The days of Vince Young getting paid to play in the NFL ended when he was cut by the Packers in training camp. His conspicuous absence from the list of this year’s viable free-agent quarterbacks only serves to further the point. He ain’t coming back, and I imagine that saddens me as much as anyone apart from those that rely on him or know him personally.
In 1999 I was a few years removed from working in my college team’s film room as a student assistant when my business partner and I devised a method to provide college scouts access to HS game film in a more timely & efficient manner. Within a year we were providing about a third of Division 1 with libraries of every major HS game in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, and I was one busy mother. During the 3 months of a regular season, I would duplicate and ship game tape 20 hours a day, seven days a week, with two hour naps on the office couch. It did cover my nut for the whole year, and having an open schedule and cash in your pocket in your mid-twenties is something I recommend, especially in this town. All of this to say I didn’t watch much tape - it was on in the background at all times (we duplicated 1 to 1 back then if you can imagine) but I was much too busy to pay attention to the games except on meal breaks. About halfway through the 2000 season, this big QB from Houston had no choice but to catch my eye. Certainly sporting Madison’s Houston Oiler color scheme and playing home games in the Astrodome helped piqué my nostalgia, but he was unmistakably electric, and before long I was keeping an eye out for Madison’s tapes when they arrived at the office, popping them in immediately while furiously not busying myself with anything that might distract my gaze from the 15" monitors we used.
By Young’s senior season at Madison, he was the State’s Offensive Player of the Year, and Madison was making a magical run through the state playoffs. I was now avoiding the newspaper(!) until I got the tapes, wanting to watch and root without spoilers as the fan I had become. They beat undefeated North Shore 61-58 in an absolute thriller of a regional, crushed Hightower in the quarters 56-22, and faced Austin Westlake in the semis, one of the state’s powerhouses and defending champs . The 48-42 loss is legendary, with Madison running out of time driving for the go ahead score in a last-team-with-the-ball slugfest. I had never seen an athlete to whom the term horse applied so aptly.
With the Oilers trekking through Tennessee and the Houston Texans yet to play a down, Vince Young was the biggest football star in a football-crazed city. Anyone with half a brain could see Youmg was the real deal, and luckily Mack Brown has at least that. The man who would come to tell Andrew Luck, Johnny Manziel, & Robert Griffin III “no thanks” offered Young a seat behind fifth-year senior/lifetime backup/loyalty-rewarded starter Chance Mock his freshman year, and the starting job as a sophomore. He was leaving my hometown to come to my new one, and I wasn’t gonna have to watch him on a 15" monitor anymore. So much of Vince Young’s private cannon was yet to be publicly illuminated - even to an insider nerd like me - so I’d no idea at the time just how perfectly these two would compliment roles and lead a sleeping giant program to ultimate success for the first time in 30 years. Mack was the father-figure: hands-on (literally), supportive, affectionate, CEO Head Coach/cheerleader that Vince Young’s fragile facade required. Young always needed a pat on the butt rather a smack to the helmet, and Mack’s half a brain was enough to provide his wunderkind a comfortable environment and get the hell out of the way. By Young’s Junior season he was showing the nation what Longhorn fans already knew. He was magic late, rallied his team like no one these parts had seen, and saved his best for Texas’ first Rose Bowl, a (seemingly) signature game against Michigan.
180/1/1 throwing while hoofing for 192 and 4 scores. Electric, unprecedented, and ultimately but a prelude.
Young’s senior season included a third straight win vs. the Big Ten’s top two in an early season win against #4 Ohio State, a drubbing of down-year Oklahoma, an avenging curb-stomping of #10 Texas Tech, and a 70-3 demolition of a Colorado Buffs team that drew the short straw to represent the north division in the Big XII Championship game. The undefeated run earned a second trip to the Rose Bowl, vs. USC with its two Heisman thieves and a 34-game winning streak. I eschewed my usual tailgate/watchparty for my apartment with just my best friend for this one. When Texas went down 12 with 6:48 to go, they had two DBs laying on the 5 yard line - one with a broken arm, the other out cold - and I erringly allowed resignation to set, and accepted disappointment as the night’s result...for about 30 seconds. By the time ABC returned from the injury timeout my attitude had been reminded who the QB was, and I still really did believe the Longhorns were going to win the game. The ability to create belief (equally victory in his teammates and defeat in his opponents) is the top intangible of any QB, and Vince Young’s teams always believed. Perhaps this belief was enough for the defense to stone LenDale White on 4th and National Championship, knowing their guy would win the game if they could just give him the opportunity. After Young had successfully gone for the corner, and the Trojans’ desperate drive to answer proved futile, my team had won a championship in football for the first time in my life, and we hit downtown to revel in the streets. I saw lots of boobs and kissed at least two girls. It was fun, and I had My Guy to thank for it.
Do you like college football at its pinnacle, with highlight plays and future pros all over the field? What if I told you this perfectly-edited clip of the game was scored by Yumg Wun w/ Lil Flip, David Banner and DMX?
If yes, you might enjoy this:
Vince had done what he came to do, and with the Titans holding the third pick in the draft and no QB, I had a back-of-mind hope that Vince might follow me once again, and be there when my team selected behind Houston and New Orleans. This draft featured two of the most dynamic college players of the previous quarter century, and all the rumblings implied the Titans had a good chance of getting one of them. The draft eve found me in my usual Friday night spot, playing $1/$2 Hold Em with friends, and per commandment the TV had ESPN on. When someone read the crawler and announced the Texans had selected Mario Williams, I didn’t buy it. I waited for the crawler to come back around before I could believe they had forgone the opportunity to draft Bush or the hometown hero Young (a pick no one in Houston would’ve blamed them for, no matter how his career there would’ve turned out) and picked a defensive lineman. This now meant the Titans would definitely have an opportunity to draft one of Young or Bush, and I was happy either way. But having Vince play for my team again was what I was thinking about as I passed out at sunrise, drunk on bourbon, and even on the night after blowing the poker winnings at the Yellow Rose. The next morning I overslept the pick, so it was again ESPN’s crawler that delivered the news. Vince was a Titan, and I bought the jersey.
Young’s rookie season was nothing short of stunning. En route to Offensive Rookie of the Year.honors and being the first rookie QB to ever play in the Pro Bowl, he proved his talents translated quite nicely to the pro game thank you, and took a very bad 4-12 team the previous to year to within one win of the playoffs. After starting the season 0-5 while Young mostly watched Kerry Collins underwhelm, the team rallied behind Young, finishing 8-8 on the season. Along the ride was a 21-point 4th quarter comeback against the Giants, a last-second win in Indianapolis, and a walkoff overtime touchdown in his homecoming game at the Texans in a late-season three game stretch. Unlike previous years, this Titans team had hope, was fun to watch, and harkened well. Vince Young was on the cover of Madden, was about to be joined in the backfield by an equally electric running back, andTitans supporters looked forward to what was assuredly a decade of the team’s NFL relevance.
The team continued to improve the following season, rallying to win four of its last five and earn a spot in the post season for the first time since 2003. Tennessee and Young would have to wait at least one more season before taking the next step however, as a long day of nothing going right awaited them in the wild card round in San Diego, and Young’s first taste of playoff football ended unceremoniously as almost all quarterback’s do. The graph was certainly on an upward trend however, And there was no reason to believe the future was not secure. Opening day 2007 was met with visions of magical seasons, Super Bowl runs, and pantheon play from football’s newest budding superstar. Then Jacksonville happened.
Vince Young went out and had the kind of day young quarterbacks have, no matter their competence. He played terrible, the team was sluggish all day, and the hometown fans booed lustily at points. No one was more devastated than Young in the team’s playoff performance the previous year - Young has myriad faults, but caring ain’t one - and the fans he felt so personally responsible for were booing him the very next time he played for them. He was so visibly distraught Jaguars players were consoling him while the game was still in doubt before he was pulled/quit/sprained his knee in the fourth quarter and yielding to backup Kerry Collins. Whatever happened that day, Jeff Fisher would never trust Vince Young again, refusing to back him in the press. Even after he returned to health Young was forced to watch as Kerry Collins guided the team to 13 regular season wins before being handed a mop up start in week 17. The Titans had a bye before hosting the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round - the biggest rival of this generation of the franchise - and Vince Young was on the sideline for a big game for the first time in his life. The once in a lifetime Young was left to wonder how he had fallen so far as to be forced to back up the one in a dozen Kerry Collin? The familial, unconditional love Coach Brown bestowed was replaced by Jeff Fisher’s philosophies born in the world of Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, and John Robinson. Jeff Fisher doesn’t coddle, express affection, and nothing is unconditional but his expectations. To a man who had searched approval from coaches so desperately throughout his young career, this was anathema to Young’s psyche. To he who considered himself invincible when given the trust and admiration he required from those who’s approval he sought so desperately, the betrayal of the home fans in that Jacksonville game - and the betrayal by his coach in the aftermath - was facade crumbling. Vince Young’s confidence and belief were always hollow, belying a soul that never quite considered itself worthy. It is the psychological damage common to those raised in absence of father figures. It manifests itself in myriad ways, but Vince’s hubris was starkly revealed once he had lost his coach. How could he ever lead this team again, when he had been made to feel a failure, and that he had let everyone down so completely? The magic was ultimately fleeting, and would never be fully regained. Collins and the Titans lost to the Ravens 13-10 in a game Vince Young would’ve won 99 times out of 100. Both quarterbacks would rejoin the team the following season, and in preseason Fisher chose to align with Collins, giving him the opportunity to repeat the previous season’s performance.
That season Kerry Collins guided the Titans to an 0-5 start, looking nothing of the game manager extraordinaire from the previous year, and the entire team was in disarray. He was finally pulled in a home loss to the Colts, and Vince Young was thrown to the wolves in a week 6 New England blizzard. The Titans were beaten 59-0 by the best team in football, and shit was bleak. The season lost, Jeff Fisher capitulated to ownership and gave his young quarterback one more go, feeding him enough reigns to surely and finally hang himself. Young instead went on to prove himself a professional quarterback. Again. The Titans promptly became the first team to go 5-0 after an 0-6 start, won 8 of the final 10, and the late game magic returned, most notably in the 99-yard game winning drive capped by a 4th down touchdown with but zeroes on the clock. It seemed Vince Young had rejoined his path to greatness, and even his skeptical boss had to hitch his wagon to this rejuvenated horse. An 0-6 team had a legitimate chance of a playoff spot heading into the season’s final week, although it was not to be.
Again both quarterbacks were in camp the following year, but this team was undeniably Young’s. Again. Despite an up and down 3-2 start to the season, Young enjoyed support from the fans, his coach, and Collins before leg injuries forced him out of a week 6 win against Jacksonville. Collins effectively caretook the Titans to consecutive wins and a 5-2 season record before Young returned. The rest of the year was a confounding array of poor play, minor injury, shuffling in and out of the starter job, and eight losses in the last nine games. The roller coaster of the last 24 months was definitely on a downward trajectory, and the popular pontificating as to whether Vince Young’s victories were anomalous to his skills was mixed at best. Jeff Fisher graded Vince’s one last go a failure, and whether or not Titan management agreed, he wasn’t going to stay married to Vince Young any longer. His decision made long ago, the latest season did nothing but cement Young in his mind as an unreliable, unstable, goldbrick. The off-season rabble was clear, either the quarterback goes, or the coach would. It somehow turned out both were gone, and the franchise was willing to hit the reset button, drafting Jake.Locker with its 1st pick and ending the Vince Young era in Tennessee. Vince Young signed on to backup Michael Vick in Philadelphia, applying pressure to a promising yet unproven team with his “Dream Team” comment. Although untoward for a back-up to be making boastful (if any) comments to the public, Young thrived in the fishbowl, devoured pressure, yet forgot he wasn’t the one with the trust and opportunity to carry the burden this year, and his Dream Team limped to an 8-8 season with Young going 1-2 as a disappointing late season injury replacement. He bounced around through the dregs Orchard Park and the tundra of Milwaukee before ultimately beginning his fade from football’s consciousness. Vince Young could never be The Man without being The Man and affording him another opportunity at that would take a huge leap of faith and much professional risk for any owner/GM/coach wanting to bring Vince Young in as the franchise’s centerpiece. The NFL is still a world of the conventional, and Young is an unpredictable ride to saddle. The only letters on Vince Young’s shirts anymore are the scarlet ones placed there by a respected, Hall of Fame-ish, competition committee-chairing, tenured NFL coach. The one man who spent more hours professionally with Young than any other - he would know, right? Vince Young has been given the thumbs-down from his most reliable reference, and no one is willing to roll the dice.
I have faith when Vince Young accepts his transition, his second act will be a successful one, regardless of all the contrary evidence. He is likable, affable, and a hero to many in Texas still. Not the most polished speaker, he did go back and graduate Texas - no small feat for anyone, which is why we throw parties when our kids do it. Vince’s dad wasn’t around to throw one however, and Vince certainlyfooted that bill too.Since he came into the public’s purview, Vince has been reaching out, always willing to find a paternal replacement in the men who were guiding his teams. When he received it, he flourished, succeeded, and delivered. When it was withheld, he floundered, doubted, and failed. Had he been met with a more sympathetic understanding at the dawn of his professional career, would he have continued his growth, and ultimately been remembered as one of the franchises’ all-timers? We’ve been robbed the satisfaction of knowing.