Friday, February 24, 2006

Rose Bowl Requiem

Did you see Chicago? remember when Zelwenger's Roxie watches Lucy Lu
gets dragged into jail and she realizes her 15 minutes are up? Flicker, go the lights. Snap, goes the neon. Darkness.

That's what I thought of as SC's players walked around on the field
after the game, stunned and aimless, thier faces suddenly 15 lbs and 10
years heavier, seeing for the first time the cameras all pointing the other way.
Welcome to the rest of your life, kid. We've been waitin'.

It was quite a run. It started four years ago the night Carson tore
apart once-beaten Notre Dame.
It ended last night.
It ended, technically, when VY ran it in, on a busted play, on 4th
down, probably the all-time least surprising, most-predictable
championship-clinching 4th-down in history. I mean, who ELSE was going
to make a play on either side of the ball? Who else, to that point,
But really, it ended - the game, the streak, the magic - the second
Reggie Bush made that astonishing lateral-attempt inside the Texas 20.
His reasons are easy to understand but impossible to believe. At that
moment - for the first time since Carson-ND - one of the cogs in USC's
machine forgot how to win.
There's been the down games, the big deficits, the ND squeeker and
all the rest. There was even the two fourth downs SC failed to pick up
in this game, either one of which would have won it.
but never - not once - has one of USC's go-to players mistaken
stupid for bold. Not once had somebody panicked. Until that moment.
And then - buzz-snap - it was over.

I stayed excited and nervous and stomped around the living room
through the bitter end (even fired off a cocky TM to a friend at the
game when SC took a 12 point lead) but from that Reggie disaster on, I
had an It's-Over pit in my stomach I haven't had said Carson put up his
fourth TD pass of the night on Next-Rockne Willingham.
Reggie, both on the stat sheet and in every observable way, never
recovered. nice little run at the end with a flying walenda finish,
but even that felt empty. And you could see when they followed him to
the bench, moments later, he was still haunted.
The cold reality is, Reggie lost that game, and it was probably the
biggest post-Heisman bust since Detmer.
Surprisingly, Reggie's self-emolation didn't spread to Leinart and
White, who were simply marvelous (I hung my hopes, in fact, on the
notion that White would rise to the occasion of replacing Reggie in
this brightest of spotlights).

But "marvelous," it turns out, gets off two exits before Vince Young.

I have little to say about VY - he's a witch. He's Tiger in pads.
He's a joke. I could go on but I'll leave that to... everybody.

(VY aside 1: by far, the most delicious post-game moment was watching
ESPN's top bimbo, Kirk Herbstriet, try to simultaneously keep from
throwing up in his mouth while trying to climb on the VY wagon, weighed
down by the full weight of his month-long, any-open-mic campaign to
declare Reggie Bush "the greatest college player I've ever seen." When
UT's linemen stormed the stage, I thought he was going to cry -
fabulous moment)

So Leinart and Bush and White and that whole team doesn't get 3 (and
yes - it would have been 3), and now never will. I think after going
to the trouble of winning so damn many in a row, it would have been
nice to see them finish. But now we clearly know that VY was always
the best player in the country, by miles. It's only been 40 minutes
since the game, and already his non-win at the Heisman has that ghostly
"did I really grow a fu-manchu in '96?"-feel to it.

(VY aside 2: second most delicious moment was Lee Corso not asking or
suggesting but DEMANDING that VY be taken first in the draft - one week
after the incessant, month-long ESPN-led "Reggie Bush Sweepstakes"
drumbeat climaxed in the niners-texans "Reggie Bush Bowl")

All the things they're saying now are wrong:
- first and foremost: not a 'great game' though it had highlights.
The finish was fun, and any time evenly matched teams go for it on 4th
down five times, you've got something. But 5 first-half trips in the
redzone for SC and they score once? And how many turnovers for UT?
And how many drives stayed alive on penalties? Great games are when
two teams take turns cashing in opportunities, not blowing them.
- under no circumstances could USC have possibly NOT gone for it on 4th
down at the end; first off, they were rolling; second, they're SC;
and third, VY had 3 timeouts and almost 3 minutes - he was going to
score from Riverside if he got the ball.
- Mack Brown still can't win a big game and Greg Davis still should be
fired; all 3 of VYs rushing TDs, his (kneedown) downfield pitch for a
TD, the 2-pter and most of everything else (including his biggest
openfield run) were broken-play VY improvs. Just like last year's Rose
Bowl. Just like everything in the Mack-VY era, all the way back to
that 4th-and-27 at Kansas. Greg Davis apparently knows how to draw up
a flip over the middle to a tight end, though, and he should be
congratulated for it.
- Vince's knee WAS down on that pitch, and it's utterly meaningless;
UT (like USC if Reggie hadn't pitched) would have gone in for the TD
within 3 plays anyway.
- the one bad call that did matter was the by-a-mile fumble on the pass
over the middle, but it led only to 3 points, not enough to truly get
pissed about.
- (disclaimer: the last two items are not blame-the-refs whining - but
both of those calls are in heavy rotation in the post-game shows.
that's my rebuttal)
- I suppose I was going to be bitter, no matter what, but here's what I
want: just one - JUST ONE - of the grinning stooges on the networks to
say: "USC is 4 TDs better than Texas - but Vince is worth 5." Anybody
want to seriously dispute that? Any evidence at all to the contrary?
What would be so taboo about saying it? WHERE THE HELL IS TREV!!!

I guess in the end, the harder they really do fall. It took maybe
20 minutes for the Kings of LA to morph before our eyes into sloppy
has-beens - not quite Celebrity Fit Club, but headed down that road.
We got a chance to see what Matt Leinart looks like wearing a bad loss,
and it was incredibly unattractive: he was whiny and bitchy and pouty
after the game. ESPN said he and Reggie visited the UT lockerroom to
congratulate them, but that "class" (my least favorite of all sports
non-words) didn't show up to the cameras. He looked like one of the
Laguna kids after losing a cell-phone bitch-off.
What little I saw of Reggie in the post-game was pure shell shock.
even if nobody reading this agrees with me that Reggie lost the game
for SC, I'm quite sure Reggie does.

(VY aside 3: until last night, he'd said "i'll be back" more than the
Governator, but about 14 seconds after the whistle he wanted to "sit
down with my family and make the best decision for everyone" - time to
earn your $25 mil, Mack)

I am never interested in "would he make a good pro?" talk, but I
will confess to some fascination over the fall-out of this game. Did
we just see VY leap into the top 5? Into #1? Did Reggie just fall
out? Did Leinart just lose 7-figures in signing bonus? Did LenDale
White just pick them up?
Corso's spittle-fit aside, VY can't play like that in the pros (for
the same reason that, a week ago, it was ridiculous to even discuss
whether or not USC could beat an NFL team) and he absolutely showed no
sign of being able to throw NFL passes. And, PLEASE, enough with his
"most efficient passer in the nation" thing. I'd be efficient too if 9
guys were on the line to stop me from running and my recievers averaged
6-8. VY didn't throw a single timing pattern, a single accurate deep
ball or a single on-the-money sideline route all night. Not one. He
dinked to his tight end, hit streakers over the middle and dumped to
running backs.
That will win you State 5A Championships and, evidently, beat SC in
the Big Game, but it won't beat The Patriots.
Enough VY-as-a-pro abuse. It's his night.
But how far did Bush fall? This was the next Hershell, the guy who
you could pick-and-trade for multiple pro-bowlers. That kid? One dumb
play and he climbs under the bench - you want him? If all you had was
that tape, and you had to take Bush or LenDale - any doubts? Hell,
you'd probably take UT's running back, whoever that was. Or Limas
Sweed (hands down, best name of the Bowl season).
And Leinart? Maybe he's still the next Payton - but maybe he's the
next Leif.
no, that's too harsh - not only did he lose his first game since 7th
grade or whatever, but he had to sit there and NOT rip his own defense
for losing it. that can't be easy. And what was he - 17-for-19 in
the second half? Are you kidding? He needs to stop showing up drunk
on the internet with bimbos, but he's a player.

And finally - lost like tears in rain in the middle of it all was
the fabulous performance by Dwayne Jarrett. Prior to 4th-and-Green
Jersies, I considered him a tall, good-on-paper bust who appeared to be
on scholarship to drop third downs. Since 4th-and-That-Grass, he's
been a revelation. And he was retard-good last night, bailing out
Leinart (and everybody else) over and over, and, on his final catch,
causing two of UT's excellent Dbacks to run into each other so hard,
one broke his arm and the other broke his head. Jarrett stepped
between them and fell back over the line for a TD. Absurd performance.

But not enough to beat VY.

So that's it. it's over - bring on Booty or, I suspect, Sanchez.
Bring on the next two guys who can run and four or five Parade All
Americans who can hit. Build it from the ground up again. Mix in a
loss or two to Oregon or Cal or whatever. Even drop one to ND, so we
can go back the next year ready to pick back up.
I hope UT runs with it for a while - the number, the streak, the
bullseye, the 'nothing lasts forever' behind every corner. Let's see
just how deep a hole Mack can dig in Waco or Boulder or even Austin
before VY runs out of rope to pull him out. Lord knows they both just
earned it.

Carson to VY. thanks for reading along. as the bad 80s band nearly
said: the streak is over, you were with me all the while.
(wow. bookended with bad Chicago references. I couldn't be prouder)

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