Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The Curse of Retired Longhorn Numbers...And What This Means For Vince Young
It wasn't even something that I had really given any passing thought to until just today.
Rumors were surfacing on ESPN.com, Yahoo and several other websites that Vince Young's sprained MCL was the least of his, or the Tennesse Titans, concerns. Apparently, VY's friends called the cops out to make sure he was mentally OK after disappearing from sight, not answering his cell phone, emails or much of anything else. Earlier in the year, he had mentioned that his first year in the NFL was so mentally draining that he considered retiring after Year 1--a year where he only won Rookie Of The Year, and were a Patriots defeat away from getting into the playoffs.
Merely the thought of Vince having mental problems gave me flashbacks to when I was in school at the University of Texas at Austin rooting for Ricky Williams to break the NCAA career rushing record. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1998, and was so highly coveted by the New Orleans Saints that they traded away all their draft picks just to get him. Shortly after some extremely strange behavior that included giving interviews w/ his helmet on, he was diagnosed w/ Social Anxiety Disorder. Whether Ricky's just a pothead or he was genuinely attempting to self-medicate, either way, Ricky has been oft-suspended in his now 10-year NFL career for testing positive repeatedly for marijuana. Twenty years earlier, Texas' other Heisman winner, Earl Campbell, was suffering from an anxiety disorder and panic attacks. His straight-forward, kick-your-ass running style combined w/ his anxiety attacks limited his NFL career. Furthermore, it is widely-known that Earl Campbell uses a wheelchair to get around much of the time due to the extreme punishment that football has taken and ravaged on his body.
Earl Campbell is 53 years old.
But still, he is the Hall of Fame. Ricky, for all his troubles, still won a rushing title w/ Miami and is good enough to stay on w/ team this year. He definitely won't go to the Hall of Fame, but Ricky will probably be remembered as a durable and absolutely eccentric running back that made the NFL just a little weirder.
As for Vince? For all the promise that followed Vince Young after leading Texas over USC for the 2005 National Championship, it looks like after another abysmal performance on Sunday, plus the questions about his overall mental health, he may be out of the league in the next few years. Even worse, as of right now, I'm not so sure Vince Young would be all that sad to leave the NFL.
Vince, Ricky and Earl certainly have had their share of struggles either in recent years or otherwise. T.J. Ford, the first Texas basketball to have his number retired after he led the Longhorns to the 2003 Final Four, has suffered from major spinal injuries since leaving the 40 Acres. He has missed whole seasons due to spinal stenosis, and has twice been carted off an NBA court on a stretcher as a result of nasty collisions in the paint.
But Ford had his number retired. He won the 2003 Naismith Award. He has never lived up to his potential of being the most electrifying point guard in the NBA, and still, he risks his health everytime he steps onto the court.
Roger Clemens is the only baseball player to have had his number retired by UT, and it has already been discussed in some length on Sports Karma the indignity of this fact. But still, he was arguably the most successful athlete in Longhorn history. Well, up until that whole steroid thing where it was revealed that he was a cheater, a liar, possibly a felon and definitely a world-class egomanical prick.
But Clemens had his number retired anyway. He helped the Longhorns win the 1983 College World Series, and went onto challenge Nolan Ryan as the best right-handed pitcher of the last fifty years. His reputation was forever ruined, though, and his Hall of Fame credentials are seriously in doubt due to his link to the Mitchell Report and his subsequent cover-ups and denials.
Earl and Ricky both have had their number retired. They are Heisman winners. Both have suffered mental illnesses that severely impacted their NFL careers.
Kevin Durant had his number retired. Almost immediately upon having his number retired, he was forced to move to Oklahoma. Tommy Nobis just had his number retired too. Nobody knows who the hell Tommy Nobis is except for NFL diehards, UT alumni from the 1960s, and a few scattered Atlanta Falcons fans. In fact, I just had to explain to Ramiro today who Nobis was. Bobby Layne had his number retired.
But he's dead.
Vince Young has his number retired. Right about now, it's hard to say that Vince is faring any better than his number-retired peers. In fact, he's probably doing much worse than any of the aformentioned.
Well, except for Bobby Layne, obviously.
I'm not so sure you can call it a curse, but it's definitely troubling to see. There's a whole stable of Longhorns, none of whom have lived up to their God-given abilities or suffered some pretty harsh fates to their careers. And it's not even limited to just the guys that have had their numbers retired.
Cedric Benson has flamed out spectacularly as a running back for the Chicago Bears. It is highly doubtful that his NFL career will resume as a result of poor performance on the field, a poor attitude off the field and several alcohol-related incidents on cars and boats which have drawn the ire of Austin-area law enforcement.
One has to wonder if there is anything Vince can do to curb his recent slide and reverse the trend of Texas athletes performing so poorly, or at the very least, acting so erratically. I say there is, but it's not an answer that most people would dare envision or say.
Not permanently, mind you. I'm not speaking of a full-on retirement. Think of it more like a year-long sabbatical. Consider this for a moment: Vince Young is 25 years old. Most of my friends are now either in their 30s or close to it. I'm 29, for the record. At 25 years old, I left the media industry permanently after working as a scrub for ESPN Radio, teaching Intro to Media at the University of New Haven, and doing play-by-play for UNH. I was completely sick and burned out of the industry, and frankly, I still am.
Most of my closest friends were having a difficult time at or around age 25. Brad was laid off from Charles Schwab, and moved back to Los Angeles and in w/ Mom. Stephen worked the graveyard shift at UPS in Seattle. Chris was working as a teller at Bank of America. Ramiro, or Da Vinci, as he is known on Sports Karma, returned to the Rio Grande Valley to work on graduate studies. Most, if not all of us, really wanted to set the damned world on fire, but instead, just wanted to make the burning stop.
I'm not so sure any of us would be as successful as we are today if we hadn't taken some time just to chill for awhile, either by choice or by force. I had to move back to Houston for awhile and sort out my options. As already mentioned, Brad had to move back in w/ Mom to sort out his options. Ramiro bumped around Europe for a summer. Stephen stayed working the graveyard shifts for awhile until taking a management gig, and moving to Seattle was a part of his master plan to get the hell away from the rest of the world to begin w/.
Yes, I'm well aware of the fact that there are many dissimilarites between Vince Young and us. I'm sure there are some who aren't exactly feeling bad for a guy making millions of dollars a year, lives a life of extreme luxury and probably gets more ass than toilet seat.
But I don't want the spotlight he faces for every poor decision he makes at work. I don't want the cameras on me everyday. I don't want to be dissected for everything I do, even by some guy in Austin writing on a 7th-rate blog. I don't want to wake up on Monday mornings and feel like I just stepped out of a car wreck. I don't want my bosses trying to make me something I'm not (and I imagine there are a fair number of people reading this who have this happen to them everyday).
Sometimes in life, especially around the age of 25, we start to question our goals in life, and wonder if it will ever get better than this. Sometimes, and not just at 25 but at any age, we have to step aside and reprioritize our lives, our existence and ourselves.
It worked for us. Brad is now a very successful broker in Houston. Chris is an excellent personal banker in Austin. Stephen is now a finance director in Seattle. Ramiro is a professor at St. Thomas University in Houston. By the end of September, I will have my real estate license. If we hadn't taken the time to really figure out what we really want out of life, I suspect we'd still be stuck like Vince Young, but older and in a much worse spot. I suspect we'd be frustrated and confused, angry and bitter that things didn't turn out the way we hoped that they would.
From a casual observer's perspective, it would be appear that Vince Young is in that stage right now.
Many people undoubtedly would scratch their heads if Vince Young were to step aside after this season to question whether football and all its alleged glory is worth it. Many people would openly mock him for passing up all these opportunities that they sure as hell never would. But then again, I don't know how many of those same people have ever played football, endured such intense media scrunity, have been booed on the job, and have done it all at such a young age.
Or maybe it's just possible that these same people forgot what it was like to be 25.