Late to the Game: Really Late to THE Game, Part II

 

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Welcome to Part II of Late to the Game: Really Late to THE Game, featuring a neophyte’s breakdown of the 2006 BCS National Championship game between Texas and USC. If you missed Part I, click here.

Well, here we are. Here’s where it allegedly gets really good. Bring us up to speed, Mack.

Should be a great second half, huh? Interesting you should mention that.

THIRD QUARTER

Dan Fouts mentions that Young is the leading rusher in the game, but “you always expect a bit more from him.”

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Keith Jackson mentions that Texas has “grabbed it by the horns, if you’ll pardon the pun.” No dice, Keith.

Texas receives the kickoff, and a nice return from Ramonce Taylor is negated by a holding penalty. I can just hear my Texas fan friends screaming about referee bias against Texas echoing 10 years into the future. The Trojan defense forces a 3-and-out, and the Texas offense looks shaky, Vince Young equalling his incompletion totals from the first half (2) on the drive alone. On the ensuing punt, a penalty is called on USC. I can picture my friends jumping off the couch, screaming, FINALLY. I need to stop thinking about my friends.

The camera pans to Matt Leinart’s father, Bob, wearing headphones in the stands. “Good guy,” Jackson says. The older Leinart is probably listening to the radio broadcast, but I like to think he’s blasting something from the mid-aughts. “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, perhaps?

Wow, Leinart the younger is good again! He’s exploiting the Texas defensive backs right now, and his protection is magnificent. LenDale White rudely stiff-arms Michael Huff before being taken down by Michael Griffin. On the next play, he punches in his second TD of the night. USC leads 17-16, and Bob Leinart is yelling. After commercial, so is White. Again.

After a touchback, Texas is running a zone-read scheme out of the spread. Young keeps one, then Jamaal Charles scrambles for a nice, long run, then Young, obviously needing to show the freshman Charles how its done, takes another one himself. Two plays later, VY dives for a 14-yard TD. He probably won’t score any more TDs, right? Texas leads again, 23-17, after what seems like a blink of an eye. This game is getting good.

The camera pans to Pete Carroll giving a stern talking-to to Brian Cushing. I imagine it’s something like: You’re going to be named a second-team All-Pro your rookie season in the NFL but have that rescinded because you’re going to get popped for taking human growth hormone. It hasn’t been a good decade for former USC players and their awards.

Aaron Ross makes a nice tackle for a loss on Dwayne Jarrett. He has to be feeling a bit better now after that early fumble. Fouts mentions that Leinart has completed his last nine passes before he hits Jarrett over the middle for his 10th straight. His “jitters” seem to have subsided, and it feels like this is another scoring drive for USC. Since Texas missed that extra point earlier, if these teams trade touchdowns, it’ll be a lead change every time.

Stray observation: Jackson mentions that Reggie Bush is tackled trying to “get to the crack.” I’ve never heard that phrasing before. I’d like to never hear that phrasing again.

More anachronisms! A closeup of Bush with his “619” eyeblack harkens back to an age when this was still legal. The so-called “Tebow Rule” eliminated messages delivered via orbital bone.

White streaks up the middle for his third TD of the night. The best running back on the field is not the Heisman winner. 24-23 USC. If the first half was merely pretty good, the second half absolutely kills. This is getting really fun.

Young takes off for an unbelievable 50-yard run, which somehow looks even crazier from the aerial replay cam. This Texas fan is really excited, but I have to ask: Why the red hair? Not only does it clash with the orange, but he’s essentially wearing Texas and USC colors simultaneously. I don’t care that it’s the Rose Bowl, it’s a fashion—and a fan—faux pas.

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OK, I’ve watched the clip of Vince hitting a crossing David Thomas 10 times now, not because it’s a scoring play or even because it’s Vince throwing again to a tight end. It’s because I think I hear a lion roaring right when the ref raises his arm.

Is that a lion? Is this broadcast haunted? Am I losing my mind? What is going on here? David Pino badly misses a 31-yard FG after USC ices him. USC still leads 24-23.

Fourth Quarter

USC takes over at its own 20. Jackson lets us know that this is the final quarter, which is good because I was confused. Leinart and Jarrett are really clicking now on timing routes. Fouts mentions they’re roommates, which makes sense because they are definitely on the same page, on the same wavelength, and many other cliches.

The halftime adjustment from Carroll is obvious: screens and slants and try to make the Texas defensive backs miss. Also in the plan: White instead of Bush going forward. It seems Texas has game-planned heavily against Bush’s sideline-to-sideline quickness, but nothing can stop a steamrolling White at this point. He barrels forward for a first down. Texas DE Brian Robinson goes down, and it gets me thinking: Where has the pressure on Leinart been? I go back to the play-by-play, making sure I don’t spoil the ending for myself, and notice that apart from a two-sack drive from Frank Okam in the second quarter, Texas hasn’t gotten to the quarterback. Even more glaring: USC hasn’t managed to lay a finger on Young behind the line of scrimmage at all.

Jackson calls White “a load” as he runs for yet another first down.

This reminds me: Eight and a half years later, White will get kicked out of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during a game against Arizona, later calling USC athletics director Pat Haden a “coward,” decrying USC’s “lame a– prevent defense,” and telling defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox “u stink” on Twitter. Say what you will about White, but he always seemed to care. He also has a point: The prevent defense stinks on ice.

And just like that, Bush flies down the right sideline and somersaults into the end zone. Even though I’ve seen this highlight before, watching it in the context of the complete game my face melts like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bush looked like he’d ceded his job for the rest of the game to White, but nope. This is the play of the game so far.

Fouts says, “It’s a game of quidditch,” referencing that thing in Harry Potter where the witches or whatever play polo on broomsticks. “Where’s his broom?” Fouts asks, laughing at his own joke. Texas will later respond by becoming the best college quiddich team in the world. USC leads 31-23 after the extra point.

After the kickoff, a montage of Bush highlights plays. Fouts asks, “Is he the greatest of all time?” while a generic hip hop song with the lyrics “the greatest of all time” repeat in the background. Subtle! Texas fans watching this are squeezing their Lone Star longnecks so hard they’re about to shatter. Alas, I’m thinking about my friends again.

A pitch and catch to Jamaal Charles is either fumbled or incomplete. The officials rule the latter, but I’m not going to even pretend like I know the answer here. No one really knows what a catch is. I will say that Texas dodged a bullet here. It could have gone either way. In two plays, Texas is in scoring position. This game rules, specifically the second half, where the offenses decide to become good again.

The broadcast cuts to this very stylish fan (all orange!) and she will seem mildly excited until she gets bummed out by the dude behind her and an offscreen Trojan fan in a second.

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Vince is mad at Limas Sweed for stopping short on a route. I remember Sweed as a supposedly good WR for the Steelers who never really could crack that wideout rotation headed by Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Last I read he was released by the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League. Bummer.

Pino hits a 34-yard FG, and Texas trails USC 31-26. Attendance is announced at 93,986, which is almost 1,500 more than official Rose Bowl capacity, and not even a sellout at DKR.

Linebacker Robert Killebrew destroys Leinart on a late hit, and USC is knocking on the door again. Leinart hits Jarrett for a TD, and the camera cuts to two downed Longhorns. It’s an over-the-top metaphor for what’s happening to Texas right now, as USC scores at will. Fouts calls the pass a “dagger,” likely referring to the actual pass, but if I didn’t know how this one would turn out, I’d think he meant it colloquially: the final nail in Texas’ coffin. The extra point makes it 38-26 USC with 6:42 to go.

I need to pause here, because this is where the game seems out of hand. Texas’ offense has stalled, Leinart is hitting every single pass he throws, and an unnamed sideline reporter just mentioned that Terrell Brown’s arm is likely broken. How can she already know that? Jackson mentions that Brown leads Texas with 10 tackles. She calls the Texas sideline “dejected.” Whoosh. Here’s a Pin Ups-era Bowie-looking kid who probably wishes he hadn’t painted his face orange right now:

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Hang in there, buddy. Twelve points isn’t insurmountable, but if I didn’t know any better I’d put the final score at 48-26 USC. Weird how things work out.

Fouts loves USC. I’ve determined that he’s actively rooting for the Trojans in this game based solely on the fact that I know Texas is going to win, and I like when Fouts is wrong.

Young completes a couple in a row including one for a first down on a wheel route to Thomas. It’s his ninth (!) catch so far. Should I send a copy of this game to tight ends coach Jeff Traylor? As I’m typing, Young hits Thomas for his 10th reception of the game. Young still hasn’t been sacked. Nice protection, and, obviously, Young isn’t easily taken down.

Holy crap! I haven’t seen this Young TD before. He rolls left, before stopping on a dime and heading right. The secondary bites on a pump fake, and he’s in. Fouts says “I’ve never seen anyone like him before in my life,” and for once tonight, I agree with him! Young has 180 yards rushing tonight. Damn. It’s now a five-point game with 4:03 to go.

This is around the point 10 years ago when I entered that bar in New Brunswick, remembering the game was on, sure that USC would take it. The broadcast cuts to a taped interview with Mack Brown, in which he lays out his coaching method for Young, which is essentially: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. “Sometimes the less you do, the better it is,” Brown says.

USC is, obviously, trying to run the clock out right now. Texas needs a stop. Leinart completes a first-down pass, and he’s now 14-15 in the second half. Pretty clutch. On 3rd and 7, Texas stops White after six yards.

2006 alert! Check out Brown’s Cingular headset:

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He doesn’t even know that Crash is going to win Best Picture in about a month!

Oh yeah, Game of the Century is on with two minutes and change to go. Carroll goes for it on 4th down, and Texas stones White to force a turnover on downs. White has been so dominant in this game, but this is the defining moment for him. The Texas players go bonkers after the measurement confirms what the officials already called.

I’m tense, and I can’t stress it enough that I know what’s going to happen. That’s how good this game is right now. I’m pacing … in my cubicle. After two aborted plays, it’s 3rd and 12. I need to take a walk.

OK, I’m back. How did y’all watch this live? Beer? Beer. It’s now 4th down but there’s another incidental face mask against USC. Wow. I never knew about this penalty. Without it, this game is likely over and Texas loses. On the next play, Young hits Brian Carter for nine yards, and he fumbles as he hits the ground. Refs rule him down by contact, another close call for the Longhorns. Texas also gets a free timeout as officials review the play with 1:04 to go.

Jackson says, “There’ve been no mistakes on the snap tonight,” which is a total jinx. If there’s a fumble here, it’s his fault. Young runs for another 1st down, bouncing off defensive tackles like they’re barely there before wisely getting out of bounds. Young hits Carter, and Texas has 1st and 10 from the USC 14. AHHHHHHHH. Sweed catches one, but he’s out of the back of the end zone after bobbling it. The pass is broken up by Terrell Thomas, who I know as another New York Giant. I think he tore his ACL a thousand times in the NFL.

Young takes off, but he’s oddly … tackled? Texas calls another timeout. This gives the broadcast team the opportunity to remind me of USC’s 34-game unbeaten streak for the 895,454th time.

Young to Sweed is incomplete and it’s 4th and 5. Look, I know what’s going to happen, but my stomach is in knots, I swear.

It gets better every time. This is simply incredible—the speed, the awareness, the confidence. I remember watching this live and thinking, No way. It was inconceivable that USC could lose, even to Texas. Surely Bush would run the kickoff back.

Fouts says “inVINCEible” again, but he gets a pass, because, come on. Wait, then he says that Brown is going to “tie Young to the goalpost in Austin so he can’t leave.” The sentiment is right, but, what? Weird. Vince runs in the two-point conversion. I now understand his God-like status in Austin. Truly incredible.

A shovel pass to Bush gets USC across midfield. I don’t remember my thinking when this aired live, but a FG ties this. Maybe I was already a Texas convert? Incomplete pass, and that’s it.

I exhale, but there’s a more pressing matter at hand. Why didn’t I watch this live? What could have possibly been more important than watching this, in my opinion, the greatest football game I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some great ones live. Oh yeah, a girl and some beer. Oh well.

Postgame

Jackson announces that this win is No. 800 all-time for Texas, something that may have been nice to know at the top of the broadcast. I heard about the 34-game streak every minute-and-a-half, making Texas the actual “nobody believed in us team” that every championship team claims to be. Nobody believed in this team except Longhorns, it seems, myself included.

Here’s a huge man waiving a huge flag:

I can’t tell if I’m getting swept up in Longhorn hype, but in his postgame interview, Carroll says, “the quarterback just ran all over the place.” Surely he hasn’t forgotten the name Vince Young. This seems like a dig, or at the very least, some sour grapes.

OK, here it is. I remember this from the 30 for 30 documentary on the Trojans. Leinart says, “I still think we’re the better football team.” Apart from this sounding like a quote from a snot-nosed Little Leaguer, it’s also—rare for a subjective statement—untrue. USC just lost on a neutral site, one that is coincidentally only 14 miles from their home stadium. It’s hard to argue that USC, as good as they were, were better after this game.

The fans not already out the door sing “The Eyes of Texas,” as the camera shows a (joyfully) tearful Selvin Young walking back to the locker room. No, you’re being swept up in the emotion of a game that ended more than a decade ago.

Earlier in the broadcast, Jackson mentioned that there were no celebrities on the sidelines, just former players. It’d be a lot cooler if there were though…

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There he is!

Then comes the most awkward portion of any championship sporting event, where the president of a company presents the trophy to the coach because he or she paid a boatload of cash to get on TV. In this case, it’s Mike Snyder of ADT Security presenting the ADT National Championship Trophy.

“That crystal is so beautiful. It’s coming home to Austin, Texas, babaaaay.” Gotta love that drawl, and it’s remarkable to finally hear him speak after watching him play lights-out for four quarters.

Young also deflects a question about him returning for his senior season. I remember thinking there was no way Young was coming back for his senior season after the hype from this game. Young would go third in the 2006 NFL Draft, seven picks before Leinart. Neither had a stellar NFL career, though Young was markedly more successful, winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year award and making two Pro Bowls.

Here’s my Zapruder moment. I watched this sequence, in which Brown hands off the crystal trophy, more than I watched Young’s game-winning touchdown run. Why? I wanted to know what he’s saying. It looks like he’s telling someone to “be careful” with the award. But to whom? I feel like he’s mouthing the word “Jonathan.” The only player on the roster with that name that season was offensive lineman Jonathan Scott. I dunno, it’s probably him. Case closed. I bet he was careful with the trophy.

That’ll do it. Whew. What a game. This was fun.

Oh, one last thing:

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Photo illustration by Melissa Reese.

 

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