Vince Young couldn’t have written himself a better ending with the Texas Longhorns.
He could have done a little better in the NFL.
But at 34 and with his college football triumphs more than a decade in the past, Young found himself in Saskatchewan, Canada, a good 2,000 miles due north of Austin, with the hopes of earning a happy ending after all.
Sports Illustrated caught up with Young in the Great White North to talk about his quest for redemption.
It can seem hard to believe now, but Vince Young got off to a hot start as a professional, named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006. It has been 11 years since then, and more than three years since he filed for bankruptcy in 2014.
He trained with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at a local university in Saskatoon. The offseason runs a little differently up in Canada and there’s a game this Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Unfortunately, Young won’t be involved.
Young practiced as the backup quarterback, not so bad considering he hadn’t played for the past three years. Instead, an injury cut the whole thing short.
SI’s Greg Bishop met with Young while he was still training, and found him determined to do better.
“This is to finish my career on my note,” he says. “Before, the NFL shut me down. Teams shut me down. Owners shut me down. I didn’t stop because I wanted to. Now, I can’t blame anyone but me.”
Teammates nicknamed Young “Graybeard” and he quickly found that life in Canadian football was not nearly as luxurious as the NFL.
Some even questioned Young’s motivation for the comeback, even saying it was a way to promote a trio of businesses he’s involved in. Young tried to trademark a comeback slogan as well: Make Vince Great Again.
He believed he could make it happen:
“I hate to name-drop, but [Ryan] Fitzpatrick is still playing!? He leads the league in interceptions, and he’s still f------ getting paid? I mean, what the f--- is going on?”
Young’s stock could not have been higher after his performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC, but the stage was quickly set for failure in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans drafted him third overall, against the wishes of coach Jeff Fisher. Bo Scaife, a former Longhorn and Titan and one of Young’s closest friends, says the relationship between Young and Fisher was “off from the get-go.”
Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow worked on a strategy to maximize Young’s strengths during the 2006 season, with limited reads and lots of running. It worked pretty well, with Young going 8-5 as a rookie starter.
But Chow was fired in the offseason, slowly leading to the now-infamous fallout with Fisher.
Whereas [Mac] Brown had been the father figure Young always wanted, Fisher, he says, acted like someone saddled with an unwanted stepson. Family members, close friends, even Young’s pastor describe Fisher as “jealous” and “envious” of the QB.
Things really went downhill in 2008, when the Titans went 13-3 with Kerry Collins at quarterback and, the next summer, Young’s mentor Steve McNair died.
Young’s last successful stint in the league came in 2009, when he earned Comeback Player of the Year by going 6-2 as a starter. But in 2010 it was more of the same with Fisher:
In Week 11 the following season, at home against the Redskins, Young tore the flexor tendon in his right thumb. When Fisher refused to put the QB back in, he threw his shoulder pads and helmet, chucked his jersey into the stands and stalked into the locker room. As Young prepared to leave the stadium, Fisher tried to stop him. “You’re walking out on your team,” he said.
“I’m walking out on your motherf------ ass,” Young yelled back.
Young never played for the Titans again.
In 2014 Young retired from the NFL and spent the next three years cleaning up his finances, which was no easy task. Young also got involved at UT, earning a degree in applied learning and developing, joining the Longhorn Network and giving speeches.
Roughriders coach Chris Jones called Young last December to pitch him on trying out for his CFL team. Young had never even heard of Saskatchewan, but jumped at the idea of rewriting the end of his playing career. He was set to make just over $100,000 this season.
The comeback was dedicated to Cuyler Duncan, a friend from Texas who recently died of cancer. But Young tore his MRI in practice, and the comeback ended just like that.
Young liked Saskatchewan so much he’s considering opening a steakhouse there, and enjoyed being back in the atmosphere of a football team:
“I was having a blast,” he says. “A lot of people don’t understand: The best part of sports is the camaraderie. I’m blessed I was able to be around those guys.” The last time he felt that free on the field was during year two as a Titan.
He spent four days in Cozumel afterward, playing golf, relaxing and being away from the world.
Now, in typical Young fashion, he’s openly speculating about whether his football career is actually over.