New Mexico State. Mora hasn't let his obligations as a college football coach hinder him from helping Pasquale's family. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / September 21, 2013)

The most important huddle of the UCLA football season occurred long after a game, far from a field, in the center of a storm far greater than sport.

On a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 8, at 2:30 p.m., UCLA's Jim Mora walked through the front door of the San Clemente home of the grieving family of Bruins receiver Nick Pasquale, who had died just hours earlier when hit by a motorist while walking home from a party.

Mel Pasquale, Nick's father, remembers the exact time, the exact words, the exact tone of voice.

"Coach Mora called us right after we received the horrible news and said, 'What is your address, I'm coming down, it's not up for discussion, I want to help,'" Mel recalled. "Then he walked through the door and said, 'OK, what can I do?'"

More sports stories, pictures and videos!

Pasquale wasn't a star, wasn't on scholarship and had a career consisting of exactly one play. But in Mora's view, none of that mattered, because Pasquale was a Bruin.

Mora waded through the media crowd outside the Pasquale home and was ushered inside. He and the Pasquales — Mel, wife Laurie, son A.J. — hugged, wept, reminisced about the tough little walk-on.

Then, in the middle of the huddle, the coach began calling plays.

"He literally coached us up on how to handle this," Mel said. "He said, 'Here's what's going to happen now. Here's what the media is going to do. Here's how you can deal with it.'"

Four months later, on the final day of the season, the huddle remains. This time, Mora connected with the Pasquale family from out of the sky. Before the Sun Bowl game in El Paso, a pregame skydiver fluttered out of the clouds wearing Pasquale's No. 36.

"I saw it and I was, like, 'Wow, this just goes beyond anything I could imagine," Mel said. "It was just one more amazing thing that UCLA and Coach Mora have done to stay part of our lives."

It was, indeed, the culmination of a unique season's worth of support that has helped a family begin the process of healing while defining a football program in the process of change.

If you don't believe Mora has instilled a new football culture stressing passion and togetherness, then you need to listen to the father of the 5-foot-7 kid whose spirit became a giant.

"On that first day he walked through our door, Coach Mora said, 'My support is not just for now. … This is not going to end,'" Mel recalled. "And he was right. It has not ended."

From the No. 36 patch on their jerseys to the No. 36 painted into the Rose Bowl field, from their 38 unanswered points against Nebraska in the first game after his death to Mora's public acknowledgment of his influence during the Sun Bowl trophy presentation, Pasquale's presence has been the season's most powerful constant.

"After something like this happens, there's usually an initial rush of emotion by everyone on the outside, then it goes away," Mora said. "I wanted to make sure that didn't happen here. I didn't want our support to be just a gesture. I wanted it to be real."

Until the Sun Bowl, a trip they could not make because of a previously planned holiday visit with family out of the country, the Pasquales had attended every UCLA game at home and away. On the road, they often hung out at the team hotel with other members of the Bruins family. Before home games, they were hugged by the players on Bruin Walk. After the games, they would wait outside the locker room with other families and receive more hugs.

"These players became like my sons, so many sons, everyone stopping by and greeting us and asking us how we were doing," Mel said. "It was as close as I felt to Nick since he was gone."

Throughout the weeks, the Pasquales would receive calls and texts from players and coaches, especially Mora, who would often phone Mel while he driving home from the field.

"I just feel like, part of our responsibility as human beings is to comfort those who need comforting," Mora said. "I feel it's so critically important for our program to be there for their family, to somehow give them some piece of mind."

In comforting the Pasquales, the Bruins lifted themselves. Throughout the season, Pasquale's name is listed on the depth chart as a backup to every position on the kickoff team. After every special teams practice, they ended a chant with his name.

  • Pin It
News Coverage on The Second City - CTNow
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

The Second City

A collection of news and information related to The Second City published by this site and its partners.

Top The Second City Articles

Displaying items 12-22
  • Second City plans major expansion at Piper's Alley

    Second City plans major expansion at Piper's Alley
    Second City, the famed Chicago comedy theater, is to announce Tuesday that it has acquired the former AMC Loews movie theater inside the Piper's Alley complex at 230 W. North Ave.  Second City plans to fill the new space with "student-centered facilities,...
  • Five Comedy Incubations That Hatched Into Major Stars and Projects

    Last month, during a master class at the Taormina Film Festival, no less a star than Ben Stiller admitted that his career wouldn't have gotten far if he'd relied on auditions, which seldom went his way early on, for other people's projects. "A lot of...
  • Jane Lynch to host Lyric diamond gala

    Jane Lynch to host Lyric diamond gala
    Jane Lynch is going operatic. The Dolton native and “Glee” star will emcee Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 60th anniversary concert, Nov. 1 at the Civic Opera House, the company announced Wednesday. Joining the actress and the international...
  • Dan Ronan, Chicago comedian, dies at 24

      Dan Ronan, Chicago comedian, dies at 24
    Growing up in Wilmette under the watchful eyes of three older sisters, Dan Ronan was the irrepressible little brother who enjoyed entertaining the family with his spirited song, dance and comedy routines. So when Mr. Ronan graduated from New Trier...
  • LGBT Pride plays

    LGBT Pride plays
    On Sunday, more than 750,000 LGBT and allied hetero celebrants are expected to converge for Chicago's annual Gay Pride Parade to commemorate progress in human rights issues since the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Gear up at these stage shows taking place in...
  • 'Mr. Magoo's' creator gets an overdue spotlight

    'Mr. Magoo's' creator gets an overdue spotlight
    I remember first stumbling upon one of John Hubley's animated films when his Oscar-winning 1959 short "Moonbird" screened here last year. It returns this weekend in a retrospective featuring seven other Hubley shorts at the Siskel Film Center, which is...
  • Businesses turn to improv to bolster skills

    Businesses turn to improv to bolster skills
    Chicago attorney Julie Wiorkowski concedes she doesn't listen well in court, a flaw that can hurt her chances of success. "I'm usually somewhat listening to the other party, but I'm already thinking about what I'm going to say," Wiorkowski said. To...
  • The Groundlings: improving improv in L.A. for 40 years

    The Groundlings: improving improv in L.A. for 40 years
    It's raucous backstage at the Groundlings after a Tuesday evening improv show — red wine and buckets of salty snacks will do that to a roomful of comedians, as will having just killed it onstage. A fluffy border collie lumbers through the crowd,...
  • Improv training, passion for city fuel tour guide's storylines

    Margaret Hicks says her training as a comedian has served her well in her new vocation: Chicago tour guide. Hicks runs Chicago Elevated, dedicated to walking tours, mainly around the Loop. There's the architectural tour, the disaster tour (think the...
  • 'SNL' writer Katie Rich appears in the Chicago Women's Funny Festival

    'SNL' writer Katie Rich appears in the Chicago Women's Funny Festival
    The Chicago Women's Funny Festival is back for its third year with 77 shows featuring 400 comedians on four stages across four days. OK, a few of the 400 performers are male—it's not the "Anti-Men Funny Festival"—but for co-producers Jill...
  • A very sober-minded Derek Waters on work, life and doing Baltimore in Season 2 of 'Drunk History'

    A very sober-minded Derek Waters on work, life and doing Baltimore in Season 2 of 'Drunk History'
    If you drive downtown on the Jones Falls Expressway, you might have noticed a new billboard just south of Orleans Street featuring a blurry image of George Washington and the word “DRUNK” in big bold letters. No, it’s not a leftover...