Longhorns bask in championship glow
LOS ANGELES -- It didn't take long for Texas coach Mack Brown to understand how this national championship thing works. He got a wake-up call at 6 a.m. Thursday from President George W. Bush.
"Sally asked me if I was awake and wanted to take it," Brown deadpanned, referring to his wife. "I said, 'I think so.'"
In the wake of the Longhorns' 41-38 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl Wednesday night, cell phones filled up. Longhorn eyes filled up, too. The sight of Brown calling former coach Darrell K. Royal to the stage in the media room to have their picture taken behind the crystal football would have melted the most fractured Trojan heart.
Sitting on the stage with Brown were senior All-American safety Michael Huff, tight end David Thomas, who caught 10 passes, six of them for first downs, and, of course, Bush's latest successor as the governor of Texas, Vince Young.
As Brown and the players posed with the four different No. 1 trophies, the junior quarterback couldn't help himself. Young ruffled Thomas' hair, and kept playing with the back of Huff's head. Like the USC defense on Wednesday night, Young's teammates couldn't stop him, either.
Young's 267 yards passing and 200 yards rushing will be talked about for as long as Texas fans flash the Hook 'Em sign. He reveled in the joy he saw in his teammates after he scored the winning touchdown from 8 yards out with 19 seconds to play.
"All I do is go out there and play for my teammates and do whatever it takes to get the W," Young said. "Just to see them guys' eyes, their emotion, that's a memorable moment for me that I'll remember for the rest of my life."
The emotion of what he accomplished didn't hit him until he went back to his room at the Hyatt Century Plaza early Thursday morning.
"The tears hit me last night when I got in from hanging out," Young said. "I laid in bed and I was listening to ESPN for a little bit. I mean, everybody was asleep and I kind of went on the balcony and just sat out there and had my little words with the man upstairs, and they basically came down. I'm just a real blessed guy to be in the position I am right now."
The media conference turned into Young and the Restless, the latter being the questioners who demanded to know the junior's plans regarding the NFL. He repeated his answers from Wednesday night. Young will sit down with his family, and with Brown, some time before the mid-January deadline.
Brown came up with a new answer: shut up.
"We want our guys to enjoy this moment," he said. "You've got to enjoy the run, and as soon as we get through with one, somebody is asking him a question about something else. How many people get this moment? We would expect you all to allow him to enjoy it for the day."
Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who also attended the media conference, both said the worst thing they could do would be to recruit Young to return.
"He's done as much for the University of Texas as any single student-athlete in any sport has ever done," Brown said. "So how ungracious of us to try to force him into making a selfish decision. Like I said, if he's back and unhappy, that's the worst thing you can possibly have."
Davis, who has shepherded a shy kid from the inner city of Houston into the player who gave one of the greatest performances in the history of the sport Wednesday night, said there is plenty for Young to work on, should he decide to return.
"He made a big jump from last year in his presnap decisions," said Davis, who has been Brown's offensive coordinator at Texas and at North Carolina since 1996. "There's another jump left in him. That jump is only presnap decisions, but giving him more freedom at the line of scrimmage."
In other words, watch out for the Longhorns to use more empty-backfield sets next year, if Young returns. Davis ceded more decisions to Young as the season wore on. His statistics illustrate the improvement. Young became the first player in Division I-A history to finish with 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing (3,036 and 1,050, respectively). He finished third in passing efficiency (163.9), pretty good for a guy whose passing has been doubted since he began playing in 2003.
"This year, he started dropping the ball down to the backs more," Davis said. "Last year, it was push down the field. He's getting more comfortable in the pocket. His play-action has improved greatly. His ball handling has improved greatly."
Davis surely beamed when someone asked Young how he made it look so easy.
"You know, it's very easy when you study."
After the Rose Bowl, Young's national profile has improved greatly, too. According to preliminary figures released Thursday, more than 35 million viewers watched Texas and USC prove why they're the two best offenses in the nation.
"So often a game that gets the hype like this doesn't live up to the hype," Brown said, "and I thought the game was probably better than the hype."
Now comes the celebration in Austin, where the football team lit the tower on campus for the first time since 1970. Texas will be celebrated even in the grocery aisles. In one corner of the room Thursday stood an oversized poster of a Wheaties box that commemorates the Longhorns' national championship.
After the celebration comes signing day -- Texas already has 24 commitments -- and spring practice starts on Feb. 24. There will be a trip to the White House in there somewhere.
Next year's team will begin the season with a 20-game winning streak.
"Next year's team," Brown said, "hasn't won a game."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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