When it comes to classic college football games, it's hard to top the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC. As such, it makes sense that ESPN's Throwback Thursday: CFB Classics will start with that epic title clash (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App).
Relive Vince Young's heroics against a seemingly invincible USC team led by Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. The Longhorns' 41-38 victory featured a little bit of everything, from legendary performances on the game's grandest stage to coaching decisions that would be debated for years to come.
To get you ready for a reairing of Texas-USC, our writers share their memories of the game, whether they were in the press box or teenagers watching from home.
Mark Schlabach: I was a national college reporter for The Washington Post and was supposed to be covering the game. The day before I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles, however, the in-house travel agent called and said he'd screwed up my flights. He had me flying to LAX the day after the game. Since it was so late, the round-trip tickets from Washington, D.C., to L.A. were a couple of thousand dollars. We already had two other writers going, so the sports editor told me I'd be watching from home. This has been a common theme throughout my career. The college football national championship games I missed were many of the most iconic -- Florida State-Auburn in 2013 and Alabama-Clemson II in 2018 among them. It's probably going to be a great game if I'm not there.
Dave Wilson: On Jan. 5, 2006, I was a Texan working in the sports department of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Confidence was sky-high among USC fans after 34 straight wins and two Heismans. But, I had warned, Vince Young was just a different kind of player, and I had marveled at his ability to take over games since he was in high school, when we could watch Houston's Madison High School games on television. But nobody wants to listen to a Texan in Southern California. With our newspaper deadline looming and tension rising, V.Y. went for the corner, and the Trojans' run ended. He was different.
Harry Lyles Jr.: 13-year-old me was a gigantic Vince Young fan, and going into the game, it felt like he was going up against a giant only he could bring down. USC's offense, stacked with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, seemed unfair. When Young scored the game-winning touchdown, I was certain that was the greatest football game I'd ever seen. Because of that game, Young will always be one of my favorite college football players ever.
Ryan McGee: I was not at this game, and I refuse to lie like the millions who claim they were there. I was watching with my father and brother in Charlotte, North Carolina. I remember as we watched the game, we talked about legendary sports moments and if athletes recognize the greatness of what's happening when it's happening. We talked about Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Reds vs. Red Sox, the Carlton Fisk homer game. Dwight Evans has always told the story that Pete Rose approached in the middle of the game and said, "Can you believe this game? This might be the greatest game I've ever seen or played in." And there's the 1977 British Open, the "Duel in the Sun" between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, when Watson walked up on the 16th tee and said, "This is what it's all about, isn't it?" Watching that Rose Bowl, we wondered if the players in that game realized what the rest of the world did: that this was also one of the greatest games anyone had ever seen or played in.
In 2017, when Texas played at USC and I was assigned a story looking back at their last matchup, I asked Matt Leinart and Vince Young both if they were cognizant of the moment while they were in the middle of it. They both said yes. Young said that as he walked onto the field for the final drive, he even did a little twirl to take it all in. Leinart said that when the game was over, he and Reggie Bush went to the Texas locker room to show their respect. He said to me: "As tough as it was to swallow, that game, that moment, to be a part of that, it was just too cool. We'd all just experienced that together. We wanted them to know that."
Ivan Maisel: At the end of every college football game, the sportswriter faces a dilemma: Stay in the press box until the end (to have the best view with the game on the line), or go to the field midway through the fourth quarter, trading vantage point for an easier path to postgame interviews. One thing: At the end of the game, press box elevators are held for the coaches working up there, so if you stay, you have to fight through the exiting crowds.
My former colleague (and still friend) Pat Forde and I decided to stay up top. We had the full view of the epic final minutes, from USC's failed fourth-and-2 (also known as Where's Reggie?) to Vince Young's sprint to the pylon to USC's final play. When it ended, we sprinted out of the Rose Bowl press box. Being the veterans we were, we knew the old Rose Bowl press box was only three flights of stairs above the entrance. Come out, turn left, race around to the southwest end zone gate, wave our credentials, run down the ramp, through the tunnel and onto the field.
I think I led the way. Down the stairs, check. Turn left, check. Weave through the burgeoning masses spilling out of the Rose Bowl, check. Race past our gate, check.
Yep, I was so crazed with adrenaline, so intent on beating the crowd, so focused on what to write about the best postseason college football game I had ever witnessed (still) that we missed our exit.
We stopped, confused, and looked around. We felt the clock ticking. We knew interviews were being conducted on the field, and we weren't conducting them. We ran into the gate for fans sitting in the south end zone. We swam upstream past the people leaving. The portal opened up to the walkway about 30 rows above the field. The stairs coming up were too crowded. We looked at each other, shrugged and started cascading down the benches, sidestepping stunned Trojans, edging in front of cheering Longhorns, saying "excuse me" like some sort of crazed mantra. We got to the railing a few feet above the grass and propelled ourselves over it.
Oh, and one other thing: that part about the best postseason college football game we had ever witnessed. On that night, I had been a professional sportswriter for nearly 25 years. I had written my share of deadline stories. Yet after that game, after that trip to the field, after doing the interviews, I returned to the press box, sat down and ran into the biggest, flop-sweatiest, oh-my-god-what-is-wrong-with-me case of This Game Is Too Big For Me that I have ever encountered. Two hours in, I had written about two paragraphs.
To this day, when I have covered every national championship game from the 1987 season through 2019, when I have covered Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary, Terry Porter's lackadaisical flag, the Kick Six, Tua's dropping back on second-and-26 and somewhere north of 300 other college football games, there has been no panic like the Great BCS Championship Panic of 2006. Like Pete Carroll, I wish I could have that one back.
Texas-USC gambling notes
• USC was a 7-point favorite over Texas. The total was 70.5. The Longhorns had been underdogs in one other game that season (+1 at Ohio State, Sept. 10, 2005).
• USC was favored by an average of 24.1 points per game during the 2005 regular season. The Trojans finished 6-7 against the spread.
• Texas was favored by an average of 22.1 points per game during the 2005 regular season and finished 11-2 against the spread.
• USC, the defending champion, entered the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship at around +160. Texas, with Vince Young, was a contender at 8-1, along with Ohio State.
• USC, under Pete Carroll, was a 3.5-point underdog at Auburn on Aug. 30, 2003. The Trojans would not be underdogs again until Oct. 27, 2007 (+3 at Oregon), a stretch of 58 games.
*Data from ESPN Stats & Information and SportsOddsHistory.com
ESPNU will air four other all-time classics today, beginning at 6:30 a.m. ET.
6:30 a.m.: 2003 Fiesta Bowl -- Ohio State vs. Miami
Both Miami and Ohio State were undefeated. It was the first national championship game to go into overtime, and this one needed two OTs. It came down to a controversial pass interference call, but the Buckeyes outlasted the Hurricanes 31-24 in double overtime.
9:30 a.m.: 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship -- Clemson vs. Alabama
In Alabama-Clemson I, the Crimson Tide won 45-40 after scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter. The next year's rematch was even more captivating. Jalen Hurts' 30-yard touchdown run gave Alabama a 31-28 lead with 2:07 left, but Deshaun Watson threw the championship-winning touchdown pass with one second remaining.
Watson throws winning TD in waning seconds of 2017 CFP title game
With only seconds remaining, Deshaun Watson finds Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown to give Clemson a 35-31 lead over Alabama.
1 p.m.: 2014 BCS National Championship -- Florida State vs. Auburn
The game started with Jameis Winston's Florida State team down 21-3 midway through the second quarter. It ended with three lead-changing touchdowns in the final 4:31, including Winston's game-winning, 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left to give the Seminoles a national championship.
4:30 p.m.: 2006 Ohio State vs. Michigan
One of college football's biggest rivalries had even bigger stakes when these teams met in 2006. They were Nos. 1 and 2 in the country, and both were undefeated. Some of these names might sound familiar, too: Troy Smith against Chad Henne. Ted Ginn Jr. against Mario Manningham. Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis against David Harris and LaMarr Woodley. In a 42-39 thriller, it was Ohio State that came out on top.
7 p.m. (ESPN): The American Game: Games of the Century
Celebrating college football's 150th anniversary, we unveil the greatest 150 games in college football history. The "game of the century" idiom dates back to the 1935 matchup between Notre Dame and Ohio State, but we ranked the list from No. 150 to No. 1.
8 p.m. (ESPN): 2006 Rose Bowl -- Texas vs. USC
One of the best games ever? Matt Leinart, LenDale White and Dwayne Jarrett helped give USC a 38-26 lead late in the fourth quarter, but this was Vince Young's time to shine. Young threw for 267 yards and totaled 200 rushing yards and three scores, including the game-winning, 8-yard TD rush with 19 seconds left to end USC's reign atop the college football world.