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Life After the Rose Bowl


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Life after the Rose Bowlposted: Thursday, January 5, 2006 | Feedback

filed under: Texas Longhorns, USC Trojans

Standing outside the Texas locker room, minutes after a national championship had been won, I turned to my left and there was Matt Leinart, of all people.

Shoeless. Sockless. Dirty uniform. Glassy eyes. Still.

"Coach! Coach!" Leinart called out.

He was seeking Mack Brown.

"You tell your guys you had a great year," Brown said as he embraced Leinart, who had just seen a 34-game winning streak snapped by the best quarterback on the field at the Rose Bowl: Brown's quarterback.

"Where's Vince?" Leinart asked.

Suddenly, Vince Young emerged from the Texas locker room. By now, a few reporters and photographers had become aware of the slow-developing scene.

Young and Leinart, becoming fast friends, embraced. Leinart on one side of a waist-high metal fence. The wrong side. Young on the other. Where minutes later, the Longhorn players would sing and dance. As they have since this season began.

"Can I borrow some paper?" Young asked a reporter. "Please, sir?"

Handed a piece of white paper and a pen, Young asked Leinart for his cell phone number.

"Three four..." Leinart began.

"You don't want everyone to have that, do you?" Brown chimed in.

"I got like three, so it's all good," Leinart said, laughing.

As Leinart walked away, he said to Young, "Hey, call me up soon, dude!"

Young wouldn't say whether he's going pro, even though not going pro at this point would be like trying to replicate Michelangelo's finest performance.

What more could a player do?

"I know Matt will have some advice for Vince," Bob Leinart, Matt's father, said in the USC locker room. "I know Matt's glad he returned. Even now."

One after another, they each told me they'll discuss going pro with their families but weren't ready to make announcements. Reggie Bush. Then LenDale White. Winston Justice. And Fred Matua.

"We're going to lose some guys," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We know that. But no decisions have been finalized."

Texas offensive lineman Justin Blaylock smiled when I asked whether he'd go pro. He laughed when I asked how Vince could possibly top what he'd just done. He chuckled when I told of how I'd chased Young around the field and listened to him lead a chorus of players in "We are the champions!" and the whistle song. Don't exactly know what that one is called.

"It's been that way all year," Blaylock said.

To explain what this experience was like -- and it was surreal -- I must bring Lance Armstrong into the conversation. Yes, that Lance Armstrong.

For as I stood on the Rose Bowl field, looking up as Young accepted the national championship trophy, I found myself next to ... well, next to Armstrong.

"In Austin, we say, 'In Vince we trust,'" Armstrong said. "And that's special. Because we do trust him. He loves what he does. Look at him. Look at that passion. He's a hell of an athlete. Eleven minutes left and it was never over. That's just what Vince does."

Armstrong, wearing a Texas T-shirt, seemed to look up at Young in admiration.

"The good news is we won," Armstrong said. "The bad news is, I don't think he's coming back. But you know what? I don't blame him."

Back in the USC locker room, mostly empty at this point, I watched Leinart give a few departing hugs, settle onto a metal bench and slowly devour two chocolate chip cookies.

He seemed confused as he pondered the fact that he, and his team, had actually lost.

Then Bob Leinart said something that put it all in perspective.

"So what do you think?" asked Leinart's dad. "Saints or Titans?"

http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?name=schad_joe&univLogin02=stateChanged

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