Football Writers Association of America 2006 BEST WRITING CONTEST

David Barron, Houston Chronicle

PASADENA, CALIF. – In the capital city of Texas, on the campus that produced the grandest team of the 2005 college football season, the Tower glows orange. It shines for an iron-willed, unstoppable magician from Houston's south side named Vince Young. It gleams for a defense that scratched and clawed and repelled a seemingly unstoppable offense in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter.

It burns for the University of Texas Longhorns, 41-38 victors against the Southern California Trojans in the BCS national championship game Wednesday night at the Rose Bowl.

On a night when the Trojans enjoyed stellar performances not only from their two Heisman Trophy winners, quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush, but from running back LenDale White and wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, the Longhorns trumped excellence with magnificence.

Trailing 38-33, Texas took possession at its own 44-yard line with 2:09 to play after the Longhorns' defense held USC on downs for the first time in the second half. Before 93,986 fans, Young marched Texas downfield and scored on an 8-yard run with 19 seconds to play. Young ran 19 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards, and lifted a program wishing and hoping for its first national championship since 1970 onto his back.

David Barron
Houston Chronicle
Age: 53
College: Texas
Background: Barron has written about Texas college football since 1980 as a reporter and editor for the Houston Chronicle, United Press International, the Waco Tribune-Herald and Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine. Barron graduated from John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas, where he saw Earl Campbell play his first high school game in 1971. Barron graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and worked for The Tyler Courier-Times-Telegraph before joining the Waco Tribune-Herald in 1978. He began working in 1980 with Dave Campbell on Texas Football magazine, serving as managing editor from 1990 through 2004. Today Barron remains the magazine’s longest-tenured contributor. After working five years at UPI's Dallas bureau, Barron joined the Houston Chronicle in 1990 and has worked as assistant sports editor (1993- 2004), Olympics writer and sports television-radio writer.

And then, at midfield of the grand old stadium in the Arroyo Seco, with cameras flashing and confetti flying, he contemplated the object of his affection – the BCS national championship trophy.

"It's so beautiful. Don't you think it's beautiful?" Young said. "And it's coming home to Texas – all the way to Austin, Texas, baby."

As with every significant victory of a Texas football team, the university bathes its Main Building, the landmark Tower, in orange lights.

The white lights shaping the numeral 1 will come tonight as coach Mack Brown brings the title trophy back to Austin to celebrate the final victory of the 2005 Longhorns – possibly the greatest team in 112 seasons of Texas football.

Trojans' streak ends at 34

The Trojans entered the national championship game with a 34-game win streak and aspirations of immortality as the only program to win three consecutive national championships.

They were as good as advertised. Leinart completed 29 of 40 passes for 365 yards and a touchdown. Bush totaled 177 yards on runs and passes, including a 26- yard touchdown run that will warm the hearts of the Houston Texans, his probable NFL employer. White rumbled for 124 yards and three touchdowns, and Jarrett had 10 catches for 121 yards and a fourth-quarter score that appeared to be the kill shot to Texas' championship hopes.

Young, however, was undeterred. He ran 17 yards for a touchdown with 4:03 to play to pull the Longhorns within 38-33, then turned it over to the Texas defense, which had allowed four consecutive touchdowns to squander a 16-10 halftime lead.

And the defense responded. USC coach Pete Carroll elected to go for the first down on fourth-and-2 from the Texas 45 with 2:09 to go, and All-America safety Michael Huff stopped White a yard short.

"We knew all we had to do is make that stop," said Rod Wright, the Longhorns' All-America defensive lineman from Houston. "All we had to do was make the stop, and we knew Vince was going to get it into the end zone for us."

And he did. Young had runs of 7 and 5 yards and completed passes of 7 yards to Quan Cosby, aided by a facemask penalty, and 9 and 17 yards to Brian Carter to take the ball to the USC 8-yard line with 30 seconds to play.

After throwing incomplete in the end zone to Limas Sweed, Young, facing fourth-and-5, took the shotgun snap, broke up the middle and veered right, then scored a touchdown that certainly brought tears of joy to the eyes of Texas.

"It was really surreal when we were sitting in the fourth quarter and we were down by two scores, and you think you're going to win," Brown said. "You're playing a team that has won 34 straight games, and momentum is turning, and your defense is struggling. But we never thought we would lose the ballgame."

Picking up pace

With Texas leading 16-10 at the half, both offenses kicked into gear in the third quarter - Texas led by Young's scrambles out of the zone read option and passes to David Thomas and Sweed, and USC led by Leinart's quick outs to Jarrett and White's bruising runs. First the Trojans went up 17-16 on White's 3-yard TD run and Mario Danelo's PAT with their opening possession of the third quarter. Then Texas led 23-17 when Young kept on the zone read option from the 14, dashed for the right pylon and dove across for the score.

White's 12-yard run on fourth-and-1 gave USC a 24- 23 edge, and after David Pino missed a 34-yard fieldgoal try to open the fourth quarter, Bush broke away for his best run of the game. He swept right from the 26, beat Texas safety Michael Griffin to the corner, dashed down the sideline and somersaulted over the goal line to put the Trojans up 31-23.

Texas pulled within five on a 34-yard field goal by Pino, but USC drove 80 yards, capped by Leinart's 22- yard laser over the middle to Jarrett, who scored with 6:42 to play.

While offense ruled the second half, defense was the critical factor in the early going as Texas had three defensive stops inside its 25-yard line.

The biggest came when Leinart's pass from the Texas 25 was intercepted in the end zone by Griffin. Officials first ruled the pass incomplete but allowed the interception after a replay review.


Comment by the judge, Corky Simpson: The winner has a special crackle to it. The writer accomplished the near impossible by taking an event almost too big for words – the One Great Game of the year – and bringing it into sharp focus. The logic supports the rhetoric and the quotes fit, rather than dominate, the story. The lead is outstanding and the narrative compelling. This is an extremely well-told tale.

• Second place: Ted Miller, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
• Third place: Ian R. Rapoport, Jackson Clarion-Ledger
• Honorable mention: David Teel, Newport News Daily Press; Embele Awipi, Salinas Californian; Bud Withers, Seattle Times; Pete Thamel, The New York Times