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Hustle and Flow 

With fourth and 10 to go on his own 20-yard line and 2:49 left in the game, Vince Young did exactly what most folks in Texas expect him to do: He made plays. In a performance that had many of his new teammates recalling UT’s 2005 Rose Bowl glory, Young confidently led the upstart Tennessee Titans to an improbable 24-21 comeback victory over the suddenly slumping New York Giants.

“My comfort with things like that was extremely high from the get-go,” said Young on Titansonline.com, describing his fourth-quarter heroics. “It’s a sneak peak of what’s going to happen, not just with me but with this team in general.”

One state over, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick displayed his own set of dazzling skills, rushing for 166 yards in a losing effort against the New Orleans Saints. At about this time last year, San Antonio sports fans were still basking in the glow of NFL football. The highlight of last season’s “San Antonio Saints of New Orleans” experiment, outside of the Texas-barbecue tailgating spreads, was catching a glimpse of Vick, perhaps the most electrifying figure in sports, and the video-game face of the league. “They have a great crowd and they have a great city, Vick told the Current last season, praising the Alamo City. “They’ve got a basketball team that’s already having great success, but it’d be three NFL teams in the state of Texas which might be too many for one state.”

Like most QBs in the league, Vick and Young carry the weight of their respective franchises, stadiums, and, in some instances, cities, on their shoulders. As members of the small fraternity of African-American quarterbacks playing in the league, the duo is routinely nagged by false misconceptions concerning their capacities for the leadership and intelligence needed to playing the “thinking man’s” position. In today’s league, these misconceptions often manifest in veiled references to the black quarterback’s ability to “make the right decisions,” “throw the football,” and “make athletic plays.” After the frustrating loss to the Saints, in which many of his receivers dropped critical passes, Vick lost his cool, made an obscene gesture towards his home fans, and was subsequently fined $10,000 by the NFL. The national media uproar over the incident stood in stark contrast to the quiet reaction when Denver QB Jake Plummer, not African American, made the same mistake a few seasons ago.

Hall-of-Famer and former Houston Oiler Warren Moon, who at one time was relegated to the Canadian Football League because no NFL would give him the opportunity to captain a team, touched upon the struggles of black quarterbacks during his induction speech in Canton, Ohio, honoring men like Willie Thrower, Marlin Briscoe, James Harris, Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham, and Vince Evans.

“A lot has been said about me as being the first African-American quarterback into the pro-football hall of fame,” said Moon in an emotional address. “It’s a subject that I’m very uncomfortable about sometimes, only because I’ve always wanted to be judged as just a quarterback. But because I am the first and because significance does come with that, I accept that. I only played this game not for just myself, not just for my teammates, but I always had that extra burden when I went on that field that I had a responsibility to play the game for my people. That extra burden I probably didn’t need to go out on the field with, because I probably would have been a much better player … But you know what? I carried that burden proudly.”

Enter Vince Young, the pride of Houston, who almost single-handedly restored the storied legacy of UT football. He returns home this week as the one of the most heralded quarterbacks ever to come out of college. When the Houston Texans somehow passed on Prince Vince in favor of defensive player Mario Williams, Bud Adams, the much-reviled owner Oilers owner who relocated the franchise, quickly snatched him up for Tennessee. Most people see burnt orange glory when they look at young Young; it is perhaps what some will always see. His legend, coupled with his remarkable football mind, will help Vince Young ultimately dispel the NFL’s underlying fear of the black quarterback.

 


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