Vince Young, who authored one of the most sensational championship performances in the history of college sports, appears finally to have seen his football career end at age 34, succumbing to a hamstring injury in Canada.
Young hadn’t played in a regular-season NFL game since 2011, and last saw the field in the preseason for the Green Bay Packers in 2013. He tore his hamstring on June 6, four days before the first preseason game for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The injury turned out to be more severe than expected, and Young was cut, in all likelihood ending his career 11 years after he was taken third overall in the NFL Draft.
It’s a downer of a story. Then again, it’s been that way for Vince Young for a while now. He’s had problems on the field, then money problems, then problems with the law. The last flashes of what everybody thought Young might become were seen a long time ago, in 2009, when he made the Pro Bowl and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
But, my goodness, what flashes.
Not everybody gets to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or even Jay Cutler. If it was that easy, “greatness” would have no meaning. For a variety of reasons, Young was not cut out for NFL greatness, despite his immense talent. Sports fans don’t have a lot of patience for squandered ability, and the last few years have turned Young into some kind of sad-sack “what could have been” story. Sports are all about winners and losers. That’s how it goes.
But it’s not the whole story.
Vince Young was a winner. Facing one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the 2006 Rose Bowl, Young rose to the occasion. That night in Pasadena, Young was as great as great gets, and when it came to the clutch, there he was gliding into the end zone.
Young ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns, and threw for another 267 yards. His total offense, rushing, and rushing touchdown marks set Rose Bowl records, but you didn’t need to know the stats to know you were witnessing greatness.
That moment would turn out to be the peak of his career. In Vince Young’s case, greatness was fleeting. But it was real.