Before delving into the Music City Mess that Vince Young got himself into this past week, let's start with the good news: The Tennessee Titans' third-year quarterback insists he's not depressed, and his bosses agree.
That scary Monday-night sequence that ended with a meeting at the Titans' facility involving Young, head coach Jeff Fisher and a team of law-enforcement officers that included police negotiators? In retrospect, it seems to have been nothing more than a well-intentioned overreaction to the concern expressed by the quarterback's family members and friends, all in the wake of a miserable Sunday at LP Field on which he heard boos from his home fans and injured his left knee.
Now here's the not-so-great news for Young: If veteran backup Kerry Collins plays decently while Young's sprained medial collateral ligament heals – and, more important, if the Titans keep winning – the 2006 NFL offensive rookie of the year may lose his starting job for the foreseeable future.
If that happens, it won't be due to any physical shortcomings on Young's part. Nor will it be based on his inability to grasp the position mentally; that element of his game is improving on a weekly basis, despite some evidence to the contrary.
It'll be because Young, at least at this stage of his career, lacks the emotional toughness to cope with being a franchise quarterback.
For a player who handled on-the-field pressure so adeptly in leading Texas to a national championship, Young has been stunningly fragile when faced with adversity in the pros.
Part of this is because, like many former Longhorns who played for notorious enabler Mack Brown (Cedric Benson, please pick up the burnt-orange-and-white courtesy phone), Young had an abrupt transition from his pampered collegiate existence to life in the NFL. Ask most NFL coaches which current collegiate program puts out the most spoiled stars and Brown, for a change, wouldn't have to beg for votes.
It's also because Young, for all his obvious leadership skills, is a sensitive dude with a penchant for pouting when things don't go his way.
We saw that last Sunday during the fourth quarter of Tennessee's 17-10 season-opening victory over the AFC South rival Jaguars. Young, after throwing his second interception, was so stung by the boos that followed that he hesitated to take the field before the Titans' next series, entering the game only after a pep talk from Fisher. It's a reaction, I suppose, that I can somewhat understand, though most starting quarterbacks are conditioned to suck it up under such circumstances.
More troubling was Young's behavior last August, when he decided to leave the team hotel the night before the Titans' preseason opener – without permission – and sleep in his own bed. Fisher benched Young for that game, and the quarterback later expressed only a measured amount of remorse, telling reporters, "Got to go by the rules" while implying that Fisher had singled him out to send a message to the team.
In addition to Young admitting during an interview with NFL.com in May that he considered quitting after one season, there's also an as-yet-unreported story from Young's otherwise magical rookie season that sheds light on the quarterback's delicate psyche.
A few days before a mid-November road game against the Eagles, Fisher, in a team meeting, stressed the importance of players arriving promptly for the Saturday-afternoon flight to Philadelphia. "When it's time to take off, we've got to go," Fisher said. "If you're not there – I don't care who you are – we'll leave without you. And if I'm not there, you'll leave without me."
On departure day, everyone arrived on time except for Young. As the rest of the team sat on the plane 10 minutes before departure time, Young called Fisher and explained that he was only a couple of minutes away. It turned out the quarterback was exaggerating – he was more like 12 minutes away.
When he failed to arrive by the appointed time, Fisher instructed the flight attendants to close the door to the aircraft. As the plane began to taxi onto the runway, Fisher and his players saw Young's Mercedes speeding into the airport parking lot.
Once airborne, Fisher placed a call to Young's business manager. The coach explained that the team had booked a commercial flight for Young from Nashville to Philadelphia later that afternoon. "I know Vince is probably upset, but we'll deal with it later," Fisher told him. "Just get him on that plane."
Instead of heeding his coach's advice, Young moped for several hours, ultimately booking a private jet and arriving late Saturday night in Philly. The next morning, after arriving at Lincoln Financial Field, Fisher walked into the locker room and saw Young, who typically spends his pregame hours bouncing between groups of teammates, laughing and joking and priming them for battle.
On this morning, however, Fisher's starting quarterback sat silently at his locker, looking as though his world had come crashing down.
An alarmed Fisher called Young into his office and reminded him of the game's context. The previous Sunday, Young had faced one of his idols, former Titans quarterback Steve McNair, and played impressively in a 27-26 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. Now Young was about to perform opposite another quarterback he greatly admired, Donovan McNabb.
"Vince, this is an exciting moment," Fisher said. "I don't know what you're upset about, but if it's the thing with the plane, let it go. That's in the past. It's forgotten. Now let's move on and get ready to play some football."
As Young got up to leave, Fisher asked a question: "Vince, do you remember when you were pulling into the parking lot and you saw the plane getting ready to take off?"
Young nodded yes.
"Did you get a good look at the plane?" Again, Young nodded. Fisher stared him down.
"Did you see a Longhorn on the tail?"
Young did a double-take.
"No, you didn't," Fisher said. "There's no Longhorn on that plane."
To Young's credit, he responded the right way to Fisher's pep talk, leading the Titans on a touchdown drive to start a game they would win by a 31-13 score. It was the beginning of a six-game winning streak in which Young took a team from irrelevance to the brink of a shocking playoff berth and became a deserving rookie of the year and Pro Bowl participant.
I wish I could tell you that Young learned his lesson that day in Philly and never looked back. But, as we saw last Sunday, he remains a work in progress.
Clearly, he will have to learn to cope with being booed, at least on occasion. That's life in the NFL for virtually any starting quarterback who hasn't won a Super Bowl, and even for some who have.
And though Young believes the dramatic events which unfolded Monday were the product of an overreaction, he could have mitigated it by conducting himself more professionally during the ordeal. For one thing, he failed to show up at the team's facility that afternoon for a scheduled MRI on his knee. It also didn't help that, when Young disappeared from his suburban Nashville home that night, he reportedly had an unloaded gun in his car.
Throw in the concerned descriptions of Young's state of mind from some people close to him, including his mother, and Fisher decided to err on the side of caution. Fortunately, the worst thing that happened to the quarterback was pronounced public embarrassment.
So where does Young go from here? At 25, he still has a chance to be a superstar in this league. His combination of freakish talent and off-the-charts intangibles, which conspired to produce one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football, is exceptional, and he appears to have the necessary work ethic and drive. He's not a master at reading defenses by any stretch, but remember, he's still adjusting to the system installed by new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Over time, Young should improve that important aspect of his game.
Managing his emotions in the face of criticism, adversity or both remains Young's biggest challenge, and in that sense, the Music City Mess can end up becoming a turning point.
The hope is that Young has bottomed out and will now take a step back and assess his situation. For the next few weeks, as his knee heals – and perhaps for a lot longer if Collins can keep the Titans in the playoff hunt – Young can take a welcome break from the pressure of being a starting quarterback. He can observe Collins and take mental notes on everything from the way the 14th-year veteran runs the offense to the fill-in's body language after an interception.
Remember, Young only got a three-week window as a rookie to sit and watch before owner Bud Adams mandated that he make his first NFL start. Maybe, in the long run, this respite from the spotlight will turn out to have been exactly what he needed to get his career on the right track.
In a metaphorical sense, it's time for Young to stop moping and get on the plane with the rest of his teammates. Otherwise, it will take off without him, and that would be truly depressing.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Sorry, concerned emailers: It's come-back-to-earth time for the Bears (at Carolina) and Eagles (at Dallas). … The Vikings, led by (who else?) Adrian Peterson, will drop the Colts to 0-2 as Peyton Manning and his receivers remain out of rhythm. … The Texans, who made me look stupid last week, won't dare do it again – they'll beat the Ravens on Monday night at Reliant Stadium, led by a defensive effort that upstages Ray Lewis and the gang.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Denver, where I can see the second-most-exciting event to take place at Invesco Field this summer: Broncos vs. Chargers for early AFC West supremacy. It won't be subtle.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. After arriving at the New England Patriots' training facility last Monday, only to be sent home without taking physicals or working out for coaches, quarterbacks Chris Simms and Tim Rattay issued a joint statement thanking Bill Belichick for "the magnificent opportunity to pad our Mileage Plus accounts."
2. Upon learning that a lawsuit by three people who appeared in the "Borat" movie was thrown out of court, Sacha Baron Cohen approached the bench of U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska and gave her a robust high-five.
3. When covering a political campaign, a journalist's job is not to report the facts but to give equal time to the views presented by both candidates – because otherwise someone might accuse him/her of being biased.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Well, so much for that idea. As the person who picked the Colts to finish fourth in the AFC South, I probably shouldn't have placed a whole lot of faith in a rusty Peyton Manning to beat the Bears last Sunday night. Because I did, I had the World's Shortest Dip in the World's Simplest Pool. I now turn things over to my friend Brandi Chastain; may she run the table and restore dignity to The Gameface. "I'm taking Pittsburgh over Cleveland," the soccer legend says. "I love the Steelers. I wanted to be a nose guard for them when I was eight. My godfather, Swede Johnston, played for them back in the day. And what is a Brown?"
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
One week into our association, UCSB basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb and I are already bickering like an old, married couple. That's what happens when a competitive personality finishes her first week of a fantasy football season with a team, Gaucho Madness, that owns the lowest point total in a 12-team league. "I'm not just blaming you for loss of my dignity – getting my ass kicked by a video guy," Gottlieb said Wednesday, referencing her 82-59 to Vidiots, a team managed by defending champion Jason Spitulnick. "I'm blaming you for the fact that I lost it publicly."
I wasn't about to get scapegoated so easily. Was it my fault that Tom Brady (her first-round draft pick) got hurt? Didn't that third-round selection of Willie Parker pan out nicely? "Yeah," she said, "but just think how much worse it would've been if Parker hadn't scored 31 points! And I blame you for the receivers (Braylon Edwards, Torry Holt, Joey Galloway) combining for six points." When she calmed down, I suggested she replace the Denver defense (hosting the Chargers) with recently waived Jacksonville (hosting the Bills) and discussed possible replacements for Brady, with Aaron Rodgers now the only quarterback on her roster. This week she faces McLovin, which features Brett Favre, Plaxico Burress, Titans rookie halfback Chris Johnson and Randy Moss. "As a New York sports fan, I should've known that the sports gods would pummel me for picking Brady," Lindsay conceded. "The good news is, at least I'm playing Randy Moss this weekend."
Meanwhile, over on the dark side, my buddy Malibu won his opener by the slimmest of margins, with Hand of Doom edging Bangas by a 115-114.6 score. Basically, the difference between Chargers-loving Malibu's Nate Kaeding (six points) and Bangas's Phil Dawson (four) was enough to sway the balance. The hero for Malibu was old friend Drew Brees, with 34.7 points. This week he takes on Gravity Rebels, a team that includes Donovan McNabb, Joseph Addai, Maurice Jones-Drew, Dwayne Bowe, Marvin Harrison and Broncos rookie sensation Eddie Royal. Malibu, stung by the thumb injury to wideout Marques Coltson, picked up Bucs wideout Ike Hilliard, but I talked him into playing sleeper pick Devin Hester instead. "But Hilliard is projected to score more points," Malibu protested. "By doing that I go from being projected to win to being in a dead heat." My argument: "Who are you going to trust – me or a computer? Wait, don't answer that …" I also convinced him not to bench David Garrard in favor of new pickup Matt Ryan and endorsed his decision to play newly acquired Broncos halfback Andre Hall ahead of Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
Honestly, which coach do you think was more bummed out about the Raiders' feeble performance against the Broncos last Monday night: Lane Kiffin, or Mike Ditka?
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
The brave firefighters and police officers of America. Seven years later, and a grateful nation hasn't forgotten.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
NY Post staying classy Brady
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
Oops, I was wrong: The Royals were off last weekend and play at Ipswich Town this Saturday, hoping to improve their sixth-place standing in the Football League Championship division. On Tuesday, Reading returns home to face Sheffield Wednesday (confusing, I know, but that's what happens when a club carries a day of the week in its name) at Madejski Stadium.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Last December, as he prepared to lay the smack down on his treacherous ex-protégé, Bill Belichick channeled Tupac in this space. Now, in the wake of Coach Hoodie's recent misfortune, it's Traitor Eric's turn to hold the mic (to Ice Cube's "What Can I Do"):
[Intro: Giants Stadium P.A. announcer]
On any roster, a great quarterback can make up for others' failures
But on Bill Belichick's roster, the system itself is failing
Ta-dow! How you like the dude you love to hate?
It's 2008 and I feel great with the legend at QB
Throwin' to Cotchery, or my man L. Coles, linemen clearing holes
So check yourself
Cuz your time is shorter than Doug Flutie on his knees
Wish you had Drew Brees?
Enter my hood, get jacked, cuz I'm the mack
Take a nation of Massholes to hold me back
Too big for my headset, and I popped Moet
Watchin' my HD set, Was I smilin'? You bet
Used to score 40 when T.B. was upright? Now 20's a good night
12s the number, a major bummer
About to start lookin' much dumber
Dynasty's up, used to think it would last
But being a kingpin is a thing of the past
You used to hope Cassel was Manny Mota
Now you're just like the dude in Minnesota
Bow to my crew, it's on now Boo
Damn, what can I do?
(Now it is on cause your boy's gone and I got B. Favre)
What the hell can I do?
(Now it is on cause your boy's gone and I got B. Favre)
Already cryin' when Bernie Pollard slayed him?
Yeah that's right Daddio I'm the one who paid him
You done been spanked, I'm holding up a bank, rollin' in my tank
Goin' to see the Yanks, kickin' it with Hank
Police won't help you when I pull rank
Your playbook's blank
Better not be late, and Spygate?
You done tripped for a year tryin' to violate
Goodell got paid, plea, no contest
Now your camera-totin' ass bout to get undressed
So take a look at K-Rhodes
Yeah, my free safety knows where Cassel's balls gonna go
Never stole your playbook
But my briefs they just got tighter, Hoodie look
Can't wait for Sunday so we can blow you away
It's on – what can I say?
Ta-dow! (Now it is on cause your boy's gone and I got B. Favre) Ta-dow!
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
OK, it's been awhile, and we have a lot of ground to cover, so fasten your seatbelts for a super-sized edition of what will typically be a much more streamlined feature. For those of you who require a heartier Trippin' fix, tune in on Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET for the third installment of Live Trippin'. If you want to check out the first two LTs, go to Around the NFL and click onto my name.
"Hey retard, do you really think it (expletive) matters if Belichick had played his backups more in some blowouts last year? It's so old to hear you hack writers who have never played a (expletive) game in your lives take cheapshots at Bill Belichick. Yeah, it's his fault Brady got hurt. Go (expletive) die dude."
I choose life. (And yes, I obviously think Matt Cassel would've been more prepared for this moment had he played more in some blowout victories last year – or I wouldn't have written it. Evidently you disagree. I wish you a pleasant 2008 season, and I hope you and the many readers who expressed themselves in similarly eloquent fashion get control of your emotions soon.)
" '23. New York Jets: Sure, Lord Brett Favre looked sweet on the long touchdown pass and the fourth-and-13 Hail Mary, but was there anything more impressive than his interception of Chad Pennington's potential game-winning pass to the end zone with five seconds remaining?' So Brett intercepted Chad's pass? How did I miss that? Or could this just be confusion caused by poor grammar?"
I think it's more likely confusion caused by an acute failure to recognize obvious sarcasm.
"Close source my ass. I want to know who this close source is because Brady's MRI (was) scheduled for (Monday) so how the hell would they know if he's out for the season. Don't put unconfirmed BS on your front page."
I would never put unconfirmed BS on our site – which is why I waited until the news about Brady's blown-out knee was confirmed by a second, independent source. I'm sure you want to know who those sources are; obviously, they were people in position to know exactly what was going on, or I'd have disregarded their input. And that concludes this week's Journalism 101 lecture. Thank you.
"Isn't it strange that you have this information, but NFL.com, NFL Network, and ESPN all (said) that his injury updated status is uncertain? And they are more of a top sports center than Yahoo! (Sports) would be. But yet you have this confirmed, right? …"
This just in, Andrew: There's a new world order, and you're looking at the 'top sports center.' I'm not wrong about that, either.
"I'm sure you're a great reporter/journalist. But the Patriots barely give any information to their own staff about injuries; how is it possible that you would know Brady is out for the season? Furthermore if there are 'close sources in the team,' they better watch out for their job. Belichick does not tolerate such slipups! P.S. You're crazy if you believe the Patriots released this information an hour after the game. They have a hard time reporting on a hang nail never mind a potential season-ending injury to Tom Brady!"
Wally, with all due respect, do you honestly think that I just sit back and rely on the crumbs that Bill Belichick might throw my way to report on a hugely significant story like this one? How is it possible that I knew Brady was out for the season? Well, for starters, there seem to be some people out there who have at least as much respect for me as they do for Belichick. Or maybe Belichick was the source. The important thing is that we wouldn't have gone with the story if we weren't 100-percent confident in the legitimacy of the information.
"I don't care what anyone says, you belong in the writer's hall of fame for 'Sarah Barracuda.' I can't stop laughing. I'm going to have that song in my head all weekend."
You're gonna burn, burn, burn, burn, burn it to the wick …
"You called it, Mr. Silver: Now Ann and Nancy should take your lyrics and record a version to be played on YouTube …"
Maybe I'll form a tribute band and go on tour. We'll call ourselves "Community Organizers."
"That story about Sean Taylor was so touching. I cried. Thank you for that. I may be very emotional, and it is easy to make me cry, but I firmly believe that when I do cry, it's about something meaningful. I'm a Redskins fan. … That article was brilliant. A lot of articles that came shortly after his death were just about what he did in life. I'm glad you found out who Sean Taylor was, and helped everyone understand that he was a great guy. Thanks."
My pleasure. I wish I had gotten to know the man when he was alive.
"Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your article. Being a Bears fan, I always hated Deion (Sanders), but I really respect what he is trying to do. Like most people, I can't say that I always agree with his takes, but I wish more superstars would help mentor these young adults. I have been involved as a youth pastor or sports ministry director now for about 17 years. There aren't enough like Deion out there who are willing to give back. Great article!"
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Thanks, and an even bigger "thank you" is in order for my editor, who came up with idea months ago. Finally, thanks for all the great work you do. It sounds like you'd be a welcome addition to 'Community Organizers.' Do you play an instrument?
"Wow. I'm floored. What does it say about the present state of journalism when we can no longer risk waiting for a man to be buried to start criticizing his life? This wasn't some political or philosophical figure. This was a sports persona. Does anyone even know what R.I.P. abbreviates anymore? That wasn't enough for you though. You had to follow the bashing of the deceased with your usual flippant assortment of entries absolutely disregarding any sense of respect for the dead or sympathy for those who mourn his passing. Why not just go piss on his grave on your way to get some ice cream? That article was poor form and an indictment concerning your now apparent smallness as an individual. I think an old fashioned '(expletive) you' is warranted for that one."
I understand the objections that you and many other emailers had regarding the timing of the Gene Upshaw column. I certainly didn't take in joy in the suffering his loved ones endured. I would also note, however, that many ex-players felt as though Upshaw's approach to running the NFLPA caused them unnecessary personal misery. With all of that said, I remain saddened by Upshaw's passing and agree that, in a perfect world, I'd have written a column very similar to this one while he was alive.
"Simply … thank you for an excellent piece. Jane Arnett wife of Jon Arnett LA Rams 57-63, Bears 64-66"
Thank you – and the others who sent similarly supportive emails – for the feedback.
"Your article, "Upshaw helped and hindered", was something I had been waiting for since he died. Was anyone going to be brave enough to not talk ill of the man, but speak about the truth? All I can say is wow! It blew me away. Candor is something we lack in this country at this time. I'm an Electrical Coordinator for American Electric Power. I build power plants for them. I got my start being a Union electrician out of San Diego, Local 569, IBEW. I still pay my dues and carry my Union card. Unions get bad raps all the time and not that the NFLPA has one, but the spirit of collective bargaining was never really just about money, but about helping create a better future for working people. I was shock to hear the money-driven comments of Gene Upshaw when it came to taking care of their own. It was clear he lost any hint of humanity when it came to the issue of ailing retired NFL players. His comments just seemed like whatever benefits granted them was just him throwing them a bone. I don't feel sorry or sad at his passing; I just hoped he made his piece with his maker. When we are faced with our own immortality, somehow our compassion returns. I could write all day about this situation. I'm just so disappointed and frustrated with our country, when it comes to charity and money. The sad truth is if the NFLPA continues to go in the direction of Mr. Upshaw's vision, there will just be more retired players in bad situations, both medically and financially. It is something I've even seen in my local at bargaining time – the younger guys did not want to put anything towards the future. They would say, 'give me all my money on my check.' Thank God for being able to reason with them and make them understand that the future was not that far off. I hope his successor can see a better way and not cozy up to the commissioner and owners for peace. When those players are done they are done. Sorry for being long."
Robert B. Zenon
No apology necessary – I can tell you speak from the heart, and it's good to hear somebody voice those quintessentially American values.
Given that mayonnaise is the most disgusting food in the history of the universe – "Satan's Pus," as my friend Pip likes to call it – I'm really, really sorry to hear that.
- Jeff Fisher