PASADENA, Calif. — Luckily for a Texas football program that this season conjured up all sorts of mystical qualities to spirit away victories when reality suggested otherwise, its magic had no expiration date.
But for once the school’s reputation as underachievers does.
It is time to dispense with the tired notion that the Longhorns were somehow the biggest disgrace to college football since Rick Neuheisel’s office pool simply because Mack Brown lobbied for BCS inclusion.
The embattled Longhorns coach was publicly and unfairly drawn and quartered for the last four weeks for the unspeakable offense of standing up for his team when coaches such as Bob Stoops were let off the hook after they admitted they were tacking on scores in runaway wins.
These days of whine and roses came to a dramatic conclusion Saturday on a gray, chilly day in the Rose Bowl and culminated in a command performance by Texas quarterback Vince Young and a 38-37 edge-of-the-seater, one of the most stirring and redemptive triumphs in the school’s 112-year history.
“There will never be a better ballgame in the Rose Bowl, ” Brown said. “There may be some as good, but none will be better.”
A sixth-ranked Texas team that relied all year on the dominant rushing of Cedric Benson and the all-over-the-field play-making of Butkus Award winner Derrick Johnson got the bare minimum from those trusty hands on this day. Benson stepped off 70 yards against a Michigan team that congregated around him, and Johnson was credited with 1 1/2 tackles.
Instead, Brown trusted his electrifying sophomore quarterback, his embattled offensive coordinator and a former walk-on kicker with a lot of field goals but none more clutch than his wobbly, 37-yard game-clincher on the final play of the Rose Bowl.
What Young, Greg Davis and Dusty Mangum did in exhausting the 93,468 fans, more than half of them raucous Longhorn faithful, was bury some anachronistic thinking that on this evening no longer applied.
Texas won a truly big game. Texas proved it rightfully belongs in the BCS mix. Texas won as Davis called plays for a quarterback who took over the game and emphasized the tight ends.
Establishment Texas beat old-money Michigan in the first-ever meeting between the two powerhouses, with such a divine finish that it almost seemed heaven-sent.
“A lot of prayers were being said in the press box, ” Davis said. “The kick didn’t look good, but I could tell by which crowd was screaming that it was headed right.”
And so is Texas. The Longhorns legitimized their standing in the college football community against an inspired, 13th-ranked Michigan team. And Texas won in as fitting a fashion as ever, overcoming a 10-point deficit with fewer than 18 minutes to play and scoring 17 fourth-quarter points on its last three possessions.
“I guess we are in Hollywood, ” said sixth-year senior tight end Bo Scaife, who along with fellow tight end David Thomas held key roles in the historic Rose Bowl win with nine catches for 122 yards and one touchdown. “That was a pretty good Hollywood ending, but I’m getting too old for this.”
Texas, however, is forever Young. At least, it will be another couple of seasons. The sophomore with the mercurial feet and the rugged frame announced himself as a 2005 Heisman candidate.
“Obviously, he’s difficult to tackle, ” Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr said. “Too many times, we had him and should have gotten him on the ground.”
Go ahead and call him Saint Vincent after he blessed the Rose Bowl with a record-setting, five-touchdown output. He should be a holy terror next season.
“We see Vince do this every week, ” Benson said. “He played like an All-American. If he gets a few little kinks out and gets his arm a little stronger, he’s there.”
Young quarterbacked one of the most resilient and resourceful teams in school history, one that is guaranteed a top five finish for the second time in Brown’s seven seasons.
For once, Texas has emerged from its bowl game with a breakout performance instead of just being broken. And Brown and Young and Davis can relax — for eight months.
“Yeah, it’s like Governor Rick Perry told us earlier this summer when he came out to our practice, ” Davis said. “He said: ‘I love football season because y’all take all the heat off me.’ ”
The heat on this night was from a warming national spotlight, one that beamed down on a proud Texas team.