Jackson: The Vince Young conversion
There hasn't been an athlete in the recent past I've disliked more personally than Vince Young. His arrogance (more on that later) would have made a combination of Barry Bonds and Bill Clinton feel inferior.
So when the meltdown occurred last season, I genuinely felt good about it. Felt that he needed it. And I didn't care if he ever recovered. As far as I was concerned, if VY had never come back to football, football would have been better off.[+] EnlargeKevin Terrell/Getty ImagesHave sideline confabs like this changed Vince Young? If nothing else, winning has given him a new image.
Now I find myself pulling for him. Rooting for him. I watched Sunday's game against the undefeated Colts and, without wanting the Colts to lose, I seriously did not want Young to get the L. I wanted to see Tennessee improve to 6-0 in games he started this season. I wanted to see his teammates carry him off the Lucas Oil field while the fans looked at him in disbelief because they, too, had given up on him.
It didn't happen, but as the game ended I began to question why I now wished success for an athlete I'd given less than a (fill in the blank) about seven weeks ago. Was the Christmas spirit getting an early jump on me? Was I getting soft in middle age? Was I getting caught up in Titans fever and jumping on the NFL's latest bandwagon?
The mental search began.
I went back through the turnaround. The team was winless and Titans coach Jeff Fisher was reluctant to start Young. Owner Bud Adams dropped double-fisted obscene gestures on Buffalo Bills fans after a 41-17 win. Comments like "[Adams] should have given [the finger] to Fisher for taking so long to start VY" began to show up on the Titans Insider Web site.
I went back to conversations I had with ESPN's Michael Smith. He got on me for saying I'd choose Bears QB Jay Cutler over Young. Smith rightfully told me that I "still associate the concept of a QB with someone with a strong arm who only throws from the pocket."
I went back to Titans win No. 3, then No. 4, then No. 5.
I went back to two drives in the fourth quarter of that Arizona game: from the 2-yard line (ended in fumble) and 1 (ended after 99 yards in euphoria). As I watched VY erase three fourth-down-and-game situations and orchestrate the concerto-style, game-winning drive, everything in me -- all that negativity I'd felt for him -- began to disappear.
Week by week I'd unknowingly released the hate and finally begun to appreciate.
As he ran off the field, having beaten the Cardinals, he held up his two hands. Five fingers on one, four on the other. No. 9, as in Steve McNair. The appreciation grew even deeper, and I had to let the past go.
I had to let go of two non-football incidents that had made me dislike Young in the first place.
We crossed paths at the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006 after Young had won the national title with Texas but before he was drafted by the Titans with the third overall pick. Young stuck out his hand for me, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton to shake (or maybe he wanted us to kiss his ring, we couldn't tell) without saying anything to us or stopping to talk. He behaved like he was an anointed king and we were his servants or peasants.
Then people on the set of IFC's "Framed" told me in 2007 that the producers were so turned off, annoyed and appalled by his attitude and behavior that they thought more than once about canning his episode (they eventually managed to work through the issues).
The blatant self-assuredness was extreme. I held it against him for several years. It blinded me. It became hard for me to want to see big things happening for him, even though we had never really met.
Now, even with the loss to Indy that makes him 5-1 this season, something has changed.
Honestly, when he sat at that podium and gave his now famous "I love everyone" post-Arizona victory presser that was directed at his haters, I felt like he was speaking directly to me -- not just John Clayton.
And I don't think the change is just in me.
ESPN.com AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky calls it "Vince 2.0."
John Sanders on the "Sports Reporters" asked, "Did this drive start the turning point in Vince Young's career?"
On the same show, Mitch Albom said, "Vince Young has been misused ever since he was a pro. Finally he has an offensive coordinator that has built around him." Albom also spoke of his "uniqueness."
Tom Waddle and Jamie Dukes on the NFL Network collectively said what no one would have said at any point last year: "There's still room to grow he's not the reason [his team] lost he's not killing the team when he throws the ball."
Players and coaches around him speak of maturity. The QB Young replaced, Kerry Collins, praises him and talks of Vince "growing up" before our eyes. His focus and approach to the game have changed.
He's learned by sitting and observing and listening intently to everything offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has told him, has developed a patience in the pocket that Michael Vick never seemed to grasp and stopped relying on his feet and athleticism to always generate offense.
There has been an 180-degree shift in personality and performance since the embarrassing events that led to Young's demotion amid questions about his stability and ability to lead.
The death of his mentor McNair and becoming surrogate father to McNair's kids have to factor into his newfound humility.
Knowing that he's taken on such a leadership role in something more important than sideline calls from Fisher has made me see Young in a different light. It has helped me erase that I.D.G.A.D. feeling that I had on reserve only for him.
The headline on Nancy Gibb's early November column in Time calls the era in which we live an "Age of Arrogance." The summary of her thoughts: "It's time we remember that vanity is not a virtue -- and try practicing some humility."
Vince Young, before this second incarnation, was in my eyes on his way to being to the "Age of Arrogance" what Tiger Woods has become to the "Age of Infidelity." That, from my perspective, is no longer true of Young. Humility has apparently set in.
Clayton said of Young this time last year that he's been "protected for so many years and now the scrutiny is finally getting to him."
I was one of those who relished what that scrutiny was doing to him. Now all I can do is praise what he's accomplished of late and sit in front of television every week hoping that this new phase of his life doesn't end.
If he keeps this up, I might have to kiss the ring on his hand the next time I see him. By then -- at the rate he's going -- he will have earned it.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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