Perfect 10

In the afterglow of UT’s Rose Bowl shocker, we revel in Vince Young’s mastery of the game, compare this year’s national champs with their forebears, and channel the ghost of Harvey Penick.
Perfect 10
In the afterflow of UT’s Rose Bowl shocker, we revel in Vince Young’s mastery of the game, compare this year’s national champs with their forebears, and channel the ghost of Harvey Penick.
Photograph by Daniel Adel

Portrait by Platon

>> January 5, 2:44 p.m.

Bud, old amigo:

I dreamed about Vince Young last night. At least I think it was a dream. I had five or six cups of coffee watching the Rose Bowl (yeah, I know—in the old days it would have been a quart and a half of scotch), so I slept in fits and starts, like the game itself, never sure if this would end well.

But there he was, number 10, a vision in orange striding effortlessly across the emerald landscape, 8 yards at a time, small bodies clawing at his ankles, accidental tacklers splattering off his knee pads like bugs against the windshield of life, never knowing what hit them. It was one of those dreams where gravity is suspended, where everything is possible and life is constantly renewed.

Then I woke, gathered the morning newspapers on my front lawn, and found it was true—an event so earthshaking that even the state edition of the Dallas Morning News had full coverage. Normally, events that happen after nine-thirty at night don’t reach the Austin edition for at least 36 hours. As a rule, editors at the DMN won’t stop the presses unless, say, Houston crumbles into the Gulf of Mexico (I think they keep that story on permanent overset), but there it was on page one, in World War III type, a one-word headline that said it all: “Invincible.”

Can you remember a more incredible individual performance by a football player? Jim Brown against the Cowboys? Joe Namath against the Colts? John David Crow against Texas? Doak Walker against TCU? Or a more stunning moment in Longhorn history? I can’t. Somehow this seems bigger than any of the three national championships that Darrell Royal won, in 1963, 1969, and 1970, when we were young and brilliant and teaching Darrell everything he knows. Or maybe I’ve just got a coffee hangover. I know one thing: Vince Young is the best football player I’ve ever seen or hope to see. And what he did in the Rose Bowl last night is something I’m going to dream about for the rest of my life.

He simply willed it to happen. When the Longhorns were down by twelve points with less than seven minutes to play, everyone in the country thought they were whipped—everyone but Vince, and maybe Mack Brown, whose own career was saved when he told his quarterback to stop worrying about the X’s and O’s and just have fun. And that’s what it looked like, fun—except maybe to the bewildered USC players and fans. First, Vince methodically drove his team 69 yards in eight plays, running the final 17 himself. The extra point cut USC’s lead to five, at which time the Longhorn defense made one of its infrequent appearances of the evening. Then, with nineteen seconds remaining and Texas facing fourth down on the USC 8, it became clear what would happen next. Vince would take a direct snap from center, scamper out of the grasp of three or four Trojan tacklers, read a magazine, file his nails, call his momma, and head for the corner flag and his rendezvous with history. It was the easiest touchdown I ever saw.

I’m out of breath just thinking about it. I’m going to take a

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