Bill Little commentary: A lifetime to go
Jan. 8, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
The clock was ticking just past 26 seconds when they hurried to the line of scrimmage. All night long, Ohio State had been mixing its defenses trying to confuse Texas' high-powered offense. The play before, they had dropped their safeties back in protection.
Now, leading 21-17, the mighty middle men of middle Ohio were going for the throat with an all-out blitz package. As Colt McCoy looked up, he saw his chief adversary on the Buckeye defense, James Laurinaitis -- the 2008 Lott Trophy winner, 2007 Butkus Award winner, 2006 Nagurski Trophy winner and a three-time first-team all-American -- poised to charge along with his teammates.
Legend has it that one of the great quotes of Texas football came in 1962, when the No. 1-ranked Longhorns were trailing Arkansas, 3-0, and the Razorbacks had a first-and-goal at the Longhorn 3-yard line. Backed against their own goal with the game hanging in the balance, linebacker Johnny Treadwell, trying to inspire his Texas teammates, is said to have exclaimed, "Now we have them right where we want them!"
Surely, Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby must have felt the same thing with the ball on the left hash mark of the Buckeyes' 26-yard line on the floor of the University of Phoenix Stadium. Twenty-six yards in 26 seconds. Time for maybe three plays.
They had come to this space through diverse, though at times similar paths. Both were high school quarterbacks, and both have an openly strong Christian faith.
Cosby had been an all-star athlete at Mart High School, a product of a difficult childhood who overcame the odds to eventually sign a professional baseball contract when he graduated from high school in 2001. After four years in the minors with the Anaheim Angels organization, he came to Texas in 2005. As a freshman, he played a key role in the Longhorns' National Championship. Now married with two children, he turned 26 two days before Christmas, and will receive his college degree in May.
McCoy, too, had been a standout high school athlete. He had been in the same recruiting class when Cosby made his second entry into the world of college football, though he had redshirted their freshman year. Then, in 2006, with McCoy as the starting quarterback and Cosby as a significant factor at receiver, the two began what had become a three-year partnership of success.
All night at the Fiesta Bowl, they had seen the surge from the Buckeye defenders. The linebackers, with an historic legacy as proud as any in the country, had been the key to the Ohio State defensive plan. Every play, there would be a spy on McCoy, ready to pounce if he tried any running play, be it scramble or called. They would "bring the house" with regularity, and now they were ready to do it again.
McCoy and Cosby had watched it, felt it, talked about it.
"If they bring everybody," McCoy had said, "run the slant behind the linebacker. If you beat your man, we're home free."
The Longhorns had seen the good and the bad of the game to that point. In a defensive struggle in the first half, a rarity for today's collegiate game where many teams have forgotten about the importance of stopping each other, Ohio State had led, 6-3. Texas had dominated the third quarter, taking a 17-6 lead. The Longhorns held the ball for over 11 minutes. They recorded 14 first downs to none for the Buckeyes, and amassed 179 yards to only two for Ohio State.
But in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes had stormed back, and when Dan Herron broke for 15 yards with only 2:05 left in the game, Ohio State led, 21-17. After the ensuing kickoff, Colt McCoy trotted onto the field with his team 78 yards away and only 1:58 remaining.
Passing on every play, McCoy had completions to Cosby, Brandon Collins and a critical fourth down stretch to James Kirkendoll. With 38 seconds remaining, McCoy completed a 14-yard pass to Collins for a first down. The ball was at the 26, on the left hash mark.
Kirkendoll was flanked out to the left, with Cosby split inside him. To the right were Jordan Shipley, Collins, and Fozzy Whitaker. With each of them was a man-on-man defender. Anderson Russell, the Buckeyes' stellar junior, was covering Quan Cosby. The "Buckeye Leaves," given for outstanding plays on his helmet told his story. His interception at the end of the first half had thwarted the Longhorns' late scoring drive.
Six Buckeyes, including Laurinaitis, were bunched at the line of scrimmage. Chris Hall snapped the ball. McCoy took two steps back. Marcus Freeman, who was the "spy" linebacker, stayed put, eyeing Colt. Cosby broke behind him, just as the two Longhorns had discussed. Russell lunged as Quan caught the ball at the 20-yard line, but Cosby's power was too much for him. He broke free, and it was over. Freeman turned, but was way too far away.
"It worked," was all Colt McCoy could think as he raced down to hug his receiver. There were 16 seconds left in the game. Brian Orakpo would sack the OSU quarterback on the next snap, and a "Hail Mary" pass would be batted down.
In the bedlam that followed, Texas would be presented with a very expensive golden football that is part of the permanent Fiesta Bowl trophy. A team that nobody predicted would come close to winning its Big 12 division had posted a 12-1 record, the second most wins ever in Texas history.
McCoy and Cosby would finish the game as the most productive passing combination ever at UT. In the game, Cosby would catch 14 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Shipley finished with 10 catches for 78 yards, Collins had seven catches for 60 yards and Kirnedoll added five catches for 41 yards. McCoy would set school and bowl records with 41 completions out of 58 tries for a personal best 414 yards. He accounted for all three touchdowns, throwing for two and running for another.
The 12 victories in a season was one shy of the school record of 13 recorded in the National Championship year of 2005. The only loss, of course, came with one second left at Texas Tech, when the Longhorns played most of the game without either Cosby or Orakpo, both of whom were injured that night.
For Mack Brown, it was his eighth bowl win in his 11 years at Texas, and this year's team made good on their "drive for five," closing out with five straight bowl victories. The remarkable run includes three BCS games -- all won dramatically in the final seconds over Michigan, Southern Cal and Ohio State.
History will likely remember the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as a showcase for some of the era's outstanding players, particularly defensively for both Ohio State and Texas. The Texas defensive front, which included seniors Orakpo, Henry Melton, Aaron Lewis and defensive MVP Roy Miller, was never better.
Those who expected a blowout were misled by media who somehow missed that getting to back-to-back National Championship games and losing shouldn't cause a team to be trashed. The Buckeyes of Ohio State have been one of the nation's most outstanding programs during Jim Tressel's time there. Ohio State played hard and they played well. It was a tough game to see either team lose.
Texas won in the end because its hurry-up offense, which the Longhorns have executed for several years, took over the third quarter, and because it had a quarterback who relishes the moment when the pressure is on and the game is on the line.
Brown has built his program, it has been said over and over again, on "communication, trust and respect." That was the formula that McCoy and Cosby used on the final play. Through the months and years of practice and working together, each knew what the other was going to do, and they did it. It was a perfectly delivered ball, aided by a line that held out the Ohio State defense just long enough for McCoy to deliver it. And it was an in-stride perfect catch and a power move that freed Cosby for the TD.
When Tuesday dawned in the Valley of the Sun, it was a post-card kind of day - bright sunshine, crisp morning air. McCoy and Cosby would go their separate ways, as would all of the other players as the staff headed home to Austin.
In the locker room the night before, the 2008 Longhorns had shared hugs for the last time as a team. Perhaps, on the final drive, McCoy and Cosby had played with a prayer in their pockets and an angel on their shoulders -- their faith would tell them that. Most of all, they played -- all of them on this very special team -- with humanity and spirit. And we loved them for that.
We celebrated who they are and we cheered what they did, primarily because they were warm and open, and they had a rare, endearing quality that truly did make common folk like you and me feel just plain proud.
It doesn't happy very often, but when it does, it capsules a lifetime of memories, where dreams and hopes allow us to believe that there is a greater good that comes from sports and from seeing young people succeed at the right things, for the right reasons.
And in that space, we celebrate, we salute, and we just stand there and cheer.