Welcome to The Failure Files. I am fascinated with players that everyone thinks will hit it big and somehow miss (and miss big). I have more than a few pages of such players. I keep them as a reminder of the fragility of the human condition and as a warning of the dangers of the dreaded label 'potential.'
I was all set to begin this series with an obvious choice: Ryan Leaf. I had his page scanned and the post written in my head all ready to spill out onto the screen. It was low hanging fruit I was ready to bite. But then this week another player hit the headlines and has become yet another cautionary tale in the world of sports. So I am going to shift gears and be topical and instead start off with Vince Young.
Vince Young should need no introduction to even the most passive sports fan. He was one of the most dynamic college football players of his, or maybe, any generation. He had all the moves, he had style, and he had drive (at least he seemed to). His signature moment was in 2005-06. After the Heisman Trophy results were announced in late 2005, Young lost to Reggie Bush. He then showed the voters what they missed. In the 2006 Rose Bowl - the national championship game that year - he dominated a game in a way I have never seen before and we might never see again. He accounted for 467 yards of total offense, scored three touchdowns, and scored the winning TD on a bootleg with 19 seconds to play. It was a virtuoso performance. Vince Young was on top of the world. He was the third pick of the 2006 draft. He signed a contract for $26 million guaranteed. He was handed the keys to the Tennessee Titans. Everything should have come up roses for Vince.
But obviously, they didn't. His low Wonderlic score (6! maybe 16, either way, pretty low) seemed to foreshadow some very poor decisions to come. His work ethic was shaky. He made headlines by being out on the town and missing team meetings and curfews. He won some games, but not enough to impress his coach. He got hurt. He did not knock anyone out with his rehab habits. He found himself on the bench. Did he work harder? Nope. More ups and downs followed him. He eventually got released and backed up Michael Vick for a year in Philly. Then this year, he got cut by the Buffalo Bills in the preseason. If there is a more fitting metaphor for hitting rock bottom than "getting cut by the Bills," I don't know what it is.
Now Vince Young can't even find a job in the CFL, a league where his skills would seem to fit perfectly. This speaks as much to his attitude as to his talent. I was rooting for him; through all his ups and downs, I saw more than a couple glimpses of brilliance in his play. And even through all his issues, he didn't seem like a bad guy. I don't recall him being arrested or saying anything completely asinine and foolish.
Vince Young is not the first player to have "too much too soon" but he seems to be a prime shining example of it. And he certainly wouldn't be the first player to flame out when everyone seemed so certain he would succeed. But there is a second layer to his failure. His failure to himself and his family. It also turns out Vince Young is flat broke. How do you go through $26 million in less than 7 years? You would have to spend $7000 a day every day and have nothing to show for it. And this does not take in to account any endorsement deals and what not (of which there were plenty). He trusted the wrong people. He never thought about the future for a second. He figured those fat NFL paychecks would roll in forever. How can you be handed millions of dollars and not set some aside for the future? It boggles my mind every time I see this story play itself out.
There have been a ton of players who never amounted to much when so much was expected of them and there have probably been even more who have gone broke due to poor planning. Very few of them combine that one-two punch of failure as spectacularly and depressingly as Vince Young.