For the most part, Southern California couldn't even lay a hand on Vince Young, which had to be the most unbelievable part of the most unbelievable performance of 2006. The year may have been just five days old, but the heroics stood up – to Dwyane Wade, to Tiger Woods, to David Eckstein – deservedly winning the Yahoo! Sports fan voting for Story of the Year.
Young didn't just make touchdown dash after touchdown dash in the fourth quarter of the BCS title game, driving Texas to a 41-38 victory. It seemed at times like he could have done it had they been playing touch football out there, just slipping by defenders as they grasped for air and dove after shadows.
Everyone in the overstuffed Rose Bowl knew Young was getting it out of the shotgun on every play, everyone knew that unless a Longhorn receiver was wide open Young was running, yet USC had no answer. The Trojans could have lined up the team photo on defense and Young would have found a way to weave through it for another score.
USC entered the game boasting a 34-game win streak, two Heisman Trophy winners and a recent ESPN hype machine special that compared them to some of the best teams ever. Texas had Vince Young.
Football is the ultimate team game, but if there ever were a night that one player dominated the proceedings, the way a guy can in basketball, then this was it.
Young completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards. He rushed 19 times for 200 yards, three touchdowns and a two-point conversation, including the game winner on fourth down with 19 seconds remaining. He had another play where he was downfield on a scramble, drew the entire SC defense to him, and flipped a lateral to a teammate for another TD.
He was simply incredible.
"[He] ran all over the place," Trojans coach Pete Carroll said. "It [was] extremely frustrating. We'd look like we were going to sack him and not sack him."
Young was so dominant that with 2:09 remaining and USC holding a 38-33 lead and faced with fourth-and-3, Carroll chose not to punt the Longhorns into the longest of fields and instead went for it. The reasoning, in part, was that if Young got the ball back, even with 99 yards to go, USC was in trouble. Everyone knew it. There could be no second guessing of Carroll for violating Football 101.
"We told [the defense] that if you stop this fourth down, we're going to win the national championship," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Texas held. Young got the ball. And the Trojans hardly laid a hand on him.
For the rest of 2006's memorable moments – from the perspective of a sports writer who gets to see so much of the great stuff firsthand – here is my own personal scrapbook, starting with V.Y.
A real scream January 5, 2006
PASADENA, Calif. – Vince Young had the ball, and Trojans fans knew that soon enough his Longhorns would have the national title.
The long and winding road January 13, 2006
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Texas Western showed plenty of guts in winning the 1966 NCAA title, but a bitter backlash preceded the glory.
Reggie's self-revelation February 4, 2006
DETROIT – In his final years, Reggie White questioned what exactly the Bible was teaching him.
From Steel Town to Motown February 5, 2006
DETROIT – The city of Pittsburgh came in full force and earned a just reward for never throwing in the towel.
False advertising February 12, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy – Whether Bode Miller believed the hype is unclear, but it's obvious he wasn't ready for prime time.
A man of letters February 13, 2006
TURIN, Italy – Joey Cheek is a dynamic, well-spoken, gold medal-winning speedskater. So why can't he get into Harvard?
Finding Wooden's head March 30, 2006
MARTINSVILLE, Ind. – Dan goes back in the hopes of solving the mystery of the statue that is, but isn't, John Wooden.
Great white nope April 12, 2006
Do white people really fear Barry Bonds passing Babe Ruth's 714? If so, where do these white people exist?
Father's Day June 14, 2006
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – Father's Day and golf: two traditions that go hand-in-hand for Tiger Woods – and countless others.
Southern comfort June 20, 2006
RALEIGH, N.C. – When they needed it most, the Hurricanes gathered strength from the unwavering support of the Carolina faithful.
The only Air apparent June 21, 2006
DALLAS – In carrying the Heat to the NBA title, Dwyane Wade proved he has what it takes to be the next Jordan.
Take back the title September 15, 2006
USC should forfeit the 2004 national crown after reports that Reggie Bush and his family appear to have accepted financial benefits from prospective agents.
Last of a dying breed September 19, 2006
NHL games used to be about the fights as much as the goals. But with Tie Domi's retirement, that era is gone for good.
Caught looking October 22, 2006
DETROIT – Major League Baseball left the bat on its shoulder in doing nothing about the foreign substance on Kenny Rogers' pitching hand.
Sticking to his guns October 23, 2006
DETROIT – In Tony La Russa's world, winning by having Kenny Rogers tossed wouldn't have been winning at all.
Management principles October 28, 2006
ST. LOUIS – Tony La Russa won't take credit, but his players know he's the secret to their success.
Remembering Schembechler November 17, 2006
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Bo Schembechler was much more than just the winningest coach in Michigan's history.
Tough man on campus November 18, 2006
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Troy Smith is electrifying, but that's not the main reason he again led Ohio State past Michigan.
A true champion December 5, 2006
ATLANTA – A playoff system needs a champion, and Florida, ironically, may be the school to provide the right man for the job.
Doing it his way December 21, 2006
LUBBOCK, Texas – Bob Knight is closing in on becoming the winningest coach in NCAA hoops history – and he got here doing things his way.