Long Tall Texan: Vince Young & The 2005 Longhorns
By Simon Carroll
The pride of The Lone Star State, high-school kids in Texas grow up dreaming of playing for The Longhorns. Back in 2002 one such kid by the name of Vincent Paul Young Jr. left Houston for Austin; the next emerging quarterback to try and deliver the first National Championship to Texas in over three decades. Little did they know that, three years later, Young would cap off his Longhorn career with one of the greatest performances in one of the greatest games in the history of college football.
“Come early. Be loud. Stay late. And wear your orange with pride”.
Those were the words that new Texas head coach Mack Brown told the gathering fans and journalists at his introductory press conference on 5th December 1997. Brown had been very successful for ten years over at North Carolina, winning 54 games in his final six seasons with the Tar Heels. It was a messy departure from Chapel Hill – Brown wasn’t sure he wanted to leave and gave the school his word he would be staying. But football is just bigger and better in Texas, and the Longhorns were the biggest and best of them all. With Tar Heel football always in the shadow of the school’s main sport of basketball, Brown could not resist the lure of one of the biggest programs in the nation. Texas had their man.
Replacing John Mackovic, Brown hit the ground running both on and off the field. In his first twelve years in Austin, Mack never recorded less than nine wins in a season. He was lauded for his recruiting prowess, continually showcasing the ability to reel in the best talent in and out of state. He was known as being a player’s coach and a mentor, often focused on the player’s development as a person as much as a football player.
But it never seemed quite enough. For all the wins, Texas just couldn’t get over the hump. For all the money from boosters and all the highly touted recruits, they couldn’t bring home a conference championship. Brown never won the Big 12 in his first seven seasons and only won it twice in his sixteen years in Austin. In those early years he was fast garnering a reputation as a ‘nearly man’ – a coach who could take a team to the doorstep but couldn’t quite knock the door down. For a team with a proud history, with three prior ‘claimed’ National Championships under legendary coach Darrell Royal, close was not good enough.
He didn’t know it yet, but the recruiting class of 2002 would change everything for Brown and The Longhorns.
Born and raised in Houston, Vince Young had dreamed of playing for The Longhorns from an early age. He credits his mother Felicia for keeping him off the streets and on the football field. Young starred in multiple sports at high school but nearly never got there – he was almost killed in a vehicle accident whilst riding his bicycle at the age of seven. He spent months in the hospital, something he credits for making him tougher, understanding adversity and never giving up.
Of course he excelled at football, and as a dual threat quarterback piled up the stats and the wins at Madison High School. He received numerous accolades and as a recruit was in high demand – the LSU Tigers and Florida State Seminoles were two schols in particular who pitched hard for Young to leave his hometown state. But of course it was futile; the dream of playing for Texas and the charm of Mack Brown proved too much to resist. He enrolled at The University of Texas in 2002, joining a lauded recruiting class alongside Rodrique Wright, Justin Blalock, Brian Robison, Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein, David Thomas, Selvin Young, and Aaron Ross.
Young redshirted the first year, and split gametime with Chance Mock in 2003. But as a redshirt sophomore in 2004, he was the undisputed starting quarterback and leader of the offense. Young and The Texas Longhorns never looked back.
Laying The Groundwork
2004 was a special season in Austin, blotted by only one loss. That of course came against their arch enemies The Oklahoma Sooners. The Longhorns and The Sooners play every year at The Cotton Bowl – a neutral field in Dallas, Texas, roughly equidistant between Austin and Norman. The game is known as ‘The Red River Rivalry’, so named after the river that divides the two states. As competitive a rivalry game as any in college football, Texas leads the series 62-48-5. But in recent time it has been much closer, with Oklahoma holding a slender advantage of 15-14-1 of regular season battles in the last thirty years.
In 2004, Oklahoma inflicted the only defeat on the Vince Young-led Longhorns, beating them 12-0 in a shutout. The Sooners would go on to an undefeated regular season themselves, before getting manhandled by The USC Trojans in the Orange Bowl for The National Championship. Being defeated by Oklahoma was a recurring theme of the Mack Brown era, who had previously been an Offensive Co-ordinator for The Sooners in 1984. He finished with a 7-9 record against them, but the defeat in 2004 was the Longhorns’ fifth in a row.
It is unquestioned that this defeat cost Texas a place in the National Championship game. As Texas and Oklahoma were in the same division in the Big 12, a defeat to Oklahoma usually cost them a conference title, but this felt like a watershed moment. The Longhorns settled for a berth in the Rose Bowl against Michigan. They’d never played The Wolverines in 100 years of football history, and emerged victorious with a game-winning field goal and several Rose Bowl records set by Young. The loss to Oklahoma would be the last in twenty-one games for Texas.
2005: A Texas Odyssey
After coming so close the year prior, Vince Young was determined to go all the way in what would be his final year at Texas. This was Mack Brown’s eighth year in charge of The Longhorns, and he had amassed possibly the most talented roster in his time there. Alongside Young there were standout players that were to go on and have NFL careers – Jamaal Charles, Justin Blalock, Brian Robison, Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, Cedric Griffin, Michael Huff and Michael Griffin. The Longhorns were stacked at every conceivable position, and with the playmaking Young under center had the biggest star of them all.
The 2005 regular season was a blur of points and domination. The Longhorns scored 40 or more points in all but one game, with three reaching 50+ points and three more hitting 60. In the Big 12 title game, they were so dominant they dismantled the Colorado Buffaloes by SIXTY-SEVEN points with a score of 70-3. Young, alongside freshman running back Jamaal Charles and sophomore Ramonce Taylor, were tearing people apart on the ground. The ground game opened up the passing attack. The defense balled out. Texas, quite simply, looked unstoppable.
Without doubt there were moments of adversity. They found themselves in a hole against both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M but ultimately had too much firepower for their opponents. They went into ‘The Horseshoe’ for a night game against #4 Ohio State and perservered – the Buckeyes had never been beaten at home on a late kickoff. And of course, they got their revenge in the Red River Rivlary. With 75,000 fans watching, Young dismantled The Sooners and the Longhorns broke the losing streak, comprehensively winning 45-12.
Twelve games, twelve wins. Texas were going back to The Rose Bowl.
The Greatest Game Ever?
Before the days of College Football Playoffs, the National Championship was decided between the teams ranked #1 and #2 in the polls at the end of the season. The four major bowl games would share the honour of hosting the championship game – The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl taking turns in a four-year cycle. In 2005 it was the turn of The Rose Bowl to host the big game in Pasadena, California. Texas were going back to the stadium where some say it all started when they beat Michigan to end 2004.
This time they would be facing the home-state favourite. The undefeated, #1 ranked University of Southern California had won the National Championship last year after beating Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. They were riding a 34-game winning streak that spanned across three seasons, although many of these wins would be later vacated due to NCAA sanctions. A mere twenty minute drive away from Pasadena, USC weren’t only the favourites – they essentially had homefield advantage.
They were worthy opponents for the greatest prize in college football, with a roster just as star-studded as The Longhorns’. Names such as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker, Mark Sanchez, Frostee Rucker, Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis, Brian Cushing, Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga were all to go on to be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. And in Pete Carroll they had one of the brightest and most innovative coaches in football at the helm. Even before a ball had been kicked this was shaping up to be a classic.
Roses Are Burnt Orange
The game did not disappoint. Tense and nervy in the first half, each team traded blows whilst their defenses remained resilient. USC jumped out to an early lead as they led on the ground game; Lendale White pummeling the ball between the tackles to move the chains for The Trojans. But the Longhorns hit back in the second quarter and had a slender lead of six points at the half. Amidst all the fervour in the lockerroom, Brown quietened his team down and simply asked them one question:
“How much fun is this?!”
It helped his team get loose. He told them to make the big plays count – in the first half Texas had forced some mistakes from the offense but they hadn’t capitalised on them. They would need to give everything they had for the next thirty minutes to win – and to their credit, USC made damn sure of that.
The third quarter was nothing like the first half. Three lead changes saw USC grab the momentum – Lendale White again leading the charge before Reggie Bush finally got into the game with a 26 yard touchdown run that ended with a leap to the pylon. The Trojans further grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck when Matt Leinart – who had earlier been knocked out of the game with a brutal hit – found Dwayne Jarrett who forced the ball across the line for the score. USC were up by 12 with six minutes remaining. Was the game slipping away from the Longhorns?
Cementing His Legacy
Mack Brown didn’t think so. After the game he was quoted as saying that six minutes ‘is an eternity in college football’. And he was right – Texas had all of their timeouts remaining and even with Reggie Bush, had the most dynamic playmaker on the field. Vince Young was already a hero in Austin, and the most of Texas for that matter. Earlier in the game he’d lateralled the ball to Selvin Young after a big run that resulted in a touchdown – something Bush had tried earlier for the Trojans that resulted in a turnover. These were the moments Brown was referring to at halftime. Did Young have more magic up his sleeve?
You bet he did. Young orchestrated a 2 minute, 39 second touchdown drive that ended with him taking off and diving for the endzone for the score. Game on. A five-point deficit with four minutes remaining wasn’t insurmountable, but the Texas defense needed to get a stop. The Tojans had been successful on third downs all day, but found themselves with a fourth and two just past midfield. Brusing tailback LenDale White’s number was called, but with the game on the line The Longhorns defense held him to one and a half of the two yards required. After a nervy wait for the chain gang to come out and measure, Texas had the ball back in the hands of their star quarterback.
Words cannot do the rest of this story justice, so i’ll leave it to the dulcet tones of Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts to take you home. On the final drive of his college football career, Vince Young achieves Texas immortality:
Vince Young’s 467 yards of total offense is still a Rose Bowl record to this day. A performance for the ages in a game for the ages, Young’s endeavours not just in the championship game but throughout the season had helped Mack Brown and the Longhorns finally get over the hump. Despite having one of the greatest seasons in history, Young didn’t win the Heisman Trophy. That honour went to Reggie Bush, who later vacated the honour after admitting to taking money from boosters throughout his time at USC. Young did win the Manning Award given to the top quarterback in the nation, and went on to be the #3 pick in the NFL Draft three months later for the Tennessee Titans.
Young’s professional career sadly never hit the heights of his collegiate one. He started for The Titans the first two years, winning 18 games and making the playoffs in 2007. But an injury the following season saw him replaced by Kerry Collins who took them all the way to a 13-3 record. Despite winning more games and earning comeback player of the year in 2009, Young’s star went down with head coach Jeff Fisher’s, who was fired at the end of 2010.
Young wasn’t offered a new contract and headed to Philly in free agency. At the time Andy Reid had embarked upon an acquisition of explosive talent that Young dubbed as ‘the dream team’, a touch premature for a team that went on to finish 8-8. Young played three games for the Eagles losing two of them. Despite later stints at Buffalo, Green Bay and Cleveland, they would prove to be the final games in his NFL career.
In the lockerroom after the National Championship victory, Mack Brown addressed his players, thanking them for a historic season. As is his nature, he implored them all to strive for more, whatever journey their lives took:
“I don’t want this to be the best thing to ever happen to you. It’s a fantastic achievement, one of the greatest games and seasons that you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. But going forward there is so much out there to achieve, as a family man, as a part of the community. Never forget this moment – but make sure there are many more just like it”.
Brown never tasted the same success again at Texas. They returned to the National Championship game in the 2009 season after defeating Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Once again they headed to the Rose Bowl, this time to face Nick Saban’s Alabama. Sadly an injury to star quarterback Colt McCoy derailed the Longhorns who had looked the better team, and The Crimson Tide galloped to a 37-21 victory. It marked the beginning of the end for Brown, who had five more seasons at Texas but never won another conference title. Regardless, he’ll be forever remembered for the 158 wins, and what Texas achieved in 2005.
After six years in the studio, Brown surprisingly returned to the sidelines in 2019. Returning to Chapel Hill he immediately improved North Carolina’s record from one win the season before to seven his first year in charge, including a bowl win. He’s also been turning heads with an astonishing recruiting class, showing he’s lost none of his magnetism at the ripe old age of 68.
'Vince Young Day'
After a brief spell in the CFL, Young retired from professional football. He returned to The University of Texas for a spell, working as a community engagement and development officer to help low-income college students. Sadly Young was removed from this position by the university for repeated absences, and it’s not the only problems he has faced since the end of his football career. Twice Young has been arrested for drink-driving, and came close to bankruptcy in 2014 after spending much of the $34m he earned during his time in the NFL. He’s had someone impersonate him and a baseball player use his likeness to sell products. Needless to say the excitement Young produced on the field didn’t end when he stepped away from it.
Thankfully, Young’s troubles seem to be behind him. As an honour to his performance in the National Championship game, January 10th was named ‘Vince Young Day’, firstly in his hometown of Houston and later for the whole state of Texas. UK fans may have seen him on Sky Sports’ NFL coverage acting as an analyst. With the game heading towards the increased usage of dual threat quarterbacks, you could consider Young a trailblazer. Who better to break down Lamar Jackson than a guy who was doing it fifteen years earlier?
Despite the words of Mack Brown, I get the feeling January 10th 2006 was the pinnacle of achievement for Vince Young. But that’s okay. To know you were the MVP of the greatest ever college football game in history, on the game’s greatest stage, is something nobody else will ever experience.
Vince Young is a legend. You can’t do better than that.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.