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Looking back at the epic 2006 Rose Bowl game between USC and Texas

Texas quarterback Vince Young reaches the ball across the end zone for one of his three rushing touchdowns against USC in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl on Jan 4, 2006.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Times Rams beat reporter Gary Klein recalls covering the 2005 BCS national championship game between USC and Texas, which is considered one of the greatest games ever played and will be rebroadcast Thursday on ESPN.

It ranks as one of the simplest, most stunningly beautiful athletic moments I witnessed in more than three decades covering sports for the Los Angeles Times.

Before the 2006 Bowl Championship Series title game, I was on the field at the Rose Bowl, soaking up the atmosphere and looking for scenes that might augment a deadline game story after No. 1 USC and No. 2 Texas played the latest incarnation of the Game of the Century.

Glancing at the crowd, a 50-50 mix of Trojans and Longhorns fans, I turned suddenly and saw Texas quarterback Vince Young emerge from a stadium tunnel. I had watched highlights of the 2005 Rose Bowl, when Young destroyed Michigan with one of the greatest performances in Rose Bowl history. But seeing the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Young up close, decked head to toe in Longhorns white, as he elegantly strode past me and down the sideline to the far end zone was breathtaking and mesmerizing.

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So with ESPN rebroadcasting the game Thursday night, that singular image of Young is the first that comes to mind. Young, of course, will forever be remembered for his scramble later that night, a jaunt into the end zone that gave the Longhorns a 41-38 victory that ended USC’s 34-game win streak and the Trojans’ bid for a third consecutive national title.

In between, there was plenty that left an impression.

The college football season could be in jeopardy because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Power Five conferences know they need to plan for many scenarios.

During pregame, shortly after watching Young run past me on the West sideline, I circled the field to see which former USC players and other celebrities might be on hand. The image that stands out was that of the Texas players stretching at the North end of the stadium. They seemed loose. And the linemen were huge. USC under coach Pete Carroll, with a team full of future first-round NFL draft picks, was accustomed to overmatching conference opponents. It struck me that this was going to be different.

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Early in the second quarter, with USC ahead 7-0, Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush caught a pass from Matt Leinart and dashed upfield. Then, inexplicably, he lateraled the ball toward walk-on receiver Brad Walker. The press box is usually quiet, but there was a chorus of “What was he thinking?” The Longhorns recovered the ball. I recall thinking, “Brad Walker just etched himself a spot in USC history.”

Later in the quarter a buzz went through the press box after Texas scored its first touchdown for a 9-7 lead. Young’s knee had appeared to touch the ground before he lateraled to teammate Selvin Young, who ran for a touchdown. But replay officials had the wrong television feed plugged into their monitor and the play stood.

Much of the middle portion of the game is a blur to me, though when Leinart connected with Dwayne Jarrett for a touchdown that gave USC a 12-point lead with under seven minutes left, I thought USC might finally have the game in hand. More memorable, however, was that this was the jumping-off point for a back-and-forth between myself and award-winning columnist Bill Plaschke.

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Texas vs. USC in 2006 Rose Bowl game.

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Reporters are allowed on the field with five minutes left. The Rose Bowl aisles were jammed and Bill and I debated whether to go down on the field for postgame color — and risk getting stuck — or stay in the press box and write from there.

I can’t remember if Bill went down to the field, but I felt I absolutely had to do it.

Young ran for a touchdown to pull the Longhorns to within 38-33, setting the stage for Carroll’s decision to go for a first down on fourth and two with just more than two minutes left. I was on the USC sideline, behind the Trojans bench, near the line of scrimmage. I was not asking “Is Reggie Bush on the field?” I was only concerned about actually seeing the play.

Flashback to October at Notre Dame Stadium. On a fourth-quarter, fourth-and-nine play that became a legend, I was on the field and perfectly positioned to see Leinart step back from the line of scrimmage and call an audible. I watched him coolly drop back and loft a pass to Dwayne Jarrett along the USC sideline. But, blocked by the players on the bench and along the sideline, I never saw Jarrett catch the pass or run up the field. I sprinted madly down the sideline and made it down to a great spot behind the end zone for the infamous “Bush Push” touchdown that kept alive USC’s winning streak.

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NCAA voted Monday to approve an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes who had their seasons canceled because of COVID-19 but some might not get same financial aid.

I was not going to be thwarted again. Leinart handed off the ball to running back LenDale White and Texas stuffed him short of the first down.

Young got the ball back and there seemed no way USC could stop him. Texas took advantage of a facemask penalty and Young drove the Longhorns to the eight-yard line with 19 seconds left. Facing fourth-and-five, he took the snap and did what everyone knew he would do. He scrambled for a touchdown.

When the game ended, I sought out players on the field for immediate reactions. There were few if any tears.

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I looked up into the celebrating crowd and, with a deadline looming, realized I was stuck. There was no way to go up the aisles to the press box.

So I sprinted toward, and then up the tunnel from which Young had emerged before the game, dashing far less gallantly to the concourse and then sidestepping fans a la Young on the field on my way to the press box elevator. Then it was time to write about one of the greatest college football games ever played.


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