'Horns' star QB has all the ingredients of a champion
Posted: Wednesday November 23, 2005 8:15PM; Updated: Thursday November 24, 2005 1:45PM
Vince Young plays football like it's a game, finding fun beneath the pressure.
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On this day, Vince Young has two problems. It's last Thursday, eight days before Young's Texas Longhorns try to close an unbeaten regular season and stay on the path to a Rose Bowl showdown with USC by beating rival Texas A&M in College Station on the morning after Thanksgiving. That game -- and those objectives -- are on Young's mind, but not front and center.
Because at the moment, Young is standing curbside on Red River Street, the four-lane road that forms the eastern border of the sprawling UT campus. He is outside the gate to the Texas practice field, wearing a practice shell (full uniform, with mesh shorts instead of pants), holding his helmet at his side. Young was professional enough to stick around after practice and talk with me for a story in Sports Illustrated, which caused him to miss the first wave of buses that transport Longhorns players from the practice field back to football building a half mile away.
There's no bus in sight, so Young is just waving his classic white Texas helmet (with Orange Longhorn logo and jersey number) at passing cars. Drivers and passengers are snapping their necks at the sight of the resurgent Longhorns' leader seemingly hitching a ride with his headgear. You can almost hear the shotgun-driver conversations.
Dude, was that ... Vince Young standing out there?
Nah, you crazy.Vince wouldn't be hangin' out for a ride. Probably got a limo.
As he waited, Young took incessant heat from Cleve Bryant, the former assistant coach who works as Texas head coach Mack Brown's director of football operations; John Bianco, the 'Horns' tireless sports information director; and, well, one SI writer. (You've got to admit, the paradox is pretty hilarious; Young is the franchise in Austin -- "The one guy we're a different team without,'' says Brown -- and here he is trying to grab a ride on a Thursday afternoon when every student on the campus seems to already have one). Soon enough, a bus pulls up, Young climbs into the first seat by himself and he's gone.
Problem number one solved. The second problem ain't getting solved, at least not to Young and his teammates' satisfaction. See, there's been this fashion issue dogging the 'Horns all year. When Brown came to Texas in '98, he put the Longhorns in white shoes. Fine. This year the players asked to wear black shoes at home, while keeping the white shoes on the road. Fine, said Brown. Then two weeks ago, they asked to accessorize (fashion talk) the black shoes at home with black socks. The offensive linemen, who don't look so good in any color socks, grumbled a bit, so Brown took a vote and black socks won.
Pushing ever harder, Young and his gang of seniors saw an opening. As Brown walked by their table at a team meal and heard Young suggest, loudly, "I think we should wear black jerseys.'' (Aside here: The idea sprung not just from the fact that black is a cool color and looks good on offensive linemen, but also because Texas quarterbacks wear black every day in practice. Offense wears orange, defense wears white, quarterbacks wear black, the hands-off color. Young's practice jersey is a striking black with burnt orange numerals, "TEXAS'' on the front and "YOUNG'' on the back. I've got to admit, aside from being a little Halloween-ish, it's darn sharp). The Texas players were proposing that the black jerseys be incorporated into the home-away rotation.
Brown thought this was hilarious. He told the players, ``Not this week, not this month, not this year. Not as long as I'm the coach here.'' Brown knows from tradition. Texas is burnt orange and white. Period. You don't mess with burnt orange and white. Brown's personal publicist and longtime UT SID Bill Little was telling me that a few years back, when Reebok was the house apparel company (now it's Nike) in Austin, that Reebok splashed a little black into clothing for the Longhorns souvenir shops.