Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How i'd like to know Vince Young

Two years ago I went to Pasadena to watch Michigan play Texas, and unfortunately I learned there isn’t a player more consistently defiant of 93 thousand people’s conception of reality than Vince Young. It wasn’t how I wanted it to go – Dusty Mangum kicking the game-winning field goal through the uprights I was sitting behind and all– but it was difficult to hate someone who was just so damn good at proving you wrong. Vince would do something superhuman, I’d smash my bag of kettle corn and kick my empty cup of soda, and each time it happened I thought it would be the last time. I’d never seen the kind of stuff Vince was doing – the kind that made Houdini look like one of those street-acts whose best trick always involved asking you to cut a deck of cards in half – but I never though it would keep happening.

In a way, the more he did it the more confident I became, because the latest disabling of my hopes only meant Michigan was that much closer to finally figuring him out. I thought to myself, you roll a die with nine sides that say “yes” and one that says “no,” every yes just meant a no was that much more imminent. He was supposed to be denied, solved, tackled, Vince was supposed to roll a no against Michigan. I knew probability, but the problem was I didn’t know Vince Young. It turned out the only side he rolled was “yes”, and it was the kind of yes that’s about 101% certain to rip your guts through your chest and probably break a few ribs in the process. He never did anything discretely, never defeated you with a surgeon’s care or premeditated diagram, and no one ever seemed to expect otherwise. But Michigan, Southern Cal – my damn ten-sided theoretical die – they still couldn’t stop him. My uncle was there with me in Pasadena, and every time Vince would make a play he’d lean over to me, “Un-friggin-believable; how does he keep doing it?” he’d say. And I think that’s really the best way to measure how good someone is at something, how often they redefine what you thought was impossible.

But in recent days Vince’s football talents haven’t really meant anything; a few numbers (a 6 and a 1 to be exact, the 1 just recently made relevant) and a plummeting draft-stock the only elements of a gaudy resume anyone seems to care about highlighting. It’s not that I don’t care that his score even at 16 is still pretty low, it’s that as the player I only know to be a peerless and unprecedented one-man domination, I just don’t want to recognize it, not yet at least.

I don’t know what kind of playbook Texas drew up for Vince and how well he handled the material cognitively, but his game was never based on throwing the ball and making coverage-reads anyway. Yes, he did it well when he needed to, but there's not a person who's drafting him in the top 3 because of how well he throws a button-hook or a square-out. He can run the ball, and god damnit he can do it as good as anyone; that’s what Vince Young is, and that’s the only thing I want to know him as. I like that he can’t throw a football the right way, that he knows how to stand in falling confetti as good as anyone (which is to say, he deserves to stand in falling confetti as much as anyone). I like that he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy too, because the only ballots that mattered were the two he submitted in Pasadena, and those had to mean more than some figurine anyway.

Vince's childhood is the kind that’s supposed to have more of an impact on his game than it has, and it’s as if everything else about him was just as impermeable. But how he handled the NFL’s complex schemes and linebackers who were about as fast as some of the DBs he played against in college, that was always going to be the issue with him, six, 16, or not. John Clayton and Mel Kiper and all the people who make their living talking about everything you think is too unimportant to, they were going to analyze that to death regardless. But I could deal with that, because eventually the blather of people who have nothing to blather about becomes a faint drone that I can ignore before it eventually disappears. Vince would resume being the guy who finally beat the team everyone hated.

Now I have some serious doubts about how good Vince can be in the NFL, but this is the guy solely responsible for ending Team Hollywood’s three-year sun-tanning in the media-spotlight, and anyone who isn’t at least proud of him for that should probably stop watching college football. So that’s why when I hear how this Wonderlic test is changing the way people think of Vince I get a bit nervous, nervous that it might change the way I think of him too. Because you see, there’s only one way I want to know Vince: Crushed kettle corn beneath my feet, uncle shouting incredulously in my ear, and not one in 93 thousand who have any idea if “impossible” even exists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Reasons to scream on Tuesday nights

It turned out Tuesday night was worth at least 50 cents, and that much I can guarantee. But more than that it was the kind of night where the radio never seems to play a bad song on the drive home, where red lights don’t exist, where there’s an unopened box of Mallomars and a half-gallon of milk waiting in the kitchen, and the roads are lonely enough that you can scream as loud as you want without someone looking at you strange. It was the kind where Michigan defeats Illinois by eight points while Daniel Horton spends the second half just praying no one had stashed a piece of kryptonite in their pockets.

You see, I was covering a girls basketball game in Weston Tuesday night, and though I’d put a blank cassette in the VCR it still meant I’d really only know the game as it was transcribed numerically, detailed in some six-column box-score back at the office. So somewhere around 7:30 I called my mom at home and asked her if she could make sure to text message me with an update every now and then. “I won’t message you unless something good happens,” she said. It was 34-28 when I spoke to her on the phone, and at 10 cents a text message I assumed it wouldn’t cost her very much to tell me they’d lost.

Then this happened:

LittleBrother123: johnny it’s cj michigan is winning 45-43! Feb 21, 8:13 pm
LittleBrother123: now its 47-45 , i wont bother you anymore unless they do really good. Feb 21, 8:20
LittleBrother123: 62-58 michigan 3:30 left Feb 21, 8:48 pm
LittleBrother123: 72-64 michigan has won!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Feb 21, 9:03 pm
LittleBrother123: this win was michigan’s coaches first career win vs. illonios Feb 21, 9:05 pm

Now I’ve eaten oreos with my brother, I’ve watched him play baseball with the same glove I broke in 10 years ago, I’ve seen the look on his face when I’ve picked him up from school when he wasn’t expecting it, I’ve had him fall asleep on my chest, thought about getting up to carry him to his bed, then just gone to sleep right there with him, but picturing his little golf-pencil sized fingers dashing across the keyboard to tell me they’d won was about as serious a limp as I think he’ll put in my legs for quite a while. There was that game I was covering, but damn it all, the boy went and told me the score even after he said he wasn’t going to anymore, he used exclamation points, he completely destroyed the spelling of Illinois; he even gave me an anecdote about Amaker for Christ’s sake.

Once I got around to watching the game yesterday, I still had no better an idea how it happened than I did reading how it happened on the 1 inch screen a day earlier. Sims still operates in the post like someone had told him to rather than actually wanting to; half the time Petway takes jump-shots he seems like he forgot the reason he jumped so high in the first place; Jerrett Smith – at least once a game – will make you wish you were doubted as much as he was just so you’d know what it’s like to prove everyone wrong, and Graham Brown is the type of guy who probably laid his varsity jacket over a puddle or two in high school so girls much prettier than he was didn’t have to get their ankles dirty stepping over it. We knew that. And with Horton, well, I’d always kind of hoped someone would put together a highlight reel of him, but after Tuesday I just hope they make sure I can play it in slow motion.

When you were growing up there was always that one stud guy who you knew could pretty much walk up to any girl in school and have his way with her. And that was a lot like what Horton was in the second half, only he was the stud, the girls were the baskets, and instead of writing her number on the back of his hand or giving him of those I-bet-you-want-to-know-what-color-panties-I’m-wearing glances, it was mid-lane floaters and 15 footers. You never knew how Horton was going to score, and you never cared, mainly because it never stopped happening. And as I pushed open the door to leave work, I was finally allowed to wonder things like whether my uncle in Los Angeles wouldn’t mind taking a drive with me down to San Diego if Michigan’s placed in that bracket, and not how many games of the NIT ESPN will broadcast.

But on the way home Tuesday night I didn’t know enough to realize all of that. My brother had told me all I wanted to hear; the most perfectly-spent half-dollar in the history of mankind. That night I drove through green lights with good songs to Mallomars and milk; Michigan had won, and I could scream when I wanted.