PASADENA, Calif. -- While Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's teammates played No. 1 Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game on Thursday night, he sat in the No. 2 Longhorns' locker room, playing short toss with his father.
When the Longhorns were trying to hold on for their dear lives at the end of the first half at the Rose Bowl, McCoy was icing his right shoulder, trying to regain his arm strength after taking a jarring hit from Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus while running an option play on Texas' fifth offensive play of the game.
"I've taken hits my whole career," McCoy said. "I've taken tons of hits like that. It just caught me the right way. I really don't have any pain. I never had much pain."
But no matter how many times McCoy tried on Thursday night, he could never get his throwing shoulder to work right again. He tossed the ball three or four times with his father, Brad McCoy, trying to convince team doctors that he was good enough to go back in the game.
But even though McCoy could grip a football and cock his arm behind his head like he'd done so many times before, his passes fluttered without much zip and absolutely no direction.
"I could throw the ball," McCoy said. "I just had no idea where it was going. I could feel all my fingers except my thumb. My arm felt like a noodle."
McCoy, who had returned to Texas for his senior season with the lone goal of leading the Longhorns to a national championship, could only watch as their valiant comeback fell short in a 37-21 loss to the Crimson Tide.
It was an absolutely gut-wrenching ending to one of college football's most remarkable careers. McCoy leaves Texas as the winningest quarterback in NCAA history, leading his teams to 45 victories. He finished in the top three in Heisman Trophy voting the past two seasons and rewrote the Texas record book along the way.
But McCoy's last game with the Longhorns, in which he was on the field for all of two minutes and seven seconds, is the one he'll have the hardest time coming to grips with.
"I've done everything I could to lead this team and be the best quarterback I could be," McCoy said. "I never would have imagined this would happen on the biggest stage I've worked to get to my entire life. I've never been hurt in four years and I took shot after shot after shot."
Four years ago, in his redshirt year, McCoy watched from the sideline as Texas quarterback Vince Young led the Longhorns to their first national championship in 35 years. After Young led Texas to a thrilling 41-38 victory over Southern California in the 2006 Rose Bowl, he told McCoy, "You'll be here someday."
McCoy barely missed the chance to play for a national championship last season. In early November, No. 1 Texas was stunned 39-33 by Texas Tech on Michael Crabtree's 28-yard touchdown catch with one second left. It was the Longhorns' lone defeat, and it cost them the opportunity to play for a title as they lost a controversial Big 12 South tiebreaker to rival Oklahoma.
But after returning to school for his senior season, McCoy led the Longhorns to a perfect 13-0 record and a date against storied Alabama for the BCS national championship.
On a perfect Thursday afternoon in southern California, McCoy walked into the Rose Bowl and stood on the same grass field where Young had shredded the vaunted Trojans four years earlier.
Finally, McCoy's time had arrived. And then, just like that, it was over before it even started.
I had 'em. I knew everything they were doing before they did it. I was fixin' to complete every pass I was going to throw tonight.
”-- Texas QB Colt McCoy
"I've given college football the best I've had for the last four years," McCoy said. "Every player's dream is to play on a stage like that and have an opportunity like that. I could have never imagined this would happen. I'll never question God. I'm a man of faith. I've never questioned why. But, yes, I'm truly disappointed because I would have made a huge difference."
Before McCoy was hurt, the Longhorns seemed to have Alabama on the ropes. The Crimson Tide botched a fake punt which led to a field goal, and then failed to recover a kickoff which led to another field goal shortly after McCoy was hurt. But it was only a matter of time before Alabama's defense took advantage of inexperienced backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
Even in only five plays, McCoy told his father he'd seen enough to know the game's outcome would have been different if he'd stayed on the field.
Said Brad McCoy, who coached his son at Jim Ned High School in tiny Tuscola, Texas: "He looked up at me and said, 'Dad, I had 'em. I had 'em. I knew everything they were doing before they did it. I was fixin' to complete every pass I was going to throw tonight.'"
But once McCoy realized his arm strength wasn't going to return on this night, he had to come to grips with this painful reality: He would be only a spectator in the most important game of his life.
"It's gonna be a huge character test for him," Brad McCoy said. "This is so tough. He did everything right. He didn't come back for the awards or the Heisman. He came back for this moment. He came back for this game."
And just like that, it was over.
After the Longhorns watched the Crimson Tide celebrate at midfield -- with confetti falling from the sky and their fans screaming "Roll Tide!" -- McCoy walked slowly back to his locker room. With tears welling in their eyes, the Texas coaches tried to console their star quarterback. Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who ultimately made the decision that McCoy wouldn't return to action, told him his best football was still ahead of him. So did offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
"It's extremely disappointing to me to know the hours and effort and sweat and everything that he's put into helping us get to this point," Davis said. "And then being not able to play is extremely disappointing for him and this football team."
No one wanted to see McCoy's career end like this, including Greg McElroy, the opposing quarterback.
"I feel terrible for him," McElroy said. "Of all the guys in the world that you don't want to see get injured, he's the one because he's such a great competitor and he means so much to that team. He's the backbone of that team."
Instead of the night ending with McCoy's hoisting a crystal trophy over his head, it ended with him hunched over on his knees on the Texas sideline.
It's a memory that McCoy will have a difficult time forgetting.
"I do know everything happens for a reason," McCoy said. "I'll be on a championship stage someday, and hopefully I'll be playing."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.