“Look I make movies. We put narratives together for dramatic purposes. I’ve never seen a film that actually rivaled actual dramatic effects that went on in that game. The back and the forth.”
– Matthew McConaughey
The newest episode of the critically acclaimed NFL Network documentary series A Football Life goes where it has never gone before. On Friday January 2nd at 9 PM ET, the series will dive into the world of college football for the first time – and what better avenue to travel than the 2006 Rose Bowl, the greatest college football game ever played.
The BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena featured a clash of two unbeatens – #1 USC vs #2 Texas. Even though I’m neither a USC or a Texas fan, this is my favorite sporting event I’ve ever been privileged to watch. I’ve never seen a game that as a pure spectacle was more of a joy to watch. In terms of excitement, drama, quality of play, and stakes involved it is simply unparalleled in college football and perhaps any other sport.
– 53 game combined winning streak (34 USC, 19 Texas)
– 2 Heisman winners (Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush)
– 18 draft picks that April, including 4 in the Top 10
– 79 combined points, 1130 yards of combined offense
And on top of that, Vince Young put together maybe the best single-game championship performance of all-time. Against a team pegged as the greatest ever (more on that in a bit) Young put up this video game statline: 30/40, 267 yards passing, 19 carries, 200 yards, 3 TDs.
Rarely in sports does an event live up to the considerable hype. The ’06 Rose Bowl didn’t just live up to the hype, it didn’t just surpass the hype, it transcended the hype.
The hype included one of the most absurd things ESPN has ever done – a mythical comparison between USC and the greatest college football teams of all-time. Sure, the Trojans were riding a 34 game winning streak… but they hadn’t even played Texas yet. And yet, all of the focus surrounding the ’06 Rose Bowl coming from ESPN was not USC vs Texas, but USC vs History. Of course, the Longhorns would make sure that ESPN wouldn’t make the mistake of forgetting them ever again and it’s fun to relive if you’re not a Trojan fan.
Right from the start, A Football Life doesn’t hide from the irony that much of that brilliance went unfulfilled in the NFL. The professional fate of the two starting quarterbacks is weaved into the story throughout the hour. Matt Leinart and Vince Young are joined together at the start of the film on the hallowed Rose Bowl turf, the site of their finest hour. And while they should theoretically both be in the prime of their NFL careers, Leinart and Young are both out of the league.
The documentary features interviews with Leinart and Young (even seated together at certain points) and includes footage from the 2006 NFL Draft where Young was drafted 3rd overall by the Tennessee Titans and Leinart fell to 10th where he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. One quote from Leinart hit like a lightning bolt considering what we’ve seen this season in Cleveland from Johnny Manziel, “Early on in my career I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have.”
Foreshadowing? Yep, foreshadowing.
(Please someone tape that quote in Manziel’s locker so he doesn’t have to sit down for a documentary at age 27 and relive the glory days of the 2013 Cotton Bowl.)
The one thing that stands out most from this edition of A Football Life is the sheer amount of perspectives offered. Not only is there the words of featured subjects Leinart and Young, but other players from the game like David Thomas, Michael Griffin, Steve Smith, and LenDale White. Coaches like Mack Brown and Jeff Fisher, who did not mince words on the maturity issues that plagued Young with the Titans. Broadcasters like Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts. (Another great fact about the game is it was the last one called by the legendary Jackson.) And even the thoughts of the most famous celebrity fans of the respective teams, Snoop Dogg and Matthew McConaughey, are featured throughout.
The climax comes with Texas’ 4th down stop of USC and the ensuing championship winning drive led by Young. One of the most compelling moments is hearing USC players like White and Smith criticize their coaches for taking Reggie Bush off the field for the failed 4th down run by White.
The documentary isn’t so much an ESPN Classic style reliving of the game itself, it’s more about the story. And while I might like to see more focus on the game itself because it was just that incredible, the color added by the interviews and the twists in the tale afterward add new insights. If you’re a football fan, make sure to set your DVRs.