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Bowl season is here, which means now is the perfect time to jump in the way-back machine and re-visit some classic moments in bowl game history. I'll be dropping throwback highlight reels in here and on the YouTube channel over the next month to celebrate, and hopefully remind you just how fun these random matchups can be.
- Peyton Manning vs. Northwestern - 1997 Citrus Bowl
- Roy Williams vs. LSU - 2003 Cotton Bowl
- Chris McAlister vs. Nebraska - 1998 Holiday Bowl
- Brandon Marshall vs. Nevada - 2005 Hawai'i Bowl
Classic Bowl Performances: Vince Young enters superstardom
As confetti rained over Vince Young and onto the Rose Bowl field after Texas' stunning, last-second win in the Grandaddy of Them All, the whole college football world was left thinking the same thing:
"That was one of the greatest individual performances of all-time."
Be honest with me: how many of you just pictured the aftermath of the 2005 National Championship Game between Texas and USC at the Rose Bowl?
It's understandable if you did. It's the consensus greatest game of all time, and Young's performance that night cemented his place among the most celebrated legends to ever play the sport. What happened on January 4, 2006 might go down as the apex of college football, and I'm not here to disparage it or take anything away from it. But what Young did in that very same stadium against Michigan just 368 days prior not only set the stage for what was to come, but also introduced the nation to college football's next superstar. It's a moment that deserves to stand alongside the one 99 percent of people think of first when you mention Vince Young and the Rose Bowl.
Whether Texas should've even played in the 2005 Rose Bowl against Michigan is still up for debate, but the reality is that they did. The Longhorns had a spectacular season, with their only blemish coming in a 12-0 loss to a juggernaut Oklahoma team who'd make it through the season undefeated before getting smoked by USC in the BCS Title Game. While no Red River Shootout loss is painless, this one had some extra sting. It was Texas' fifth-straight loss in the series, and the first time they'd been shut out since November 22, 1980. (A 281-game streak!) Young's ugly day –8-of-23 passing for 86 yards, and two lost fumbles– led to doubts of whether he'd ever live up to the immense hype he came in with. Another stinker the next week against Missouri –Young went 3-for-9 passing for 19 yards, two interceptions, and took a hit that knocked him out of the game– only made the noise louder, and was the definitive low point of his career in Austin. It also might've been the best thing to ever happen to him and the program.
After the Missouri game, Young famously met with Head Coach Mack Brown and Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis, pleading with both to let him be himself - both on and off the field. The two obliged by switching the offense to suit Young's strengths, and allowing him find his voice as the Longhorns' locker room leader. Even though turnovers were still an issue, the move led to a much more explosive Texas offense, led by the dangerous and efficient Vince Young everyone remembers almost two decades later:
Texas won their final five by an average of 38-20, and earned an at-large spot in the Rose Bowl thanks to a final BCS rankings jump over Cal that Mack Brown's political savvy may or may not have contributed to. Regardless, their hot streak led them to Pasadena, and a first-time ever matchup with Michigan. The 9-2 Wolverines might've been Big Ten Champs, but came into the game severely wounded in the pride department, thanks to an unexpected ass-kicking from four-loss Ohio State. The biggest difference in the game was Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith, who carved Michigan up for 241 yards passing, 145 rushing, and three total touchdowns. How do you think Young, Brown and Davis felt after watching that tape, knowing they had six full weeks to prepare their plan of attack?
The result of their preparation was arguably the finest game of Young's career:
There was the 20-yard touchdown to open the scoring, where he burned Michigan safety Ryan Mundy so bad on an angle that Mundy clapped his hands in defeat at the 13-yard line:
There was his fourth quarter touchdown run where he spun out of 6-8, 283-pound defensive tackle Pat Massey's grasp and glided into the endzone on a play so ridiculous that Dan Fouts screamed, "NO!............NO!" because he couldn't believe what he witnessed:
He also had two other touchdown runs of 60 and 24 yards, respectively, that were so filthy I'm leaving them out of this post and forcing you to watch them in the video. Hell, he even added a couple of perfectly placed touch passes like this one:
In all, Young went 16-of-28 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown, and ran 21 times for 192 yards, with four more touchdowns. He was Vince Young in a fully realized form that none of us had ever seen before, and it was awesome. Michigan threw everything they had at him, and it didn't matter. They picked him off late in the third quarter, and the ensuing field goal gave the Wolverines a 31-21 lead heading into the fourth. It still wasn't enough. Young led Texas to 17 points on their last three drives, including the final ten-play, 47-yard drive where he accounted for 42 of those yards. On the final play, Dusty Mangum split the uprights from 37, giving the Longhorns a 38-37 win, and their first taste of Rose Bowl confetti:
The 2005 Rose Bowl has an odd place in college football history. It's unquestionably one of the best bowl games ever, but I also feel like it gets lost in the shuffle. How the hell does that happen to a Rose Bowl featuring Texas and Michigan playing each other for the first time ever? Do you remember that Michigan led 31-21 with under 11 minutes to play? Or that Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston each had all-time games that got overshadowed by Young? Or that Michigan wore those big-ass Rose Bowl/Big Ten Champ shoulder patches?
It's funny. The heroics of those Michigan players got lost to history because of Young, which makes sense. That happens all the time to losing teams/players in any sport, and isn't unique to this game. But Vince Young was so remarkable that he managed to overshadow his very own all-time performance by doing it in the same exact place again a year later, but this time on maybe the biggest stage in college football history. I'm not interested in arguing with anyone about it, but there are elements of his performance against Michigan that I think make it just as special as his one in the game most of us think is the best ever. That's a conversation for another day, though. I don't know exactly what to call what Vince Young did against Michigan and USC, but it's a level of greatness that few college football players have ever ascended to. He did it twice, and was magical enough that he made a lot of people forget about the first one.