Those fans engaged in conversation and forgot about me, but given the chance, I would have told them that Mack Brown has the building blocks in place for a national championship through his recruiting, attention to detail, hiring of quality assistants and running a clean program (unlike, say, Ohio State).
Four hours later, we had more evidence of that. But it was inauspicious start in the Arroyo Seco. Cedric Benson hyperextended his left knee on UT's first offensive play and the Longhorns were forced to look elsewhere for a way to win.
It wasn't going to be by defense. Michigan's offensive coordinator Terry Malone is one of college football's most innovative OC's and he kept the Longhorns off-balance almost all day.
Using every formation known to man, a brilliant receiver in Braylon Edwards, a veteran offensive line with plenty of hair on their chests and an outstanding freshman combination in quarterback Chad Henne and running back Mike Hart, Malone burned the Longhorn defense for 37 points.
By continually switching its tight end, Michigan caused massive alignment shifts by Texas and for the first time all season the offensive guards and center were able to handle Rodrique Wright, Aaron Harris and Larry Dibbles. The Wolverines' three were better than the Horns' inside three. Holes were created in the second half that sent Hart into the secondary untouched.
Derrick Johnson was not at his best against the hammering attack of Michigan. He is no Tommy Nobis; standing up a blocker is not one of his better skills.
Near the goalline, Texas refused to play man-to-man in the secondary which allowed Edwards to make virtually unguarded eight- and nine-yard touchdown catches.
From my viewpoint, one of the only Texas defensive highlights of the day was freshman Derek Lokey from Denton Ryan High School beating the block of 6-5, 307-pound All-American David Baas of Michigan for a huge tackle for loss on Hart which forced a crucial Michigan punt in the fourth quarter.
If anyone can figure out why Texas continued to kick off to Steve Breaston they need to write a letter to Inside Texas. Breaston returned six kickoffs for 221 yards. Any coach of a sane mind would have taken away this kid's chances on the last four by rolling the ball on the ground, kicking opposite his left deep alignment or kicking the ball out of bounds. None of these options was tried and the results could well have cost Texas a Rose Bowl victory.
Don't get the impression that the Texas defense quit trying to stop Michigan. The D did force two field goals in the fourth quarter, although the last came about on a strange third-and-one call by the Wolverines from the Texas 32-yardline with 3:04 to play. At the time, Michigan's offensive line and Mike Hart owned Texas. But instead of a run to pick up the first, Michigan tried a sideways pass that went incomplete and stopped the clock. The field goal gave Blue the lead but it also gave the ball back to the Longhorn offense, which at the time had more firepower than the B-2 Stealth Bomber that performed a spectacular flyover just before kickoff. The score was 37-35 Michigan.
Ramonce Taylor took the Michigan kickoff and burst to the Texas 34-yardline. His fourth quarter kickoff returns made up for an earlier costly freshman mistake, a careless punt fumble in the second quarter that allowed Michigan to tie the score just before halftime.
After Ramonce's return, with 93,468 in the Rose Bowl on their feet and TV sets across the country tuned in, Vince Young went to work.
Greg Davis had found the key to unlocking the Wolverine defense: the rollback pass action off a run fake to Benson. It got Young on the corner which is like a match to gasoline. What made it all come together is the instant recognition of receivers becoming blockers downfield when Young decided to run. David Thomas, Tony Jeffery, Limas Sweed, Bo Scaife and Benson threw key blocks on Young's dashes.
On the drive, Young got nine yards and out of bounds in front of the Texas bench. Benson rammed for a first down. Young passed to Bo Scaife for eight yards to the Michigan 44 as Benson picked up a dangerous corner blitz. Young worked the ball down to the Wolverine 19 and two plays later Benson fought to get the ball to the left hash. Very important positioning for a field goal.
Remember what Arkansas forgot to do in Fayetteville way back in September? The Razorbacks only needed a field goal to beat Texas but they got greedy. Perhaps Coach Brown had that flashback; he decided to turn the fate of the Longhorns over to Dusty Mangum.
After two consecutive timeouts, with the Rose Bowl crowd roaring either "Hail to the Victors" or "Texas Fight", with prayers going heavenward for success or failure, I'm hoping God stays out of it. Let's see what this kid has got inside, I think to myself.
Dusty hits a spinning, partially-tipped, slightly-hooking kick that puts a shadow on the right crossbar as it sails through -- forever good!
The Texas team received the Rose Bowl trophy and Vince Young earned most valuable player honors. Those speech courses at Houston Madison High School that coach Ray Seals forced Vince to take paid off because Young spoke with class and showed he was a team player.
If they still exist, those Texas fans that are down on Mack Brown and down on Vince Young are losing ammunition. This was Mack Brown's finest moment at Texas so far and with Vince Young under center it looks bright for at least next year; actually, for the next 10 years of Mack's contract. I tried to tell 'em...
Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.