Flashback: The Greatest Game Ever Played

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIJanuary 21, 2010

For some reason, I'm just not a college football fan. I'll watch a game if it's on and there's nothing else to watch. I'll watch the national championship and maybe a few other bowl games. However, I would much rather watch the two worst teams in the NFL than the two best teams in college football.

But there was one college football game I watched that I don't think I'll ever forget as long as I live.

On Jan. 4, 2006, the second-ranked University of Texas Longhorns faced the No. 1 ranked Southern California Trojans. It marked just the third time in Rose Bowl history that the top two teams faced each other.

The Longhorns entered the game as the defending Rose Bowl champions. They had won 19 consecutive games, including an unbelievable 70-3 throttling of Colorado in the Big 12 championship a month earlier. Just weeks ago, their starting quarterback, Vince Young, had finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, and safety Michael Huff had won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back.

But the Trojans were absolutely awesome. Quarterback Matt Leinart had captured the Heisman Trophy during the 2004 season and had finished third in voting during the 2005 season. Teammate Reggie Bush, one of the more dominant running backs in college football history, won the Heisman in 2005, giving the Trojans two Heisman winners in their backfield. USC had won 34 straight games, including the 2004 national championship, and were already drawing comparisons with the greatest teams in college football history.

This Rose Bowl was arguably the most hyped game in the history of college football. The combined 53-game winning streak of Texas and USC was a record for teams facing each other. Quite simply, this game was the equivalent of the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts facing each other in Super Bowl XLIV if both teams had gone undefeated.

The game began with Texas cornerback Aaron Ross losing a fumble on a punt. USC responded by scoring the game's first touchdown, a four-yard scamper by running back LenDale White. The Longhorns failed to score in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Reggie Bush caught a 35-yard pass from Leinart but fumbled the ball away while attempting to lateral to an unsuspecting teammate. The Longhorns managed to convert a 46-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 7-3. The Trojans turned the ball over in the end zone for the second consecutive possession as safety Michael Griffin made an acrobatic interception in the end zone.

Vince Young led a long scoring drive that ended with Young running for 10 yards before lateraling to teammate Selvin Young, who ran 12 yards for the go-ahead score. Because of issues with the electronic equipment, the play was not reviewed and, after missing the extra point, the Longhorns led 9-7. Longhorns' running back Ramonce Taylor added a 30-yard touchdown run, giving Texas a 16-7 lead.

USC kicked a field goal and the half ended with Texas leading 16-10.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter as the Longhorns answered a second LenDale White touchdown run with a Vince Young score. Then the Trojans opted to go for 4th-and-1 from the 12 and LenDale White muscled his way into the end zone for this third touchdown, giving the Trojans a 24-23 lead.

The fourth quarter began with Texas kicker David Pino missing a 31-yard field goal that would have given the Longhorns the lead. A nine-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a 26-yard Reggie Bush dive into the end zone gave the Trojans a commanding 31-23 lead.

The Longhorns added a field goal but, after Dwayne Jarrett scored, the Trojans led 38-26 with just 6:42 remaining in the game. Young accounted for all 69 yards on the next drive, and a 17-yard touchdown run cut the Trojans lead to 38-33 with just 3:58 to play.

The biggest defensive play of the game came on the Trojans' next drive when, faced with a 4th-and-2 at the Longhorns' 45-yard line, USC coach Pete Carroll chose to keep his offense on the field. However, he also kept Reggie Bush, the game's best player, on the sideline, and the Longhorns stopped the powerful LenDale White after a one-yard gain. It was the first of four tries in which the Trojans did not convert a 4th-and-short.

The Longhorns took over with just over two minutes remaining, needing a touchdown to win the national championship. After a critical 3rd-and-12 conversion at the USC 46-yard line kept the drive alive, the Longhorns found their season come down to a single play: 4th-and-5 from the nine-yard line.

As he had done virtually all game, Vince Young took matters into his own hands, darting into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with just 19 seconds remaining. Young reached the end zone again on the two-point conversion and the Longhorns led 41-38.

Although Leinart led the Trojans to the Texas 43 yard line, the clock ran out and the Texas Longhorns were the national champions for the fourth time in school history.

Vince Young passed for 267 yards, and ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns during the game. He earned Most Valuable Player honors.

When factoring in the quality of the opposition, Young's single-game performance is arguably the greatest by a player in college football history.

Sports Illustrated called the game "the most stunning bowl performance ever" and referred to the Longhorns' season as one of the greatest in college football history. The Rose Bowl was picked as the year's "Best Game" by the ESPY awards and Vince Young's game-winning touchdown run was named as the fifth greatest play in college football history.

The 2005 USC Trojans, named before the game by ESPN's college football expert Kirk Herbstreit as the second best college football team of the past 50 years, now bear a striking resemblance to the 2007 New England Patriots, who won all 16 of their regular season games before losing the Super Bowl in the final seconds.

Vince Young's championship-winning run can even be compared to the game-winning touchdown reception by New York Giants' wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the signature play in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.

An incredible 24 members of the Longhorns' 2005 team went on to play in the NFL, including Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, Brian Orakpo, Aaron Ross, Michael Huff, and Michael Griffin.

The Trojans produced an even greater amount, as 40 of their players moved on to the National Football League, notably Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Steve Smith, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews.

It's been over four years since the "greatest game ever played," and if truth be told, we could never again see its equal.