A lot of guys would replay in their minds a botched play that cost their team the national championship. But not Arizona State sophomore cornerback Courtney Jackson. Eight months after just such a play, he doesn't have to see it in his head: A picture of it hangs on his bedroom wall. "That's what I wake up to in the morning," Jackson says. "It makes you focus on how hard you have to work." Just in case Jackson forgets about the play when he walks out of the bedroom, there's another picture of it in the bathroom.
In the photo Ohio State wideout David Boston is about to cross the goal line with a five-yard touchdown pass. Jackson, then a redshirt freshman, is three steps behind him, hopelessly beaten. Only 19 seconds remained in last January's Rose Bowl when Boston scored, giving the Buckeyes a 20-17 victory. Had the Sun Devils been able to hold on to win, they would have finished 12-0, and once-defeated Florida would have gone into the Sugar Bowl against Florida State playing only for pride. "I've been coaching 34 years," Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder says, "and to be [that close to] 12-0, I'll never forget. I'll never forget the pain of coming that close."
It took Snyder three weeks to bring himself to watch the game tapes. "I got a letter from Dick Vermeil," he says. "He had done the game on TV. He said that when he was coaching, he learned more from losses than he did from wins. So I pulled out the tapes, and I watched them—a lot. I've analyzed the timeouts, all the decisions I made, and I went over them with my staff."
Jackson, however, didn't wait for anyone to encourage him to look at a tape of the game. "I watched it every day for the first month," he says. Jackson had cut off Boston as the receiver attempted to slant in from the right. Boston improvised and cut back toward the sideline. Quarterback Joe Germaine laid the pass out for him. "Nobody ever has dreams when he's young of being in a game and losing it," Jackson says. "People think about the glory side of it. You've got to be able to see both sides."
The 6-foot, 183-pound Jackson saw plenty of the glory side during his freshman season. He returned a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown to clinch a 48-35 victory against USC. Even against Ohio State he acquitted himself well—for the most part. On the first 11 plays of the Buckeyes' final drive, Jackson didn't give up a completion. Two plays before Boston's touchdown catch, Jackson nearly intercepted a pass intended for wideout Dimitrious Stanley, who was running a curl route. Anticipating that Germaine's pass would come over the middle, Jackson resisted the urge to go for the ball, instead listening to the voice of secondary coach Donnie Henderson in his head, urging him always to stay back to prevent a long gain. Jackson got an arm on the pass and deflected it.
Neither Snyder nor Jackson has watched a tape of the Rose Bowl since the spring. In fact, to ensure that his team will leave last season behind, Snyder has worn nothing to fall practice that has 1996 or Rose Bowl written on it. At least one of Snyder's players has no plans to forget last season. Jackson says the photos of Boston's touchdown will remain on his walls until Arizona State returns to the Rose Bowl.