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Texas football’s greatest moment: 4th and 5, the National Championship on the line

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When Vince Young glided across the goal line in the Rose Bowl, Texas snapped a decades-long title drought and reestablished its championship standard.

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“4th and 5, the National Championship on the line right here.”

The memorable words of iconic sports commentator Keith Jackson served as a precursor for what’s arguably the single greatest moment in the Texas Longhorns’ storied history.

Mack Brown’s Longhorns had spent the entire season chasing a dynasty, comparing scores and stats along the way, seeing how they measured up to the mighty USC Trojans. It all led up to that single moment when a national championship — either Texas’ first in 35 years or USC’s third straight — hung in the balance.

And in that moment, Vince Young, the man who everyone in the Rose Bowl and watching around the world knew was the most unstoppable player on the field that Jan. 4 night, made history.

“He’s going for the corner… he’s got it,” Jackson proclaimed as Young sprinted past the sticks, into the corner of the end zone, and on into the face of a raging burnt orange sea.

“I went through all my progressions, so I just took off with it,” Young said.

For a program that still stands as the fourth-winningest in college football history, trailing only Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama, monumental moments are more common than most other places. But the magnitude of that moment, in particular, simply can’t be overstated.

That’s largely because of the dynamic leading up to the 2006 Rose Bowl, how it played out in the end, and furthermore, what followed.

Entering the game, USC hadn’t lost a game in nearly two and a half years, boasting a 34-game win streak behind a talent-rich roster featuring back-to-back Heisman winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. The Trojans were a legitimate dynasty, and few outside of Austin expected that dynasty to fall in the Rose Bowl.

As evident in the documentary, A Football Life — The 2006 Rose Bowl, those in cardinal and gold remained confident in the final minutes, as USC enjoyed a fresh set of downs and a chance to effectively capture their three-peat. But when the Texas defense forced a 4th and 2 with just 2:13 remaining, trailing 38-33, Young pleaded for just one more opportunity.

“I’m begging y’all, just stop ‘em,” former Longhorns safety Michael Griffin said Young told the defense. “Let me get the ball back in my hands and we got this.”

“We didn’t want him to get the ball,” Leinart added. “We wanted to keep the ball out of his hands.”

With Bush spectating from the sidelines, the Texas defense, of course, answered’s Young’s call, and the rest was history.

“You look over there and you see the Superman on the other side,” Rose Bowl broadcaster Dan Fouts said of Young after the Texas defense held on 4th and 2.

“I remember seeing Vince running on the field and I was like, ‘Oh shit,’” said LenDale White who described refusing watching the outcome unfold from the sidelines with a towel over his head.

It wasn’t just that Texas won, or that Young’s heroic scramble to the corner sealed the deal — it was the reality of what was about to happen as soon as Young led the offense back onto the field setting in that amplified the moment. And when it happened, in a single moment that could have ended entirely differently with a single stop, Young and the Longhorns dethroned a dynasty and reset the championship standard in Austin.

Young bolting for the corner with everything on the line served as the highlight of one of the greatest games in college football history, and it’s the kind of championship moment the program has been striving to relive ever since.

When Joe Tessitore so-famously declared, “Texas is back, folks,” as Tyrone Swoops leapt across the goal line to defeat No. 10 Notre Dame in overtime in 2016, and when Sam Ehlinger proclaimed, “We’re back,” after Texas toppled No. 15 Georgia in the 2019 Sugar Bowl, the measuring stick was that elite, championship standard Young set on 4th and 5.

Of course, each proclamation of a return failed to prove true. That’s largely why Texas recently hired Steve Sarkisian as its third head coach in less than a decade — the program’s essentially burning money to find a coach capable of building a team to replicate the championship moment Texas relished when Young glided across the goal line.

In fact, to this day, Young’s picturesque moment can be seen in social media offer announcements from recruits who weren’t even able to walk during Texas’ 2006 Rose Bowl win. A decade and a half later, that moment still resonates. It still matters. It’s generational.

Similarly, Texas had been a proud, considerably successful program long before Young was born, but it also hadn’t savored the taste of a national title in his lifetime, or even in the decade before that. The Longhorns had almost always enjoyed national prominence and consistently captured Southwest Conference titles, but that championship success didn’t exactly translate to the Big 12 beyond the conference’s first official year in 1996, and that national title drought extended two and a half decades before then, too.

When Young took off on 4th and 5 with the National Championship on the line, that changed.

That win reestablished the championship standard on the Forty Acres solidified the 2005 Texas Longhorns as one of the greatest college football teams of all time. And when people remember that team, they’ll remember the greatest moment in Texas football history — Vince Young going for the corner on 4th and 5 with the National Championship on the line.