Sports are gone amid the COVID-19 outbreak, so what’s a sports fan to do?
Well, a lot, not least of which is to fire up some classic games to tide you over while maintaining social distancing. Thankfully, ESPN is very much of the same mindset, and will kick off its “Throwback Thursday: CFB Classics” series on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET with the legendary Rose Bowl meeting between No. 1 USC and No. 2 Texas — a 41-38 win for the Longhorns.
The game featured everything. It had Hall of Fame coaches in USC’s Pete Carroll and Texas’ Mack Brown, star talent in Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young (among others), the legendary voice of Keith Jackson and the clear understanding that these were the undisputed two best teams in college football — all in the backdrop of “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
That said, it’s worth a quick refresher course for anyone who wants a little context as to just how amazing this game was:
It was the final call for broadcasting legend Keith Jackson
Keith Jackson, whose numerous calls over the years made his voice synonymous with college football, called his final game in Pasadena on Jan. 4, 2006. It’s fitting that the Rose Bowl — on the short list of greatest, most impactful college football games of all time — would be the final game he ever called.
The one line that stands out above all the rest, of course, is his call of the game-winning play — a 9-yard touchdown scramble on fourth-and-5 by Young with seconds remaining.
“Fourth-and-5, the national championship on the line right here. He’s going for the corner … he’s got it!”
Young’s touchdown scramble wasn’t the final play of the game
It’s easy to misremember the minutiae of the game considering how wildly it played out. Similarly, it’s easy to think Young delivered Texas to the promised land in walk-off fashion, a la second-and-26. But the Longhorns converted a 2-point conversion after the fact, and USC still had 16 seconds left to work with when they took the field at their own 31-yard line — plenty of time to get in range for a long field goal attempt.
In fact, Matt Leinart completed a 26-yard pass to Bush out to Texas’ 43-yard line on the Trojans’ first play of the ensuing drive. With 8 seconds remaining, it’s possible they could have completed one more pass to get within field goal range and attempt an overtime-forcing score. But the final play was too drawn out, and when Leinart’s attempt to hit Dwayne Jarrett fell incomplete, the clock had already hit zero.
A bad miscall led to a Texas score
Texas’ first touchdown of the game came on a pitch by Vince Young to running back Selvin Young. Officially, Vince Young is credited with a 12-yard rush, and Selvin Young with a 10-yard rushing touchdown.
Except: Replay shows Vince Young’s knee was down when he attempted the pitch, meaning the Longhorns should have gotten a first down at the Trojans’ 10-yard line — not a touchdown. But instant replay wasn’t available for use, and the score stood.
Would it have mattered in the long run? Who can say? But it’s certain that it shifted momentum toward the Longhorns, who would increase their lead to 16-9 before the Trojans got on the board again.
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It featured the top three players in the Heisman voting
How star-studded was that game in Pasadena? It featured the top three vote-getters in the 2005 Heisman balloting. Bush (2,541 points) won the trophy and was followed up by runner-up Young (1,608) and Leinart (797). Leinart, of course, had won the previous year’s Heisman.
Bush totaled 2,218 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns that season, while Matt Leinart completed 283 of 431 passes for 3,815 yards and 28 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Young completed 212 of 325 passes for 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He also added 1,050 rushing yards and 12 scores on the ground, as well.
It has been said that Young felt slighted by Bush’s win in the Heisman balloting, propelling him to his incredible 467-yard, three-touchdown performance.
It produced an incredible amount of NFL talent
Following up on the star-studded aspect of this game: The 2006 Rose Bowl featured an incredible 61 players who would eventually be drafted by an NFL team over the next four seasons — 37 by USC, and 24 by Texas. Curiously, only 10 ever earned Pro Bowl honors.
It still haunts Lane Kiffin
Fourteen years have passed since the 2006 Rose Bowl, yet it still haunts Lane Kiffin, then co-offensive coordinator for the Trojans.
In a 2017 interview with Sporting News, Kiffin — then head coach at FAU — said the loss still irked him, even after he had served in the same role of Alabama’s 2015 national title-winning team.
“I don’t think it ever will (leave). People say, ‘It was a 41-38 game, you did pretty good on offense’ but there’s always one play that could have gone different to win the game.
“We should have won the game. It wasn’t about them, it was about us and what we should have done better.”
Bush’s fumble was the result of a play he practiced
One of the notable plays came early in the second quarter, with USC up 7-0. Bush caught a screen pass from Leinart and maneuvered downfield, setting the Trojans up with great field position to break the game open early. Except, he attempted an ill-fated lateral at the end of the play to receiver Brad Walker; instead of making it at least a two-score game, Texas recovered the ensuing fumble.
It was a play Bush had practiced in the week leading up to the Rose Bowl. Just, not with Walker. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush pulled receiver Gary McFoy aside and asked him to trail him on long runs during a practice ahead of the game. McFoy, a stellar blocker who often cleared blocks deep downfield on long plays, would be in position to receive a lateral and continue advancing the ball. The two practiced a few laterals — “jokingly,” McFoy said.
But McFoy had been substituted out at the time Bush attempted the lateral, and Walker had no such expectations of a lateral. Thus, it became one of the defining moments of Texas’ win.
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It was the last meeting of the top two wire-to-wire teams in college football
The 2006 Rose Bowl is unique in many facets, not least of which is it’s the last meeting of the wire-to-wire top two teams in the country: USC at No. 1, Texas at No. 2.
Even in much-heralded meetings championships since — including undefeated matchups between Alabama and Clemson (2018) and Clemson and LSU (2019) — no championship game has featured such a distinction. Alabama twice entered the national championship without ever leaving the No. 1 spot — in 2016 and ’18 — but the same could never be the same for the No. 2 spot.
That’s partly because of the insane winning streaks USC and Texas brought into the Rose Bowl: The Trojans had a 34-game win streak — Texas, a 19-game streak. Speaking of which. …
USC had gone a full two calendar years since its last loss
USC was a bona fide dynasty when it lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Exactly how impressive were the Trojans? They were two-time defending national champions and had beaten five top-10 opponents since their last loss — a head-scratching 34-31 defeat by Jeff Tedford-coached Cal on Sept. 27, 2003.
More impressive: They hadn’t lost a game in either the 2004 or 2005 calendar years: A whopping 830 days from their last loss (or two years, three months and eight days).
Texas was aiming for USC all season
So how was Texas able to upend the Trojan dynasty? Part of it was the fact the Longhorns played all season as if they were prepping for USC — something which Brown confirmed in a 2017 interview with SN:
Once Texas beat Oklahoma 45-12 that season, the team’s entire focus geared toward USC. Brown recalls all that, too. After a victory against Colorado, Texas players cheered USC’s victory against Notre Dame on the legendary “Bush Push” game. Brown knew the game was coming by then, and he delivered an unorthodox message to the players.
It’s one that didn’t get made public.
“Keep your mouth shut, but play each week like you’re playing USC,” Brown said. “We actually played the last part of the season against USC.”
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