If not for the Fall of the Cablinasian Empire, the story of 2009 would be redemption. If Tiger could have found a way to squash the Nov. 23, National Enquirer story the way he did a few years ago or if he never gets into that car wreck on Thanksgiving or if, you know, he wasn’t a serial philanderer, we would be talking about Kobe finally winning a title without Shaq or Alex Rodriguez and all he went through and then accomplished this year.
And then maybe, just maybe, we’d make some time for the best comeback story of all -- Vince Young.
Young’s story isn’t nearly as salacious as Kobe or ARod’s. He has never been accused of sexual assault or admitted using performance enhancing drugs. But no one in sports has faced more scrutiny since he entered the NFL in 2006. Since that time, he has been called dumb, thickheaded, unrefined and has generally been labeled a bust by most of the people who cover football.
It started with his Tiger-esque fall from grace following Texas’ national championship in 2006. In what was the most exciting championship game in any sport of this decade, Young singlehandedly led the Longhorns past USC and what many were calling the greatest college football team ever. Then came claims that he scored a 6 out of 50 on his Wonderlic Test at the NFL combine. This led everyone to question whether or not he could read (a score of 10 is considered literacy) let alone handle the complexities of an NFL playbook.
Suddenly the world turned on Young. He became the butt of every joke from the blogosphere. We all took practice Wonderlic Tests so we could compare our scores to his and feel better about ourselves. The mainstream media generally wrote him off as just another black athlete with a ton of natural ability but as missing the brains to get the job done.
But he continued to prove that he could win. His first year, after Tennessee made him the third pick overall in the NFL Draft, he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl. The following season, he helped lead the Titans to playoffs. That didn’t change the media’s perception of him, however. He was still considered too flawed to ever be successful for an extended period.
Last season, an injury forced him out of the first game and he disappeared for a short time the following day, causing some to believe that he was contemplating suicide. His mother suggested that he was hurt by the taunting of fans and he might not want to play football any longer. Before long, his head coach Jeff Fisher had named Kerry Collins the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
Fisher’s decision would normally have been controversial because of the age-old theory in sports that suggests players aren’t supposed to lose their job due to injury, but most people agreed with it. Young was called too-sensitive and the talking heads began to gloat about how they were right about him all along.
Then it all clicked for Young.
Collins went back to being Collins and the Titans were 0-6 when Young became the starter this season. Since that point, the team has gone 7-1 and is still alive in AFC Playoff race following yesterday’s victory over Miami. Young had his best game of the season against the Dolphins, throwing for 236 yards and three scores.
Now he’s thriving and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Aside from the constant criticism, Young also had to deal with the murder of his mentor Steve McNair in the offseason. McNair, another black quarterback who ran just as well as he threw the football, helped pave the way for more athletic quarterbacks like Young. In September, Young surprised McNair’s two kids by accompanying them to a father-son breakfast.
"Those are my boys," he said. "I wouldn't say it was to pay anyone back; it was just out of love. Steve would do it for me. He pretty much did it for me when I was growing up. I have a history with the boys and I want to do anything I can. I am their big brother."
Now Young has to do what he can to lead the Titans to the playoffs, something McNair always seemed to manage to do. But while he still has more work to do this season, one thing is clear:
The Vince Young comeback is complete.