PASADENA, Calif. -- He'd spent the entire night in a world all his own, so it was only fitting that Vince Young would spend these, the first seconds of a well-deserved celebration, by himself.
As the clock struck 0:00 and a mob of jubilant burnt-orange bodies bobbed and skipped all across the Rose Bowl field Wednesday night, Texas' quarterback stood alone on an equipment locker, one arm raised in triumph, letting a stream of multi-colored confetti rain down on his head like a soothing shower.
What, by chance, was going through Young's head in those first few seconds after completing one of the greatest individual performances in college football history and leading his team to a 41-38, national championship-clinching victory over USC, the reigning darlings of the sport?
"Oh man," he said to himself. "It's over."
The rest of us didn't necessarily want it to be over. If the Longhorns and Trojans had decided to go another four quarters Wednesday night, we would have watched with as much awe and suspense as we did nearly every play of this unforgettable, back-and-forth slugfest. We'd want to keep watching each team take the other's best blow, only to come back with one of its own. We'd want to see which Texas defender would be the next recipient of one of LenDale White's punishing stiff-arms, or just how high Dwayne Jarrett would leap to haul in his next picturesque touchdown pass from Matt Leinart.
But mostly, we'd want to just keep being mesmerized by the one guy in white who could do no wrong. The guy who, when asked with 26 seconds left to deliver one final, do-or-die play for the national championship -- having already run for 191 yards and thrown for another 267 -- calmly took the snap on fourth-and-5, checked off three different receivers, then glided nine yards into the end zone for his school's most important touchdown in 35 years.
"Without question," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, "that was the best [performance] I've seen by one guy."
USC, the team that always finds a way, couldn't find a way to stop Vince Young. From the time he danced and weaved his way to a 15-yard gain on the 'Horns' second series, then, on the very next play, stood tall in the pocket and completed a 13-yard dart to Billy Pittman, it was clear the Heisman runner-up would be playing second fiddle to nobody on this night. He completed 30 of 40 passes, many of them coming on his second or third read. He ran 19 times for 200 yards, many of those after the intended play broke down.
"It's extremely frustrating," said Carroll, "when you know what the problem is, and you can't do anything about it."
For much of the contest, Texas couldn't do anything about the Trojans' offensive stars, either. After Young staked his team to a 16-7 lead late in the first half -- a margin that might have been larger if not for a series of self-inflicted wounds by the other 'Horns (three first-half fumbles, two of them killing what had been promising drives), USC drove for a field goal before intermission, then scored touchdowns on its first four drives after halftime. Time and again, White gashed through the heart of Texas' defense to the tune of 124 yards. Leinart, that "other" star quarterback, went to town on the 'Horns' previously stingy secondary, throwing for 365 yards. Heisman winner Reggie Bush, held in check much of the first three quarters (when he wasn't hurting himself with an ill-advised lateral-turned-fumble), burst for a 26-yard touchdown early in the fourth.