Often times the most-hyped games fail to live up to their unrealistic expectations. Every once in a while, though, you get the Super Bowl or National Championship game that is so thrilling you can’t help but remember it for the rest of your life.
Tua Tagovailoa‘s walk-off touchdown pass in Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship Game was unforgettable. Auburn’s “Kick-Six” win over Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl will go down as an NCAA great. Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s game-winning hail mary versus Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl will forever be etched in fans’ minds, too.
But maybe no game in college football history was as anticipated, and exceeded all expectations, than the 2006 Rose Bowl game between the USC Trojans and the University of Texas Longhorns in Pasadena, California that served as the BCS National Championship Game.
USC vs. Texas
Both teams entered the matchup with more steam than anyone in the country. USC, the defending national champion out of the Pac-10, was riding a 34-game winning streak. It was seeking a third-straight national title. The Longhorns took a 19-game winning streak out of the Big 12 into Los Angeles, and they were hoping for their first title in 35 years. USC was the consensus No. 1-ranked team and Texas No. 2 the entire season. Both were undefeated.
Then you have the rosters. Based on the players in that game alone, you could’ve probably fielded a future NFL Pro Bowl roster.
Leading the Trojans were not one but two Heisman Trophy winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush (though the NCAA later stripped Bush of his award). It marked the first and only time one team featured two Heisman winners in the same game. Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, Ryan Kalil, Mark Sanchez and Frostee Rucker rounded out USC’s stacked roster.
Texas was led by quarterback Vince Young, who finished second in Heisman voting that year to Bush. Notable Longhorns included Jamaal Charles, Michael Huff, Brian Orakpo, Colt McCoy, Brian Robison, Michael Griffin, Aaron Ross and Jermichael Finley.
Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll manned the sidelines for the Trojans. Lane Kiffin stood beside him as his offensive coordinator. Longtime Texas head coach Mack Brown opposed them.
As for the game itself, the college football gods couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Young stared at a 12-point deficit with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. He ran in a touchdown to cut USC’s lead to five, but the Longhorns defense was able to get a stop on the Trojans ensuing possession.
Then, Young cemented himself as a legend.
On fourth down and five with just 26 seconds to go inside the red zone, the fate of the game rested in Young’s hands — or his legs, I should say. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound wrecking ball took the snap, scrambled to his right and found the end zone for what wound up being the game-winning touchdown run. He also ran in the two-point conversion. Texas led 41-38. Leinart had no response. The Longhorns hung on, and Young showered in confetti.
The game was a back-and-forth affair. USC running back LenDale White punched in a four-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Texas answered with 16 points in the second quarter, including a blown call on Young’s lateral pass to Selvin Young for a touchdown (it was clear Young’s knee was down before the pass). USC settled for a 43-yard field goal in the quarter and UT led 16-10 at halftime.
Texas and USC combined for 53 points in the third quarter and fourth quarter. Young took over the game in the second half. The Longhorns defense gave him one big stop on fourth-and-two near midfield with just over two minutes to play. That was all he needed to set up his game-winning drive.
Young’s final numbers made for one of the greatest all-time title game performances. The Texas quarterback accounted for 467 total yards of offense, including 200 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 19 attempts.
USC quarterback Matt Leinart finished with 365 passing yards and a touchdown. The Trojans’ dynamic running back duo — Bush and White — combined for 206 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The tandem’s nickname was “lightning and thunder.”
An easy choice, Young was named offensive MVP. Huff took home defensive MVP honors.
Many experts and analysts felt that the 2006 Rose Bowl was the greatest game in history, and the TV ratings reflected that. It was the highest-rated BCS game in TV history as 21.7 percent of households tuned in to ABC to watch.
Not only were fans across the country witnessing history on the field, they were witnessing it in the booth. Keith Jackson, who began calling games in the 1950s and 1960s, fittingly made that one his last game for ABC, and he nailed it.
Bleacher Report ranked the 2006 Rose Bowl No. 1 on its list of the 25 greatest college football games of all time. ESPN ranked it first out of 150 games that decided college football championships.
What made the 2006 Rose Bowl so legendary was that the superstars played the best games of their entire careers. After Young’s performance, the Tennessee Titans drafted him third overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. He played just six years in the league, making two Pro Bowls. Leinart was taken seven spots later in that draft to the Arizona Cardinals. He lasted just six years in the NFL as well.
Bush never really played like a Heisman winner in the NFL. In eleven seasons the 2006 New Orleans Saints second overall pick posted just two seasons with 1,000 rushing yards.
Greater pro careers developed out of guys like Charles, Matthews, Orakpo and Cushing, although Sanchez deserves credit for producing one of the all-time best NFL moments in The Butt Fumble.
If there was ever a game to remember exactly where you were and what you were doing during it, the 2006 Rose Bowl is it. Savor the memory, because there may never be a greater national title game.
This article was originally published May 28, 2019.