Where Did It All Go Wrong for Vince Young?
Vince Young played in the most captivating and emotionally riveting college football national championship game of the modern era, a contest that exceeded its unprecedented hype, and provided a truly transcendent performance for the ages on January 4, 2006.
His Texas Longhorns upset the impeccably dominant USC Trojans, the reigning champs, a team with two Heisman Trophy winners and a litany of NFL players on its roster by a score of 41-38 when Young scampered into the right corner of the end zone on 4th-and-5 from the 9-yard line with 19 seconds to play.
As the confetti swirled in the Pasadena air moments later, Young had finished 30-of-40 for 267 yards passing and with 200 yards and three touchdowns on 19 rushes.
Now, just seven short years later, after that mesmerizing win, Young is lost.
He is out of the NFL and owes close to $2 million on an overdue loan payment, a credit for which he wanted to use a portion of to throw himself a $300,000 birthday party during the 2011 lockout (per the Associated Press).
So, how did Young go from national title game protagonist to a street free agent with life-altering financial troubles?
Before Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, Young was the dual-threat quarterback who many believed would turn the NFL landscape upside down.
However, during the 2006 pre-draft process, debates raged in regards to his "unorthodox throwing motion," a Philip Rivers-esque three-quarter delivery that usually produced accurate passes but occasionally caused a few sporadic tosses per game.
Playing in the relatively wide-open Big 12 during his junior season for the Longhorns, Young completed 65.2 percent of his passes and made plenty of downfield strikes with relative ease.
Due to that, even with plenty of criticism surrounding his professional prospectus as a passer, he went No. 3 overall in the 2006 draft to the Tennessee Titans, a franchise owned by Houston's own Bud Adams.
Though Young lost his first two career starts, he led a clearly flawed Titans club to an 8-8 record in 2006 which included an impressive six-game winning streak.
Tennessee missed the playoffs, but Young won the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
However, he only completed 51.5 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Young was undoubtedly much more effective as an improvisational runner than he was as a traditional pocket passer in his debut season in the NFL.
He scrambled for 552 yards at 6.7 yards per carry and finished the year with seven rushing scores.
His inability to consistently deliver accurate passes—foreshadowed in his otherwise sparkling rookie campaign—ultimately played a major factor in his eventual demise.
In 2007, he started 15 games and guided the Titans to the postseason and improved his completion percentage by more than 10 percent. Oddly enough, though, he threw nine touchdowns to a whopping 17 interceptions and his rushing prowess diminished.
Young averaged only 4.2 yards per carry and reached the end zone just three times on the ground.
He never transitioned as a pure passer, something that must happen for any quarterback—dual-threat or not—to be successful at the professional ranks.
After reaching the playoffs in 2007 behind the multi-faceted skills of Young, hopes were high in Tennessee heading into the 2008 season.
But, in the season opener against the AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars, Titans fans booed Young after he threw his second interception of the game.
According to the Tennessean per AOL, "Young appeared unwilling to take the field midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon following his second interception and a resulting cascade of boos from the fans at LP Field."
He did return to the contest, but injured his knee four plays later.
A photo taken by Stephanie Stradley shows Young being literally distant from his team during a 2007 game against the Texans when Young was sidelined with an injury:
Following his 2008 MCL sprain, Young sent shockwaves through the entire NFL when then head coach Jeff Fisher notified Nashville police after Young's "therapist told the coach the quarterback mentioned suicide several times before driving away from his home with a gun" per ESPN.com.
This Associated Press video succinctly recaps the crazy and rather frightening developments:
To some, the suicide-related news came out of nowhere, but there was reason to be concerned about Young's ability to deal with the pressures that come with playing quarterback in the NFL years before.
NFL.com quoted Young regarding potentially retiring following his award-winning rookie campaign:
I really thought long and hard about it. There was so much going on with my family. It was crazy being an NFL quarterback. It wasn't fun anymore. All of the fun was out of it. All of the excitement was gone. All I was doing was worrying about things.
My teammates helped lift me out of it. I prayed really hard. And I began to focus on God's calling for me. Play football. Be a role model.
When you retire, a lot of stuff goes away, people calling you and asking you for things. Some people say things about you that you don't like, and a lot of that stuff was killing me inside,'' Young said. "I am trying to be a role model and be a good citizen and have fun with my friends. Things were so fuzzy (that) I could hardly see through it all.
Despite accumulating pedestrian passing numbers and experiencing plummeting rushing statistics, Young rebounded nicely in 2009, going 8-2 as a starter after replacing Kerry Collins, who began the year 0-6.
Young's 2:37, 99-yard, game-winning drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Kenny Britt on fourth down as time expired against the Arizona Cardinals gave us one last glimpse of the quarterback's inherent flair for the dramatic.
Though quite the feat after their disappointing start, the Titans ended the year 8-8, missing the playoffs once again.
But there was reason to believe in the once troubled Young.
However, that belief was short-lived.
Following a 19-16 loss in Week 11 to the Washington Redskins in 2010, ESPN reported a significant rift between Young and Fisher:
The fifth-year signal-caller was booed, injured his thumb, threw his shoulder pads into the stands, stormed out of LP Field without talking to the media and reportedly verbally sparred with his coach following the game.
According to the Tennessean per the same ESPN article, Young said the following to Fisher after the game: "I'm not running out on my teammates, I'm running out on you."
Titans management finally and rather unceremoniously had reached the brink with Young.
Adams, the owner who fell in love with the hometown Young during the 2006 draft process, released him on July 28, 2011.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed him to backup Michael Vick, and prior to the 2011 season, Young made the infamous "Dream Team" comment, one that came back to haunt the drastically underwhelming Eagles.
He was given one final shot by the Buffalo Bills, but after erratic play in the preseason, they cut Young on August 27, 2012.
Young, undeniably a psychologically burdened guy, experienced an embarrassing amount of off-field incidents during his career.
In 2010, he was cited for assault after participating in a fight in a Dallas club.
The reason behind the brawl?
Reportedly, a bar employee flashed the "Hook 'Em Horns" sign upside down.
Now, this is essentially a sacrilegious gesture in some areas of Texas, or as Mack Brown said, "it's disrespectful," but should it have been enough to spark Young to fight?
When news surfaced that Young was broke in 2012, a few years removed from signing a contract with $26 million in guaranteed money, more reports arose that highlighted Young's outrageous spending habits.
Clay Travis of OutkickTheCoverage.com wrote about Young's horrendous money management which included "$6,0000 a week at T.G.I. Friday's, buying out 130 seats on Southwest Airlines flights, and ordering $600 shots of Louis XIII cognac—stories all told by employees of the Nashville restaurants and bars who waited on Young and his teammates.
A humiliating decision to take out a $1.9 million loan with 20 percent interest (on which he subsequently defaulted) that was said to be used for a $300,000 birthday party for himself (h/t Los Angeles Times).
Young is definitely not the first athlete to fall from grace due to injuries, a strained relationship with his coach and a plethora of foolish financial decisions, and he won't be the last.
But his story is especially saddening.
As a quarterback, Young was an amazingly smooth athlete and many wanted to believe he was the next African-American signal-caller who could make it in the NFL with an atypical set of skills.
As a person, he was irrefutably overwhelmed with pain and sorrow in defeat, someone distinctly disturbed from a psychological perspective.
His emotional difficulties directly led to a unique free fall from national champion to an in-debt, unemployed man with no NFL future.
If we remember back to what Vince Young did on the night of January 4, 2006, his plummet to rock bottom is downright cringe-worthy.
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