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June 8, 2013

Six Texas games I'll never forget covering

I've been covering Texas since 1992 (with the exception of the 2001 and 2002 seasons while I was covering the Dallas Cowboys for The Dallas Morning News). Here are the six Texas games that have been my favorite to cover:

6. Texas vs Texas A&M, 1998

The Longhorns' storybook first season under Mack Brown (which included ending Nebraska's 47-game, home winning streak) came to a rousing, regular-season conclusion as Ricky Williams' broke Tony Dorsett's NCAA all-time rushing record.

The buildup to the game because Wlliams was trying to break Dorsett's record was over the top. And for Williams to break the record the way he did (on a dramatic, 60-yard run with a great block from WR Wane McGarity) just set this game apart.

It's a good thing Texas won the game, 26-24, in come-from-behind fashion on a 24-yard field goal by Kris Stockton with 5 seconds left, because Williams lost two fumbles in the game, both of which led to A&M touchdowns.


5. Texas vs Nebraska, Big 12 title game, 1996

I was the one who asked James Brown before this game what he thought of being a three-touchdown underdog to the Cornhuskers, and he replied, "I don't know. I think we can beat them by three touchdowns."

I was so stunned, I said, "When did you start thinking that?"

And Brown went on to talk about how much he believed in his teammates. John Mackovic accused me of making up the quote, so I had to produce the tape recording of the interview. At that point, Mackovic told Brown to explain his statement to his teammates, because Mackovic was pissed to have the controversy.

According to players in the locker room, Brown defended his statement to me by telling his teammates, "I do think we can win by three touchdowns." And Dan Neil stood up and started screaming, "Hell yeah!" And others joined in.

The game was incredible at the then-TWA Dome in St. Louis. Priest Holmes (9 carries, 120 yards, 3 TDs) was unreal. The Texas defense did just enough, and, of course, James Brown, one of the most underrated QBs in Texas history, made the play of the season on "Roll Left."

Mackovic wanted Brown to "come to run" on that fourth-and-1 from Texas' own 27 yard line with a 3-point lead late in the fourth quarter. But Brown found TE Derek Lewis wide open and threw it to him. Holmes scored on an 11-yard run on the next play, putting Texas up 37-27 with 1:53 left.

After the game, on the field, Jack Arute ran up to John Mackovic and said, "James Brown predicted this victory." And Mackovic replied, "Well, it wasn't quite three touchdowns, but we'll take it."

Of course, Texas' victory knocked Nebraska out of playing for the national title after the Cornhuskers had been dominant in the 1990s.

A classic.


4. Texas vs Michigan, Rose Bowl, 2004 season

Vince Young was just giving us a glimpse of things to come in Pasadena by running for 192 yards and four touchdowns (of 20, 60, 10 and 23 yards) and throwing for 180 yards and another score.

It was the most dominating postseason performance by a Longhorn until … Young returned to the Rose Bowl the following season.

Dusty Mangum kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to secure a 38-37 victory and erase a 10-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter.

Texas needed every bit of Young's heroics because Michigan QB Chad Henne tied a Rose Bowl record with four TD passes, three of them to WR Braylon Edwards.

It was an unbelievable game, back and forth, and any game at the Rose Bowl is magical, in part, because of the setting.


3. Texas at Ohio State, 2005

Ohio State was undefeated at home at night when the Longhorns rolled into the Horseshoe in this critical game. The Buckeyes had all-conference linebackers in A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter.

There were so many twists and turns, including a Texas defense that limited four Ohio State trips into UT territory to field goals.

Jim Tressel started QB Justin Zwick because Troy Smith had been suspended the previous week (for accepting money from a booster) and Zwick had lit it up in 34-14, season-opening victory over Miami of Ohio.

What was puzzling, however, was Tressel's decision to go away from Smith after Smith led Ohio State to 16 unanswered points in the second quarter against Texas.

But there were so many memorable plays in that game, including a big-time TD catch by Santonio Holmes for the Buckeyes, and Cedric Griffin's huge hit on OSU TE Ryan Hamby to shake a loose what could have been a crippling TD pass in the second half.

Of course, the play that took Limas Sweed from just a guy to Longhorn legend came on the game-winning TD pass from Vince Young, giving Texas a 25-22 lead.

But Jamaal Charles was huge in the game, not only catching some big passes, including a key third-down conversion late in the game. But Charles also hunted down A.J. Hawk and blasted him after Hawk intercepted Young.

The atmosphere of the Horseshoe also made this one an all-timer for me.

(The Fiesta Bowl game between these two at the end of the 2008 season wasn't too shabby either.)


2. Texas vs Oklahoma, 2008

I always try to tell people about the atmosphere at the Cotton Bowl for the Red River Shootout. About how the stadium being divided at the 50 - half burnt orange, half crimson - leads to deafening noise for the entirety of the game.

That atmosphere leads to wild momentum swings that can be hard to overturn. And that's what made this game stand out. Texas trailed by 11 points twice in the first half as Sam Bradford threw for five touchdowns and played brilliantly.

But the passing combinations of Colt McCoy to Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby was enough to overcome Bradford's Herculean effort. McCoy was 28 of 35 passing with 20 of those passes going to Shipley (11 receptions for 112 yards, 1 TD) and Cosby (9 receptions for 122 yards).

It was one of Greg Davis' finest moments as he dusted off the four-wide flex offense, taking the TE off the field and putting Shipley in that flexed position, where he could dominate the middle of the field.

Texas prevailed 45-35 with a strong supporting performance from RB Chris Ogbonnaya, who carried 15 times for 127 yards, including a 62-yard run.

Incredible, incredible atmosphere. Unbelievable game.


1. Texas vs USC, BCS national title game at the Rose Bowl, 2005 season

I was working for The Dallas Morning News at the time, and I had predicted Texas would win on radio shows and in interviews before the game. People laughed and said, "Why?"

"Vince Young," I'd say.

To my friends, I'd say, Vince Young makes your offense unf*ckable.

One of our DMN columnists, Gerry Fraley, was a jaded grump who called me a homer for making the pick. And when Texas was down 12 points with 6:42 to play, Fraley started to head down to the field and said to me, "So much for that Vince Young guy."

And I said, "It's not over yet," and Fraley laughed at me. Of course, the rest is history.
After the post-game press conference, I said to Fraley, "How about that Vince Young guy?" He just smirked.

All Young had done was run for 200 yards and three touchdowns and complete 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards and provide the game-winning TD run with 19 seconds left.

The Texas defense stuffed Lendale White on fourth-and-2 with just more than two minutes left in the game and USC leading 38-33, setting up UT's game-winning drive.

Michael Huff recovered a head-scratching Reggie Bush attempted lateral earlier in the game, and Michael Griffin made a Superman interception of Matt Leinart to help slow down a freight train USC offense.

It was the most exciting sporting event I've ever covered and I'll never forget it.


Six others that could have also made the list:

Texas at Texas A&M 1995


James Brown was heroic on an injured left ankle; Ricky Williams broke through; and UT ended A&M's 31-game, home winning streak

Texas at Nebraska 1998

Mack Brown gets his signature victory in Year 1 as UT breaks NU's 47-game home winning streak

Texas at Texas Tech 2008

Colt McCoy would have had his Heisman Trophy moment with UT's go-ahead drive if the defense could have held Crabtree out of the end zone. Crazy atmosphere.

Texas vs Ohio State, Fiesta Bowl, 2008 season

Colt McCoy to Quan Cosby for the win after Colt McCoy to James Kirkendoll kept it alive.

Texas vs Alabama, BCS national title game, 2009 season

Again, win or lose, that game was full of twists and turns - who'd have thought Texas would be down only 3 with 3 mins left after trailing 24-6 at halftime?

Texas at Kansas, 2004

Because I still don't know if I believe what I saw when VY ran for 22 yards on fourth-and-18.


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