Here I sit alone tonight. I’m watching all my college highlights and I am proud to say that I am part of these highlights. But as much as these would make anyone feel ecstatic, I feel incredibly alone tonight; there is no doubt.
I would give up almost anything to hear those crowds alive again. To hear them chanting my name. To get high-fives from everyone in town; heck, even when I was out of town, those hands reached out to me.
I would give anything to be understood again.
I grew up without the luxury of having a father or even a father figure. Some say that is why I am the way I am. Don’t give a man that much credit for being absent in my life.
The only thing he did for me was introduce me to the emotion “disappointment.”
In my college days, I would look up in the stands, my eyes always focused on the older men in the crowd; the dads. The proud men looking down on the field, palms full of sweat, so badly wanting their sons to taste success; some of them wanting to taste it for themselves.
I knew I would never find my dad rooting me on in the stands.
My dad was in prison.
I’m 6’5", 233 lbs. People fail to realize that behind this big, tough exterior lies an interior not so tough. I get my feelings hurt, just like everyone else.
I’m not whining about it. I'm just trying to put it in perspective that I am human, just like you.
My job on the football field is hard. In my position, I will get criticized and critiqued more than any other player on the field.
I don't mind that.
Some of the best times of my life were in college. Loved my teammates; loved my coach; loved the thrill and excitement that went on behind every single game. The type of energy that I felt in those games was the type scripted right out of Hollywood.
Then came pro football.
Somewhere along the line, pro football became more of a chore versus something that used to be fun.
Don’t get me wrong; I love playing football and would not trade what I do for anything. I just think that too many people want to be in control and tell me what I should and shouldn't do. Anyone that saw me play in college knew the system I was used to.
Maybe I didn't have enough time behind the playbook to really study it my first year as a pro. Afterall, part of my success in college was taking my freshman year off to study their entire playbook.
Some say I shouldn't have forgone my senior year and signed with the pros. Some said I wasn't ready; I didn't have the arm.
Little did they know I had that and more. I had talent; I had the drive; I had the passion and the heart to succeed.
As Bobby Wade once said about me:
“So many times it’s hard to find a quarterback who has a competitive edge to want to win every single game and to go about it that way. He has all the intangibles. He can throw the ball well, he can see a lot of things, and that man can run.”
They say that when rookie quarterbacks get thrown into an offense too quickly, we can suffer irreparable consequences.
I refuse to let that be my excuse.
I made my first start in week four of that season in '06. My team was 0-3. The media was already beginning the talks of how disappointing our season was going to be and how we needed a leader.
I remember winning that game and getting a mental high on how good it felt to succeed again. We continued to win, and I continued to build my leadership skills. It was just how I had always imagined.
We took it all the way to the play-offs that year.
I belonged again.
Fast forward two years, if you will. Sept. 7, 2008. Something tells me I will never forget this day.
I woke up that morning with that uncomfortable feeling in my gut. The feeling that something bad was going to happen, but I didn't know what or how to react to it. When I took the field that day, that feeling was stronger than ever.
My heart even had an unfamiliar feeling; it wasn't comfortable at all with my surroundings. The football felt different, and I couldn't connect with anyone or anything. That, coupled with my anxiety, took me out of the game mentally.
I should have allowed Kerry to come in, but being the stubborn man that I am, I ignored my gut and continued to play.
After I threw my second interception, that’s when I heard it.
The sound of boos.
To an athlete in their home stadium, this is probably our worst fear. It was like someone was taking razor blades to the most fragile and insecure part of a man; his heart.
Some say it was the boos that caused me to quit on my team and "fake" an injury so I didn't have to endure the negativity any longer.
Clearly, they know nothing about me, or my character.
If they did, they would have realized that as a red-shirt sophomore, I was sacked three times in a loss to our biggest rival. The following week, I was booed on my home field against Missouri for, shockingly, throwing two interceptions. I can handle it. I know how forgiving fans can be when you up your game. I think it’s fair to say I did that.
People fail to realize I didn't have the perfect story in college. People tend to forget that I wasn't just a guy that took my team to the Nat’l Championship and won it. I had many struggles beforehand.
My former coach couldn't have said it better when asked if I was done with my career in the pros after being booed.
“So he’s been criticized before, he’s been booed before, he’s been questioned before, and he’s lost and played poorly before. And he overcame all that here and handled every bit of it. So anybody that questions his sincerity or his toughness doesn't have any clue who he is”.
No, they have no idea who I am.
I am not going to lie and say the boos didn’t hurt me. I think it’s safe to say they would hurt any professional athlete on home turf.
But I never gave up or quit my team.
Trust me when I say that I am my toughest critic.
If I am sitting on the sidelines with a towel over my head, it’s because I am dealing with the fact that I am getting booed in my own stadium and I am focusing on what I need to do to improve my play so we can win. If I shove away a teammate, it’s not because I am disrespectful. It’s because I don’t need to be told “it’s OK.”
I know it’s ok to some people. It’s not ok to me. I want to be better than “Ok.”
For the record, I was injured on that play. Did anyone ever stop to think that I was frustrated with the fact that for the first time in my career, I was injured? I ran the football more than any other QB out there and all this time, I'd never been injured. I didn't know how to take it.
I guess that’s when I knew I wasn’t invincible anymore. It crippled my heart and I took it harder than I should have allowed. I guess you can say, I was still maturing and I had the public eye watching my every move and seeing me at my most vunerable state.
What helped me get through this time was something I remembered my former high-school coach and mentor, Anthony Fields had said.
"No matter how high he has to fly, he flies that high. No matter how good he has to get, he gets that much better. They say he's a gift from God, I say he's an angel. He can do it with no limit"
So, before throwing in the towel on my career, I am asking you to be patient with me. I am not a crybaby. I am not a quitter. I am not my father.
I will be back on that field again. I will take my team to the playoffs again. I will win a Super Bowl ring by the time my career is over. I will have moments that are absolutely amazing, and I will have moments where I am embarrassed in how I played a game. I am human.
I may not handle my losses as classy as you or the media want me to, but I handle them the best I know how. I hate to lose. Plain and simple.
Instead of using that as a weakness, perhaps you should see it as my greatest strength.
I will win again. I will succeed again. I will make fans proud again. I will belong again.
I'm Vince Young.
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