LOS ANGELES — Chris Hawkins cried.
“I for sure did,” said Hawkins, a senior safety for USC. “It was a sad time in USC history.”
Cameron Smith was laying on the floor in front of family’s TV set. His dad gazed at the screen, too.
“I remember exactly where I was,” said Smith, a junior linebacker.
Sam Darnold, the Trojans’ quarterback, remembered watching the game at home.
“It was just a great season for USC and then to have it end that way was a bummer,” Darnold said.
The 2006 Rose Bowl epic between USC and Texas, the two top teams vying for a BCS national championship.
The heartbreak the current players remember so vividly?
Vince Young’s 8-yard scramble for a touchdown in the final seconds and the enduring words from ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson.
“He’s going for the corner. … He’s got it. … Vince Young scores.”
The run ended the undefeated Trojans’ 34-game winning streak and hopes for a three-peat, a feat unachieved in college football history.
“Vince Young putting the team on his back,” senior right guard Viane Talamaivao said this week.
USC’s players were then in their early years of elementary school, fixated on football for the first time. Junior receiver Deontay Burnett rushed home from Pop Warner practice to watch the game. They were young fans. Many of them pulled for USC, too. They were young fans.
“I don’t know who really wasn’t,” Smith said, “especially in California.”
As USC hosts Texas in a highly anticipated nonconference game on Saturday evening at the Coliseum, their first meeting since the instant classic, it has revived the searing memories of the Trojans’ crushing loss.
“We know what’s at stake,” Smith said. “It’s a rivalry that’s never been played since. So we’re looking forward to it, as well as they are.”
There is not exactly a consensus among players if USC-Texas is a rivalry. The teams have met only five times previously, but their pasts are intertwined.
“In my mind, there’s history behind this game,” Talamaivao said. “There’s not a rivalry. But it’s Texas-USC. It’s an awesome opportunity. You relish it.”
Not all players were distraught when Young strutted across the goal line.
Ronald Jones, who grew up in McKinney, Texas, rooted for the Longhorns while also a self-proclaimed fan of then-Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
“That’s weird, I know,” he said.
USC has five players on its roster from Texas.
But for anyone, Young’s touchdown and the clash in Pasadena marked a formative moment.
“It’s the greatest game of college football to me,” Jones said. “Just the back and forth, the excitement, the two teams. That’s when I found out really what the Rose Bowl was. In my opinion, that’s still the best game of all time.”
Junior outside linebacker Porter Gustin has a small fracture in his big toe and underwent surgery on Wednesday morning, USC coach Clay Helton said, a setback that will likely sideline him against Texas on Saturday.
Helton said two screws were placed in his big toe.
Gustin has not practiced this week. He also injured his shoulder against Stanford and had an MRI, but the results were clean.
Helton did not formally rule out the possibility of Gustin facing the Longhorns, terming him as “day to day.”
“He is Superman. We’ll see if it happens, but I’m more optimistic about next week,” Helton said, referencing the team’s road opener at Cal on Sept. 23.
Gustin was among five of USC’s defensive starters who were out or limited in practice Wednesday, a possible effect from matching up against a physical Stanford bunch.
Freshman defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu, who has a knee sprain, has not practiced this week.
Those limited included linebacker John Houston, who has a stinger in his neck, and cornerback Iman Marshall, who has a sore ankle. Defensive end Rasheem Green was pulled with a sore toe.
On offense, right tackle Chuma Edoga was out with a sprained wrist.
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