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Young gets it done in Rose Bowl as Texas tops USC 41-38
PASADENA, Calif. When Texas quarterback Vince Young sprinted 8 yards for the winning touchdown with 19 seconds left in Wednesday night's Rose Bowl national championship game against Southern California, he hopped around few sideline spectators, lowered his head and cradled the ball tenderly.
As he was hugged by his offensive lineman and the Texas Longhorns mascot, the ball didn't budge. This ball, this game, this national championship belonged to him.
Sometimes all the hype turns out to be warranted and a national championship game lives up to its outsized expectations.
Though few believed Texas could end USC's marvelous run, Young and his Longhorns did.
With a 41-38 victory before a crowd of 93,986, the Longhorns (13-0) won their first national title in 35 years and fourth overall. They also ended the USC Trojans' remarkable run of 34 consecutive wins and bid for an unprecedented third national title. Now it's the Longhorns who enter next season with the nation's longest active — 20 game.
Young was named the game's MVP as he rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns and completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards without an interception. As the Longhorns approached the stage at midfield to accept the crystal football trophy, Texas fans shouted at the junior, "One more year!"
As Young received the MVP award on the field, he said, "It's so beautiful. Don't you think that's beautiful? It's coming home — all the way to Austin, Texas!"
Texas coach Mack Brown said of Young, who also was the MVP of Texas' last-second victory against Michigan here last year: "A year and a half ago, people questioned whether he could be a quarterback, and now he has two Rose Bowl MVPs. ... He's one of the greatest players to ever play college football. If he comes back next year, and we think he will, he'll have a great chance to win the Heisman. ... Not only is he a special player, he's special person."
With two Heisman Trophy winners in USC's backfield, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, and this year's runner-up, Young, there was no shortage of star power Wednesday night. Or drama.
The Longhorns scored their first touchdown when Young pitched the ball to tailback Selvin Young, who slipped through three tacklers on the left side to get into the end zone. On TV replays, it seemed Young's knee was down when he tossed it. The play was not reviewed because of a malfunctioning monitor that prevented the replay crew from seeing the necessary angles to stop play. In the game's aftermath, the controversy probably will be a hotly debated one.
Though the Trojans were behind 16-10 at the half, the fifth time this season they trailed at the half, they came roaring back but couldn't hold on. Punctuating the Trojans' comeback was a spectacular 26-yard touchdown run and end-zone somersault by Bush with 11:19 left that put USC ahead 31-23.
Young almost single-handedly kept the Longhorns in the game. His 17-yard run with 4:03 left brought Texas within five points. The Longhorns earned their last-chance drive in the final minutes when their defense stopped running back LenDale White on a fourth-and-2 at the Texas 45 with 2:09 remaining.
"I told the team, 'You stop them on fourth down, and you're going to win the national championship,' " Brown said.
Rewriting a lot of stories
For the past week, Texas had to listen to all the questions about the greatest USC this, the greatest USC that. Entering the game, the Trojans offense had been called the best of all time and the 2005 team was being labeled as one of the greatest of the last half-century.
"We don't have to be the best team of all time, just (Wednesday) night," Brown said before the game.
Behind closed doors, the Longhorns probably seethed at the slights. Two days before the game, Vince Young said it seemed that everyone was handing the Trojans the national championship trophy before a down was even played. Texas defensive tackle Rod Wright said he looked forward to reading this morning's newspapers, given all the previous stories about USC's bid to make college football history. "But we win on Wednesday, what do we do? I think there's going to be a lot of stories that are going to have to be rewritten," he said.
One of the stories that needs to be rewritten is the one on Brown, who entered the season unable to shake the "can't win the big one" label — a label that certainly no longer applies. The Longhorns defeated then-No. 4 Ohio State in September. They defeated Oklahoma in October, ending a five-game losing streak to their bitter rivals, and they won the Big 12 title in December, the first championship of any kind for Brown in his career.
"It was interesting moment after the Big 12 championship game because there was so much talk about me not being in that position before," he said. "But what I enjoyed was seeing the kids have fun, the pressure was off for us, seeing Vince Young high-five people with a rose in his mouth, that's what I got out of it. It hasn't changed my life one bit. You can all write different articles. That's what I got out of it."
Once he loosened up, ignored his critics, plugged in his iPod and danced to the music, the Longhorns followed his lead all the way to a national title. Brown became the only Texas coach other than the fabled Darrell Royal, who was with the Longhorns all week long, to win a national title.
Who'll be back for fall?
Both teams, no matter how many players graduate or leave early for the NFL draft, probably will enter the 2006 season at the top of the polls. Bush, a junior, is expected to enter the NFL draft early and be selected as the No. 1 pick, and Leinart, an expected first-rounder as well, played in his final game as a senior. Young, a junior, has said he plans to return for his senior year, but it remains to be seen if a national title might change his mind. If he returns, he will enter the season as the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy.
On Young's right arm, there's an elaborate tattoo of intertwined roses running up his biceps. The flowers represent the strong women in his family who raised him in a difficult neighborhood in Houston. "When I got them (last summer), people were like, 'Oh, is that because you won the Rose Bowl from last year?' " Young said before the game. "No, it's just the respect of the women in my life that got me to the point where I am today. I wanted something that I could just always look to, and why not get a tattoo? I can turn to it and see it all the time."
Given his performances in consecutive Rose Bowls, Young might as well decorate his other arm with a rose parade.
Last year was Young's coming-out party, as he ran for 192 yards, passed for 180 and accounted for five TDs against Michigan. "From the Rose Bowl, it kind of just took off and carried over," Young said.
Ever since Young has been behind center, that right arm had been questioned. But this season, thanks to increased work in the summer, more film study and a more experienced group of receivers, Young led the Longhorns to an undefeated season with his arm, as well as his feet and heart. "There's nobody like this," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "There's guys that can run, there's guys that throw, there's quick guys and all that, but nobody's ever been this fast."
In the football-mad state of Texas, Young and his Longhorns will forever be remembered as heroes. Every time a Texas team claims a national championship, a No. 1 is displayed in lights on each side of the UT Tower on campus in Austin. For football, that time has finally come. Bring on the bright lights. The Longhorns are no longer in USC's shadow — or anyone else's — anymore.
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