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 nap and try to forget all the ways Texas could have, and probably should have, lost this game. Wake me if I start snoring real loud.

Your pal,

Jappy

>> January 5, 4:28 p.m.

Jappo:

The first time I saw Vince Young run with a football in his hands, I slapped my palms against the sides of my head the way you would to get water out of your ears, and then I rubbed my eyes and made a note to look up the word “eerie.” I don’t have a problem with believing we on earth have been visited by advanced life forms from other galaxies, but when you see an alien who is six feet five, weighs at least 230 pounds, wears orange and white, has huge feet, and seems to move among his fellows as if he inhabits a space no one else can enter—that is enough to send me to the dictionary. There has to be a word for it. “Eerie” does it pretty well: “suggestive of the supernatural.”

There are times during a game when it looks as if everybody on the field is standing still except for Vince. He doesn’t appear to be running fast (though, of course, he is) so much as everyone else is frozen in place, like in one of those party games. The proper stance in the face of mystery is awe. That’s my reaction to watching him. I think, “No human could have done that.” This guy is from the same planet that sent the guy to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Somehow I keep picturing a running back from TCU named Jim Swink. He had the same uncanny knack for running back and forth in a herd of people without anyone being able to touch him. Swink would dip and swing behind the tacklers, who suddenly found themselves running interference for him as he glided around the field. But Swink turned out not to be an alien— not a total alien, anyway, since he became a doctor—and Vince Young doesn’t do that trick of circling back and dodging around. He just goes where he wants to.

No, I don’t remember a more incredible individual performance by a football player. The Cowboys couldn’t tackle Jim Brown, but he didn’t throw passes. In the famous Super Bowl in which he had predicted his New York Jets would win against the Baltimore Colts and heavy odds, Joe Namath passed brilliantly but couldn’t run at all (the Jets defense won that game, with the help of an interception by Longhorn-ex Jim Hudson). I don’t remember John David Crow against Texas, though I’m sure it was memorable. I do remember Doak

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