Texas’ last trip to the Rose Bowl didn’t quite go as planned.
But when the Longhorns take that very same field on Saturday against UCLA, they will finally have a chance to get the sour taste of losing the 2009 BCS National Championship out of their mouths.
“Losing that game was a bad way to end that year and I would like to go back and correct that,” said senior left guard
The Longhorns would also like to reverse their last result against UCLA, a 34-12 drubbing in Austin at the hands of the Bruins a season ago. That alone should provide all the motivation Texas needs.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotion for a lot of us guys that played in the National Championship and a lot of us guys that were here last year that really got embarrassed (against UCLA),” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “There’s enough motivation out there.”
The Longhorns will also be back in the same visitor’s locker room where they sat in disbelief following their 37-21 loss to Alabama some 20 months ago.
“I’m going to try not to let it get to me, it might be a little bit weird,” Gideon said.
Still, the Rose Bowl’s picturesque backdrop has been the scene for some of the greatest moments in Texas football history.
There’s Dusty Mangum’s game-winning field goal as time expired to down Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl.
And Vince Young’s heart-stopping touchdown run on fourth-down to beat USC for the 2005 National Championship. And let’s not forget Michael Huff’s fourth-down stop to give Young the ball in time to orchestrate the game-winning drive.
“That Rose Bowl has been an exciting place for me,” said defensive backs coach Duane Akina, who’s coached the Longhorns at the Rose Bowl three times. “Many memories, hopefully we can collect some more Saturday.”
Most of these Longhorns were in middle school when Texas went to back-to-back Rose Bowls, dreaming of the day when it would be them on that field.
“I remember watching Vince Young and all those guys play in the National Championship,” said senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. “Then I got to play there and now I’m going back. It’s real cool.”
But for every magical moment, there’s been a forgettable one. Just ask head coach Mack Brown. He’s coached all four of the Longhorns’ games in Pasadena, where Texas is 2-2.
“You’ve got the tough memory of Colt [McCoy] getting hurt and then the great memory of Garrett [Gilbert] coming in and doing well [in 2009],” Brown said. “The tough memory of us losing the ball at the end of the game and losing the National Championship. So it’s kind of all over the place.”
For some Longhorns, it will be their first trip to the famous venue. But for Blaine Irby, the trip feels more like a homecoming.
Irby grew up just an hour away from the Rose Bowl, where he saw a handful of games as a kid.
“The Rose Bowl is a really cool atmosphere,” Irby said. “There’s a lot of tradition out there at that stadium. I’m excited about going back to California and playing.”
It will be Irby’s first time playing in his home state since the 2007 Holiday Bowl in San Diego. A large contingent of friends and family will travel from across the region to see the tight end play.
After all, it’s a miracle the Irby is even back on the field after a knee injury forced him to miss three seasons. He’ll finally have the chance to suit up at the Rose Bowl after watching the National Championship from the sideline.
Yes, this one has a noticeably different vibe to it than most regular season games.
“It’s a bowl game feeling whenever you’re going to California,” Gideon said. “But at the same time, we need to realize that this is a very good UCLA football team and we need to focus on going one play at a time. It’s a business trip, we’re going out there to win a game.”
So how will the Longhorns react upon seeing the iconic rose outside the stadium when they return to Pasadena?
“It will bring up some of the fond memories that I did have when we played there,” said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker.
The Rose Bowl has been both a field of dreams and a house of horrors for Texas.
On Saturday, it could be either.