Game Time: Longhorns Come Away With "Rocky Balboa" Respect

Categories: Game Time, Sports
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Around 10:15 PM last night, about the time the wheels started coming off the University of Texas Longhorns' run at what would have been an historical comeback, I got the following text from AT&T (verbatim, including all of the texty little abbreviations):

"The AT&T All-America Player of the Year is Colt McCoy of TX. Congrats 2 McCoy on an outstanding season & thx 4 voting! We'll txt u next season 2vote! Txt STOP 2 quit"

So as he sat on the sideline gazing at his last chance at a ring slipping away (and perhaps cursing his old man for talking him into staying on the sidelines -- allegedly, maybe), McCoy was unknowingly adding more hardware to his resume. It was somewhat apropos that the winningest college quarterback of all-time at least win something last night, even if it was a meaningless Player of the Year award decided by people drunk texting their votes in from the tailgate party.

In the end, the BCS Title Game was a microcosm of the 2009 season, with an early shoulder injury to an All-American quarterback suddenly changing everything (somewhere, Sam Bradford nods his head), lots of sloppy and uneven play, and ultimately Mark Ingram doing enough for all of us to shrug our shoulders and realize that "Damn, that little Emmitt Smith clone was the best player on the field. Again." (Point of order -- Rolando McClain was pretty sporty last night as well.)

Indeed, Alabama walked away with a 37-21 win last night to take home the crystal football in Nick Saban's third season in Tuscaloosa. But if ever there was a game were the final score was NOT indicative of the game on the field, it was this one.

Alabama won by 16 points, which made Alabama bettors who were suddenly scrambling when the Tide's lead was cut to 24-21 very happy. But by the end of the game, I came away with more respect for Texas' fighting back without their starting quarterback than I did Alabama, who did everything they could to hand the game over to Texas, including allowing a mind boggling two UT kickoffs to be recovered by the Horns.

Call it the Rocky Balboa effect, call it what you will, but the only thing missing at the end of the game was Adrian running up to Garrett Gilbert in the postgame mob, hugging him, and Gilbert asking her "Where's your hat?"

The numbers don't really show it -- four picks any way you slice it is painful -- but Gilbert gave Texas fans a near thrill last night and cause for optimism heading into 2010. Granted, he was a five-star, Parade All American, Jedi Master, super-terrific high school quarterback, so expectations should be huge. But once he had a chance to collect himself at halftime, Gilbert asserted himself fairly well considering the circumstances.

Which makes Mack Brown's decision to try and cobble together a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half that much more perplexing (a sequence that wound up with Bama's 296 pound Marcell Dareus' channeling his inner Barry Sanders and taking an aborted shovel pass to the house). IF EVER there was a time to "just get to the locker room and collect ourselves at halftime", this was it. Instead, Mack Brown was micromanaging a futile end-of-half play sequence a thousand times closer than he did the last 15 seconds of the Big XII title game. Mack, you perplex me.

At any rate, Gilbert's performance ensured that Alabama's Greg McElroy was the third best quarterback to take the field last night. (Hell, FOURTH if you count John Chiles.) In a word, McElroy was BRUTAL. Sure, Alabama won, and in the end I guess that's the goal, but etching his name in the Alabama record books alongside Jay Barker and Steadman Shealy on the "Quarterbacks who managed to win a title game despite throwing for less than 100 yards" page was probably not what he had in mind.

When he wasn't taking needless sacks, McElroy was perfecting the David Carr-esque "five yard checkdown pass on third and thirteen." And if I may propose a rule -- you should have to complete more than six passes before you're allowed to do the "Horns down" sign to taunt the opposing fans. Stay classy, McElroy. Dickweed.

In the end, this game was about two hits. First, it was Dareus' lowering the boom on Colt McCoy's right shoulder early in the game, which turned into Lisa Salters' giving us the requisite reports outside the locker room every five minutes (complete with facial expressions and voice tone like the president had been shot). Second, it was Eryk Anders' coming off the edge with three minutes to go to force a Garrett Gilbert fumble deep in UT territory, thwarting what would have been one of the great comebacks of all-time and depriving us of seeing Nick Saban spontaneously combust on the sideline, although I do admit that seeing the first full contact Gatorade bath was a nice consolation prize...

Two hits and a great running back. I will admit, Mark Ingram is becoming one of my favorite players. I love the way he runs, with a suddenness that belies his body type and power that always moves the pile forward. He's one of those guys where every run gets about two or three more yards than it should. I also respect his loyalty to and unconditional love for his father, who is in prison for bank fraud and money laundering. Ingram's Heisman speech was one of the great moments of a 2009 season that was short on great moments.

The greatness of Ingram, Trent Richardson, and the Alabama defense was enough to overcome several questionable calls by the purported genius Nick Saban, including taking the ball to start the game (Why not put your defense on the field first?) and capping off that opening series with a fake punt on fourth and twenty three that was picked off by Blake Gideon, who ironically would have been better served dropping the ball field position-wise. (Yes, Horn fans, I just went there...)

That said, Saban has 'Bama back on the map. The Crimson Tide are one of those teams that...well, let's just say it feels right to have them relevant again. They've been the best team in the country this season since Week One. In the end, the right team won.

We can now ship those boxes of "Texas Longhorns, 2009 National Champions" T-shirts to the Congo to clothe the poor. I would imagine the "Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 National Champions" T-shirts have about run their course.

Next up, this weekend's best bets.


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