Big 12 Football Championship: From 'roll left' to 'there's no place like home'
Vince Young was 13 years old when "roll left" became the biggest phrase in Texas since "Remember the Alamo."
"Roll left" was the call then-Texas Coach John Mackovic made on a fourth-and-inches play that sparked the Longhorns to victory against heavily-favored Nebraska in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game in the then-TWA Dome in St. Louis on Dec. 7, 1996.
Leading the Huskers 30-27 with 2:40 to play, Texas was on its 28-yard line when quarterback James Brown rolled left and lofted a pass to tight end Derek Lewis, who turned the catch and run into a 61-yard gain. Priest Holmes scored on the next play to ice the game for Texas.
"Ten years ago?" said Lewis in a tone of mock horror. "I can't believe I'm getting that old. You're making me feel old."
Asked if any of the players had asked him about the play, Lewis, who is a graduate assistant coach, said, "Not a one."
Lewis, a sophomore on that team, said the play was designed for Brown to run.
"But when we broke the huddle, James looked at me and mouthed, 'Derek, be ready,''' Lewis recalled. "Nebraska bit on the fake and I was alone -- all alone. James threw the ball softly. He almost shot-putted the ball and it seemed to stay up forever.
"I remember saying, 'Hurry up (ball) and get here.'"
It got there and Lewis took off -- still very much alone.
"Derek was watching himself run on the Jumbotron," said Men's Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, remembering the play in Texas' appearance in the first-ever Big 12 Championship Game.
Lewis acknowledged such.
"I was and I saw a defensive back coming up on me, so I cradled the ball," Lewis said. "And, I would like to say that DB ran a 4.29 40-yard dash at the time."
It was an 'oh' play.
As in "Oh, no, I can't believe what he's doing" to "Oh, yes, what a great call."
"Roll left" was voted College Football's Play of the Year.
Dodds said that it made Mackovic bigger than a Broadway star in New York, where he and Dodds were the next week.
"Everybody in New York knew John," Dodds said. "He went to a steakhouse and they gave him a set of knives. He was a hero. That's the kind of call that makes you a hero."
Not that you could prove it by Vince Young, who admits he wasn't watching on Dec. 7, 1996.
He also admits to not really even being aware of that game.
"I remember the last time we played Colorado in the Big 12 Championship game," said Young, referring to the 2001 affair in Texas Stadium that UT lost.
Senior defensive tackle Rodrigue Wright, who was 12 in 1996, echoes Young's sentiments about the title game a decade ago. However, he, too, recalls the Horns loss to Colorado in 2001.
For both Young and Wright the 10th annual Big 12 Championship game against Colorado carries added significance since it will be a homecoming for these two former Houston area high school stars. Young was a standout at Madison, while Wright toiled at Alief Hastings.
"I think my father got 15 or 20 tickets for the (Big 12) game after we clinched a spot," Wright said, laughing. "It's going to be great to have everyone from Houston come out."
Young agreed about playing at home, especially since one of his greatest days as a prep star in Houston took place across the parking lot from Reliant Stadium, the site of the 2005 Big 12 title contest.
In 2001, Young did everything except sell programs in a 61-58 playoff encounter against North Shore in the Astrodome. Young threw for three scores and then ran for three scores in a game many pundits labeled the best high school football game ever in Texas.
"That was a great day," said Young, who said playing right next door to the site of his high school triumphs is exciting. "That game against North Shore was one of those games people keep talking about."
Of course, people could go hoarse talking about Young's greatness just in that 2001 playoff run alone.
The week after the victory against North Shore, the Astrodome was the backdrop for a 56-22 triumph against Hightower by Madison. Young only had five touchdowns in that game.
However, Young's Madison Marlins fell two victories shy of the Class 5A Division II playoffs that year -- certainly not for a lack of heroics by Young.