For Texas Longhorns fans old enough to remember the 2005 season and the 2006 Rose Bowl win over the USC Trojans, the game still feels like it happened yesterday, even though Monday marked the 10-year anniversary of arguably the greatest college football game ever played.
I have it on DVD and still pull it out occasionally to watch it, though the creation of the Longhorn Network has mostly obviated that need by re-playing it consistently. It almost feels like a crime to skip over the channel and not pause for at least a few moments to once again revel in its glory.
The best moments from that season remain as indelible as they were at the time -- the strange combination of euphoria and relief created by Vince Young's game-winning pass to Limas Sweed to win in the Horseshoe and keep the national championship hopes alive, the catharsis of the beatdown in the Cotton Bowl, highlighted by the 80-yard touchdown run from Jamaal Charles and Rodrique Wright's long fumble return for a touchdown after Brian Robison's crushing hit on Rhett Bomar, how Young made his 80-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State to spark the second-half comeback in Stillwater seem so entirely ordinary and expected.
But, as Jeff Asher and Abram Orlansky so ably detailed in their piece for this year's In the Huddle: Texas, some of the memories that remain the strongest are of where we were and what we were doing during that season:
Abram: For your two intrepid article authors, it was a second straight trip to Pasadena -- we bought tickets to the previous year's game against Michigan on the theory of "when will Texas ever be in the Rose Bowl again?"
This time, Jeff entered the student-ticket lottery and somehow lucked out; he called me to say we were going back to California while I was traveling for work in December, rushing to try and catch up on the usual work of recruiting summer campers and preparing for the summer after months of Katrina-focused work.
We sat in the same section as the year before and got an even more exciting outcome. It's hard to describe how you can be in an utterly familiar place, having a completely familiar experience, and feel as though you've never been there before. The past year had, for Jeff more than for me but on some level for every resident of the Deep South, turned the world entirely upside down.
But Texas football provided an anchor in the rough waters. The 2006 Rose Bowl and the season that preceded it were filled with moments on a par with Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria, American Pharoah's Belmont win, and Tiger's 1997 Masters performance: we'll always remember where we were for them. Our 2005 season is colored heavily by the Katrina experience, but every Texas fan old enough can put specific moments and games from it into the contexts of their own lives. Indeed, the interesting thing about our personal experiences of that season is not that they're unique, but the opposite -- for Texas fans, personalizing that season is universal.
It's doubtful any of us will see as dominant and charmed a Texas football team again. Hopefully there will be more championships, but watching that group play was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One of my biggest regrets in a lifetime of sports fandom is that I didn't try harder to get a ticket and find my way out to Pasadena for that game. Or even make sure that I was back in Austin to watch the game with my friends and participate in the post-win revelry on campus.
When I eventually got back to town several days later, there were still beer stains on the ceiling of my living room.
"When Vince scored the winning touchdown, everyone threw their drinks in the air and the couches all went flying," my friends told me.
Good thing there were tile floors in that house.
I ended up watching the game at a Buffalo Wild Wings in West Lafayette, Indiana. I can't remember ever being nearly as nervous for any other game in my life, so much so that my memories of one of my oldest friends stopping by before the game are almost non-existent.
As many likely remember, ESPN spent most of the lead up to the game hyping USC and comparing them to the best teams ever. Like every other Texas fan, the premature coronation made me livid, but, to borrow a phrase from Mack Brown, I was scared to death of USC and especially Reggie Bush. While I thought that the Longhorns could compete with the mighty Trojans and deeply believed in that team, there was a nagging little voice in my head that kept saying that things could get out of hand.
By the time the game started, my stomach was in knots.
By some point in the second quarter, other people in the bar area were mocking me for pounding my chest and yelling periodically throughout the game, mostly some variation "Yes, Vincent!" or "Go Vincent! Go Vincent!". I didn't care about being mocked, but I'm still surprised that I didn't break one of my own ribs that night. I certainly tried.
When Michael Griffin broke Tarrell Brown's arm on Dwayne Jarrett's touchdown pass to go down 12 points late in the first quarter, I was despondent, knowing that everything had to go right for the rest of the game to have a chance. But by the time numerous Longhorns crashed into the line of scrimmage to stop LenDale White on 4th and 2, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that Vince was going to lead the Horns to victory. I've never experienced anything in sports like that turnaround before or since.
The strength of my belief in Vince bending the outcome to his satisfaction was absolute -- his talent was simply too transcendent on that night, even against a team that featured numerous defenders who would go on to play in the NFL. I suspect that virtually everyone watching around the country and around the world felt a similar way in those final moments, even USC fans.
So the ecstasy that I felt after Vince glided in to the end zone and then stood iconically in the confetti in the most enduring image of the game was off the charts. I was beside myself and extremely vocal about it, but no one was mocking me any more. They were all too busy trying to make sense of the greatest college football games they had ever seen.
All these years later, watching that play again still makes me emotional. It will probably continue having that effect on me for the rest of my life. In a weird way, that's incredibly comforting.
The rest of the night for me was a blur. I remember piling into a car with my brother and some friends and driving around drinking a six-pack of Newcastle I bought after the game. I do know that they put up with my continued antics with an air of indulgent bemusement as I yelled myself hoarse. My vocal cords have never been quite the same since.
To Mack Brown's credit, he nailed the immediate aftermath of the victory, thanking Texas High School football coaches on national television as he held the crystal football and delivering one of his most impassioned and authentic pleas to players after the game in an emotional locker room, asking them not to let this moment be the best of their lives.
As detailed by Mike Finger, the Longhorns on that team took those words to heart.
For those interested in further reliving the game, Mack Brown and several players will share their thoughts on the game as they watch it together at 7 p.m. CT on the Longhorn Network:
Grab a seat with Mack, VY, Huff, Ross, D. Thomas & Studdard as they watch the 2006 Rose Bowl. Monday at 7 CT pic.twitter.com/SG6ytfZqd4— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) January 3, 2016
So be sure to tune in for that and share your memories of where you were during that game and that incredible season in the comment section.