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December 29, 2006: Texas Tech Sets NCAA Record and a Dictator Dies

A look back at a historic evening one decade ago...

Texas Tech v Texas A&M Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The year 2006 was an extremely unique one for Texas Tech. In his seventh year as head coach, Mike Leach had firmly established his Air Raid attack in the Big 12. He achieved relative success with the Red Raiders, winning the Tangerine Bowl in 2002, the Holiday Bowl over No. 4 ranked Cal (led by Aaron Rodgers) in 2004, and losing a heart-breaker to Alabama in the 2005 Cotton Bowl on a last second field goal.

Leach enjoyed the luxury of starting a senior at quarterback in each of the four seasons preceding 2006; Kliff Kingsbury in 2002, B.J. Symons in 2003, Sonny Cumbie in 2004, and Cody Hodges in 2005. All of them filled the stat sheet. But in 2006, Leach turned the reins over to a sophomore named Graham Harrell. Texas Tech took a small step back that year and reached the Insight Bowl after a 4th place finish in the Big 12 south division.

The Red Raiders were set to kick off against the Golden Gophers of Minnesota at 7:00 p.m. central time on December 29, 2006. While the Insight Bowl was not as prestigious as others that Texas Tech had recently appeared in, that evening wound up becoming a historic day in Texas Tech, college football, and world history.

The beginning of the game was a disaster for the Red Raiders. They fell down 35-7 at halftime. Minnesota received the second half kickoff and ate up an additional 7:13 off the clock before tacking on a field goal to make the score 38-7 in their favor.

By now, it was a little after 9:00 p.m. or so, and some Texas Tech fans decided they’d had enough. They flipped to something else on TV, not wanting to see their beloved Red Raiders continue to be destroyed at the end of their season.

Since 2006 was a REALLY long time ago (not even Twitter had been invented yet), many Americans still got their breaking news from television broadcasts. Crazy, huh? Anyway, when Tech fans changed the channel, the news was everywhere.

Saddam Hussein, longtime president of Iraq, had just been killed. He was captured by American soldiers three years prior in December of 2003 and had spent the interim being interrogated and put on trial for actions during his rule.

He was found guilty for crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. His execution was carried out at 6:00 a.m. local time in Iraq on December 30. The time difference between Baghdad and the United States’ central time zone is nine hours, making Hussein’s execution occur close to 9:00 p.m. local time for Red Raider fans in America. Essentially, right around the time Tech fans got fed up with the game and switched to something else, the news about Hussein was breaking across the U.S.

This was obviously a momentous event for not only American relations in the Middle East, but also a major event in world history. Hussein had ruled Iraq since 1979 and had finally been captured, tried, sentenced, and was served his punishment.

Depending on how long Texas Tech fans watched the Hussein coverage was directly related to the level of their surprise when they changed the channel back to the Insight Bowl.

The Red Raiders managed to score touchdowns on two consecutive drives in the 3rd quarter, making the score a somewhat respectable 38-21 in favor of Minnesota at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Another Red Raider touchdown followed by a three-and-out from the Tech defense gave Tech the ball back down 38-28. A punt return from Danny Amendola gave Tech the ball near midfield. They capitalized on the opportunity, scoring again to make it 38-35 late in the 4th quarter.

However, the momentum was briefly halted when Texas Tech failed to recover the ensuing onside kick. Even though the Red Raider defense forced another three-and-out, Tech’s chances were slim.

Harrell led the offense down the field as time was winding down, ultimately leading to a 52-yard field goal attempt as time expired. It went through the uprights, and the game went to overtime 38-38 after 31 unanswered points from Texas Tech.

Minnesota got the ball first in overtime, kicking a field goal to make it 41-38. Never a doubt, Tech scored a touchdown on a three yard run from Shannon Woods, ending the game 44-41 in favor of the Red Raiders.

With the win, Texas Tech made NCAA history. The 31-point deficit they had overcome was the largest ever in a bowl game. The record was later matched by TCU in last season’s Alamo Bowl win over Oregon. The Horned Frogs faced a similar situation, as they were down 31-0 at halftime and ultimately won in triple overtime, 47-41.

The 2006 Insight Bowl victory was Mike Leach’s 56th in seven years at the helm. Before December 29, 2006, 55 wins in a seven-year stretch was the school record for Texas Tech. Leach set multiple other records during his tenure in Lubbock.

Six years later, Texas Tech defeated Minnesota in the 2012 Meineke Car Care Bowl, also with a 4th quarter comeback.