Titans' Vince Young shows that he might have a second act
Vince Young came into NFL with so much promise, then flamed out at 25
He couldn't handle the pressure, was booed, benched and became depressed
Now, Young is starting again for the Titans, is 3-0 and showing signs of life
Vince Young is shaping up to be the best story of this NFL season. Maybe that's just the sportswriter in me talking. (Yes, I actually have a sportswriter living INSIDE me. It's like a tapeworm, except it eats more.) But the more I think about what's happening with Vince Young, the more I want it to keep happening.
If you listed all the reasons we watch sports, probably the top two are a) they're entertaining on a purely visceral level and b) they can shoehorn three novels' worth of human drama into one Sunday afternoon. And for both those reasons, Young is intriguing.
He has only started three games for the Titans. You don't turn around an NFL career in three games. But in the first start, he completed 15 of 18 passes; in the second, he completed 12 of 19; and in the third, he was 17 for 25 for 210 yards. Tennessee, which lost six straight without Young, has won three in a row with him.
Young is only 26, but a month ago, he was already considered a has-been. This is one of the least appealing aspects of our sports culture: it condenses people's lives. F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous line that there are no second acts in American lives is especially true in sports.
Athletes are supposed to hit their stride by 25 and peak by 30. In a lot of cases, by the time they really grow up, their careers are over.
Young looked like he was on that path. Last year, in Tennessee's first game, he famously did not want to re-enter the game after he was booed for throwing an interception. It was a raw human moment -- he was a 25-year-old struggling to handle failure and the very public criticism that came with it. Most of us, at 25, struggled with failure.
But it is not allowed in football -- not like that. And then Young apparently disappeared, and there were worries that he was so depressed he was suicidal ... and that, really should have engendered sympathy for him, but that's not really how football works, either. Young had wavered on entering a game, then went AWOL.
He was benched (understandably) for Kerry Collins. He was not ready to quarterback an NFL playoff team.
Highly drafted quarterbacks flame out all the time, of course -- we've seen it happen to Tim Couch and Cade McNown and Akili Smith and Joey Harrington and dozens of others. But with those guys, it was not so sad. They were just overvalued coming out of college, that's all. They had a terminal flaw that went undetected (or unappreciated) in the evaluation process. And in the end, they got paid a lot of money to do a job they weren't quite capable of doing. No tragedy there.
But this felt different. Young clearly had the talent to be an impact player in the NFL -- his combination of size and speed are almost unprecedented for a quarterback, and he had shown signs of being a decent passer in the right system.
If you watched Young in college, this was depressing. No player in the last two decades meant more to a national championship team than Young meant to Texas in 2005. He wasn't just great. He gave you the sense that you were watching a new creation: part quarterback, part running back, part power forward, part cyborg.
Nobody knew if he would be a star in the NFL. But the idea that he wouldn't even be a starter, that was depressing.
Now, suddenly, there is hope for Vince Young again. There is reason to believe he won't end up like Michael Vick -- another player the NFL could not quite figure out what to do with, even before the whole dogfighting thing.
Young has completed 65.7 percent of his passes, and that's huge because accuracy is one of the two most important qualities for an NFL quarterback. The other one is decision-making -- and Young has thrown two interceptions in 67 attempts.
He has only played three games. His team was 0-6 when he finally go to start, so it's not like Young has been playing under the pressure of high expectations. But still, Young has played well enough to make you think his story is not over. He is not destined to stand on the sideline in a baseball cap.
Most amazingly, he is still in Tennessee -- and if he keeps this up, he might be the long-term answer there. How often does that happen in sports? How often do you see a guy come in as a franchise savior, show promise, completely bomb out, sit for a year and a half, and then take his starting job back for good?
Young was always been one of the most outwardly confident athletes around. At Texas, this made him riveting; in his early years in Tennessee, it made him maddening. A year on the bench, watching your team compile the best record in the AFC without you, would humble any man. Now maybe Vince Young can finally be as good as he thought he was.
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