UCLA is unique in the breadth of the achievements of its faculty, staff and alumni. As one of the world’s great public research institutions, the university has trained or is home to a plethora of distinguished scientists, technologists, social scientists, humanists, creative artists, businesspeople, teachers, lawyers and politicians. Bruins, of course, also play a huge role in entertainment and popular culture. Not only that, but UCLA has probably produced more great athletes than any other school. But how do you measure that impact?
There are, of course, awards won, victories achieved, discoveries and inventions made, books published and offices held. Another measure, in some ways a more profound one, are the words written or uttered by Bruins — their famous quotations. We speak a different language because of the eloquence, wit, insights and creativity of these quotations, influencing and resonating throughout our culture. Here are our Top 10 (actually 11, since there’s a tie for 10th place) famous Bruin quotations of all time, drawn from The Yale Book of Quotations and other research, many of which are memorable enough to have “entered the language” and become proverbial or coin phrases that endure in our discourse.
1. “Winning isn’t everything. … It’s the only thing!”
Henry R. “Red” Sanders [UCLA football coach, 1949–’57], quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1950
This most iconic of sports quotations is often attributed to Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi, but the Sanders citation predates any reference to Lombardi’s using it. At UCLA, Sanders had a 66-19-1 record and won the Bruins’ only national football championship in 1954. He said of the UCLA-USC rivalry, “It’s not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that!”
2. “Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re goin’ to get.”
Eric Roth [attended M.F.A. program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television], Forrest Gump (1994)
This Bruin quotation is so well-known, it’s now a proverb. Roth also minted “Stupid is as stupid does” in his Forrest Gump screenplay. Other motion pictures scripted by him include The Horse Whisperer, The Insider, Ali, Munich, The Good Shepherd and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
3. “If it does not fit, then you must acquit.”
Johnnie Cochran Jr. ’59, closing argument for defense in trial of O.J. Simpson, Sept. 27, 1995
The O.J. Simpson “trial of the century” was dominated by Bruin attorneys for both the defense (Cochran, Robert Shapiro ’65) and prosecution (Marcia Clark ’74). The most celebrated and effective line of the whole saga was this reference by Cochran to a leather glove that was alleged to have belonged to Simpson, and more broadly to the entire prosecution case against Simpson.
4. “Come on baby light my fire.”
Jim Morrison ’65, “Light My Fire” (1967)
Morrison was the lead singer and lyricist of The Doors, as well as a poet of real talent and a doomed romantic figure of Byronic dimensions, an icon of the turbulent 1960s. “Light My Fire” was his most popular song. Along with John Densmore, the song was co-written with Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek, both of whom attended UCLA in the mid-1960s.
5. “Specification of Internet Transmission Control Program.”
Vinton G. Cerf M.S. ’70, Ph.D. ’72, “Request for Comments No. 675” (Network Working Group, electronic text, 1974)
This may not seem like a particularly compelling quotation, but it has a powerful claim to fame: It is the earliest use of the word “Internet.” Along with celebrated UCLA Professor Leonard Kleinrock, computer scientist Cerf helped develop ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet. Cerf went on to invent the TCP and IP technologies that are fundamental to the Internet, along with Robert E. Kahn, and it is Cerf who is most frequently hailed as the “father of the Internet.”
6. “You talkin’ to me?”
Paul Schrader M.A. ’70, Taxi Driver (1976)
The line above, spoken by Robert De Niro as character Travis Bickle, is No. 10 on the American Film Institute’s list of top movie quotations of all time. Another memorable line from Schrader’s Taxi Driver screenplay is, “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” His screenplays also include American Gigolo, Raging Bull, The Mosquito Coast and The Last Temptation of Christ.
7. “Today as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. [Branch] Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
Jackie Robinson [attended 1939-’41], I Never Had It Made (1972)
Robinson transferred to UCLA from a junior college and left just short of graduation, but in his two years at the school he was one of the greatest college athletes ever. He earned a record four varsity letters, in baseball, basketball, football, and track and field. In 1947 he became the first African American to play modern major league baseball. That distinction, together with the dignity with which he conducted himself and his work as a civil-rights activist, made him a figure of towering historical importance far beyond the diamond.
8. “Thinking About the Unthinkable.”
Herman Kahn ’46, Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the title of military theorist and futurist Kahn’s book about nuclear war contributed a lasting phrase to the English language. “Thinking about the unthinkable,” according to the OED, came to refer to “countenancing an unconventional or discomfiting possibility, especially a situation usually regarded as too disturbing or undesirable to be contemplated; formulating a radical and potentially objectionable proposal.”
9. “Ay, Caramba!”
Nancy Cartwright ’81, catch phrase of Bart Simpson (voiced by Cartwright), The Simpsons (television series, 1989 to present)
Cartwright is the voice of Bart Simpson as well as other Simpsons characters, including Nelson, Ralph and Todd Flanders. As such, she speaks Bart’s various catch phrases: “Don’t have a cow, man,” “I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?,” “Eat my shorts!” and the one above. Bart first said “Ay, Caramba!” in the original, full-length Simpsons premiere, right before he is about to have a tattoo removed.
10. (tie) “It’ll play in Peoria.”
John Ehrlichman ’48, quoted in The New York Times, Aug. 3, 1969
John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman ’48 were classmates at UCLA who both became central figures in the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s. It is fitting that their best-known quotations should be tied on the list. Ehrlichman was counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under Richard Nixon. “It’ll play in Peoria” was his explanation of a political move criticized in Washington, D.C., and an important addition to the political lexicon. Other Ehrlichmanisms were “He’s the big enchilada” (describing Attorney General John Mitchell) and “Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (of Patrick Gray, a nominee for director of the FBI).
10. (tie) “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is awfully hard to get it back in.”
H.R. Haldeman ’48, quoted in hearings before the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities of the United States Senate: Watergate and Related Activities (1973)
Haldeman, who uttered this sentence to John Dean about the Watergate scandal, April 8, 1973, served in the Nixon administration as White House Chief of Staff. The “put the toothpaste back in the tube” saying was popularized by him and is now firmly associated with him, although it does appear earlier in the Sheboygan Press, March 5, 1940, as “Have you ever tried squeezing the toothpaste back in the tube again?”