Disclaimer: this has next to nothing to do with Oregon football. If you're a Duck news purist, check out Brandon's South Dakota defense preview.
The 2005-6 BCS championship game is, objectively, the best college football game I've ever seen. Sure, there are some Oregon games I remember more vividly. But nothing compares to that January 2006 night in Pasadena, when Texas and USC put on an unrivaled display of offensive excellence. Matt Leinart threw for 365 yards, Reggie Bush had almost 300 total yards, and both were outdone by Vince Young who ran for 200 yards, threw for over 200 more, and ran in the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to go. Bush has become one of the best running backs in the NFL; he was fourteen yards in 2012 away from three-straight 1000-yard seasons. But as for the two quarterbacks of that great game? They're both completely out of football.
It was announced Thursday that Matt Leinart would be joining Rick Neuheisel and company in the Pac-12 Network studios for the upcoming season. This comes a couple weeks after the University of Texas announced the hiring of Vince Young to their Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Young will be working towards aiding first-generation and low-income college students, a noble goal that is close to my heart, as many of my elementary-school students will eventually fall into either of those distinctions. But as a college football fan, this feels like the end of an era.
Leinart won the 2004 Heisman Trophy, and had arguably a better season in 2005. The only QB better than Leinart in that '05 season was Young, and the only reason VY doesn't have a Heisman of his own is because Reggie Bush was otherworldly. The two throwers seemed like sure bets to succeed in the NFL. And at age 31, they're both completely out of professional football. Young's struggles are well-known: Offensive Rookie of the Year, struggles with injuries, inconsistency, and his emotions, a 2009 comeback, then more of the same problems. And Leinart just never could earn regular starting time, whether it was stuck behind Kurt Warner, beaten out by Derek Anderson, or injured in Houston and never given another chance.
Here's a list of quarterbacks older than Leinart and Young (born a week apart from each other, just weeks after the legendary quarterback-heavy 1983 NFL Draft) that currently have jobs in the NFL.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jason Campbell, Matt Cassel, Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Hill, Tavaris Jackson, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Josh McCown, Luke McCown, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick
That's nineteen guys, including multiple McCowns. There are players on this list who attended Louisiana Tech, Miami (Ohio), Eastern Illinois, San Houston State, and Alabama State. Both Matt Leinart and Vince Young are more talented quarterbacks than people on this list. But they're now a talking head, and a fundraiser. And at the start of this college football season, it makes me think about the fleeting nature of college football. These two guys were NCAA gods, ruling their domain. I remember seeing USC dismantle Oregon in 2005, and how it was evident that as good as Kellen Clemens was, he just wasn't on the same level as Matt Leinart. Ironically, Kellen Clemens still has a job in the NFL. Danny O'Neil was one of the most prolific passers Oregon has ever seen; his entire professional career was one incomplete season in the Arena League. The list of Heisman trophy winners is a minefield of professional flameouts; for every Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, or Roger Staubach on that list, there are a half-dozen Danny Wuerffels, Gino Torettas, and Rashaan Salaams. Tee Martin has more national championships than Peyton Manning.
Making the jump from successful college player to successful pro is something very few athletes are able to do, and might have as much to do with luck and location as it does pure talent and drive. And Leinart and Young's career paths are not uncommon. But watching highlights of that 2006 Rose Bowl will feel a little different knowing that the superhero in red and gold is discussing the contents of the C block with Mike Yam, and the demigod in burnt orange is using memories to open checkbooks.