The 2006 Rose Bowl
11 Jan 2016 — The famous showdown between USC and Texas is the best football game and the best championship game that I have ever seen. Thinking about it 10 years and a week later is the definition of nostalgia.
Alabama and Clemson are playing for the college football National Championship while I write this post [Update: Alabama won, 45-40]. I’m not watching the game because, like other Millennials, I don’t own a TV. Per my tradition, I’m lurking on the Fark thread and reloading my browser every so often (and hoping to see risqué photos). I was doing the same thing on the 4th of January in 2006, though I had a TV nearby, too.
The 2006 BCS National Championship was a showdown in the truest sense. The USC Trojans had won the previous two championships and their vaunted offense had the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners, quarterback Matt Leinart (2004) and running back Reggie Bush (2005). The Texas Longhorns had won the non-championship Rose Bowl of the previous season and were led by quarterback Vince Young, who was the Heisman runner-up to Bush.
The Trojans and the Longhorns were, respectively, the consensus first- and second-ranked teams in the pre-season. They fulfilled the predictions of poll voters by going undefeated through their schedules and winning their conferences. I can’t remember any pundits predicting Texas to win the highly anticipated, championship game. The Longhorns were definitely the relative underdogs.
Last night, I watched highlights. I forgot that the first quarter was so low-scoring. More importantly, I forgot that the Trojans led by as much as they did (12 points) and as late as they did (6:42 left). I remembered Vince Young running to the end zone for the winning touchdown, but I’d forgotten about the desperation of it: the Longhorns were losing by 5 points and were facing a fourth-and-five with 26 seconds left.
Young was so calm and cool before, during, and after the climactic play. He also ran the ball into the end zone for the follow-up two-point conversion, even though it proved to be unnecessary. It was my football dream come true. My favorite college team beat the odds and a team that could be perceived as being amoral or arrogant; the USC program later had its 2004 season and Bush’s Heisman Trophy vacated.
The game’s biggest stars have failed in the NFL. Leinart and Young are both retired, and they haven’t been newsworthy for football reasons in several years. Bush has been a middling pro, possibly because the gap between his physical abilities and everyone else’s is a lot narrower in the NFL. Other players in that game have had relatively good careers, but they’re in their late 20s to early 30s, so they’re retired or will be retired within a few years.
A pair of notable exceptions are Jamaal Charles and Brian Cushing, who’d been freshmen for Texas and USC, respectively. They’re currently stars for their NFL teams, but this game is still probably the most important of their careers. I’m not a pro athlete, but I feel over-the-hill because I’m around the same age as the upper-classmen like Leinart and Young, and I haven’t lived up to expectations since leaving school, either …
Then vs Now
I watched the game via satellite before high-definition, flat-screen displays were standard and before “social media” was a thing. At least it didn’t take place after the NFL playoffs started. On the other hand, I prefer the committee-selected, four-team College Football Playoff used today (2014-present) instead of the computer-determined, 10-team BCS bowl games used then (1998-2013).
The USC and Texas football programs are no longer powerhouses, but the matchup between their teams of the 2005-2006 season would be ideal in any era. There were a couple of officiating calls in the first half that incorrectly benefited the Longhorns, but the game was, to me, perfect.