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PASADENA, Calif. - From listening to television analysts in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl, the Texas Longhorns may have wondered whether they even needed to make the trip to Pasadena, Calif. At least in the media, the game had been decided. The unstoppable Trojans of USC, defending national champions and winners of 34 straight games, would trounce Texas. Just one question remained: Was the 2005 USC team the greatest college football team ever? Days before the Jan. 4 BCS National Championship game, ESPN analyst Mark May gave the Trojans credit for being the second-best team in the past 50 years.
Of course, Texas coach Mack Brown knows an opportunity when he sees it. "Yeah, I really appreciate you all," Mr. Brown told reporters the day before the game. "You've been really good. I don't need a pre-game talk." Nothing seems to get college athletes going more than being disrespected. For what it's worth, football pundits even before the game delivered to Texas something Mr. Brown could turn into a psychological advantage. And instead of taking the word of experts and pundits, Texas players-most of them virtually unknown as a result of the USC press frenzy-listened to their coaches and star quarterback Vince Young when they said Texas was every bit as good as Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Southern Cal.
Indeed, what most analysts seemed to have forgotten became unforgettable. The Rose Bowl game turned out to be an instant classic. Texas quarterback Vince Young's game-winning scramble didn't just virtually give the Longhorns their first national championship in more than 30 years with a 41-38 win, but it simultaneously tarnished Mr. Bush's Heisman Trophy and served nearly every pigskin prognosticator a heaping helping of crow.
After time ran out and Texas claimed victory, burnt-orange-clad Texas fans crowded near the set of ABC's post-game show. There, Texas fans chanted, "Best team ever," at Mark May and other members of the panel as the show went live. It wasn't so much a statement of belief as it was an ironic twist. If ESPN had decided this USC team was the second-best team ever, it would stand to reason that Texas, which beat the Trojans, would have been No. 1 on that list.
USC coach Pete Carroll had no problem respecting the Longhorns, saying after the game that the loss did not make him angry: "It makes me feel differently than if we had lost to somebody we shouldn't."