Adam Jones is the author of Rose Bowl Dreams: A Memoir of Faith, Family, and Football, which chronicles his love of the game of football, and specifically, the Texas Longhorns. He also writes a fine blog during the college football season called Jones Top Ten.
Here is part one of a two-part interview. The subject of this article currently has the highest passer rating in the NFL and will soon open a steakhouse in Austin, Texas, where Adam resides.
TT: Rose Bowl Dreams conveys the agonies and ecstacies of your experiences as a lifelong fan of the Texas Longhorns. Your transcendent descriptions of an athlete named Vincent Young give clues as to why he has become a legend in the State of Texas. Why do you believe Young is special?
Adam Jones: Other than his being a physical genius? If you look at the city of Houston, you see an incredibly fertile college football recruiting ground. But very little of it happens within Houston Independent School District, certainly not compared with Galena Park, Aldine, Alief, Klein, etc… Young transformed a perfectly mediocre Madison High School into a state contender. His high school footage is nothing short of astonishing. I don’t think I have ever seen a single player dominate a game—literally be the difference between winning and losing for a particular team—the way Young did. But that’s not why he is special. The “special” really comes by duplicating that same feat at the highest levels of college football and then, to a great extent in the pros. His winning percentage relative to the Titans’ talent level is remarkable, not that even the local press, much less the national media, seems to give him any credit for that.
TT: Given the unconditional devotion of thousands of football fans to Young, you might assume he was always warmly received by Texas Longhorn fans. This wasn’t always the case. In fact, Young was so erratic during the first half of his career at Texas that some fans thought he should switch to wide receiver. Can you elaborate?
Adam Jones: Remember here that even out of high school not everyone assumed he would be a quarterback—the University of Miami didn’t promise to play him there, which was one reason he ended up at Texas. His throwing motion was horrendous. For the first year and a half of his career, Texas coaches did not always put him in great positions to succeed. The nadir was the 2004 Missouri game. Vince was awful and left the field due to an (alleged) injury. Chance Mock mopped up in a game basically preserved by great Texas defensive play. But before Vince left, he made two jaw-dropping plays: one a touchdown on a quarterback escape that defies description, the other a 48-yard reception on an option pass from Ramonce Taylor. What could a 6-5, 235 pounder with Vince’s strength and escapability do at wide receiver? It was compelling.
But something happened on the way to that conversion: the 2004 Texas Tech game. It happened right after the lackluster effort at Missouri and tech was actually favored—blood in the water. Vince Young became Vince Young that night. The result was a 50-20 Texas win. They didn’t lose again after that.
TT: Young’s accomplishments during the 2005 season are well-documented. The Longhorns won the BCS National Championship, and Young finished second in the Heisman Trophy race to Reggie Bush. However, I’d argue that his transformation during the second half of the 2004 season may have been more impressive than his success in 2005. What do you think?
Adam Jones: He completely came out of nowhere for one thing. The Vince Young that started Missouri and the one who destroyed Tech the very next week were almost entirely different players. He grew almost exponentially as a football player during the last half of 2004, which included both the 35-7 comeback against Oklahoma State and the famous 4th and 18 at Kansas. In a way, watching that transformation, including the ridiculous 190/190 Rose Bowl performance against Michigan, was indeed more impressive than watching the known quantity that dominated college football from the get go in 2005.
TT: Since Young has become a professional football player, he has arguably been the most polarizing player in the NFL. Can you shed any light on why people tend to either love or hate Vince Young with such passion?
Adam Jones: He’s not a traditional pocket passer in the NFL mode and folks (Paging Merril Hoge) have always been suspect of that. But most of the polarization is on Vince. I think he underestimated how hard—and particularly how unforgiving—the NFL is. His early lack of maturity sort of stained his career early on. He is now in a position of restoring trust. He’s getting there, but it is never an easy road.
TT: Young is currently injured. He has missed games in the past due to leg injuries. Is being a dual-threat quarterback especially hazardous to his health? Do you think he can prolong his career by transforming himself into a pocket passer?
Adam Jones: The second question is interesting because, as I write this, Vince Young has the highest pass efficiency rating in the NFL, right ahead of Peyton Manning. He has a knack for hitting the long completion this year, the emergence of Kenny Britt (who unfortunately has injury problems of his own) has helped. In a sense we are watching Vince become more of a traditional NFL quarterback, running when he has a clearly open lane or simply to buy time, as opposed to taking off at the first sign of trouble which, admittedly, early in his career sometimes led to spectacular results.
I think even the NFL game moves very slowly to Vince and that is an advantage he will always have and one that cannot be taught. As he ages, my guess is that his speed and elusiveness become a smaller part of his portfolio (see Steve Young)—he is already making teams pay with his arm. It would be great if Jeff Fisher would let him continue to do that after the Titans get a lead. He might put up some of those astonishing numbers that make the NFL brain trust pay attention!
Adam’s book, Rose Bowl Dreams, is available for sale at a discount on Amazon.com. If you’re willing to pay postage, Adam will autograph it for you. If you’re in the Austin area, Adam is available to speak at businesses, book clubs, and other gatherings. Contact Adam at rosebowldreams [at] mac [dot] com.