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Get to know Vince Young
ALL ACCESS: A lot of networks do TV interviews, but have you ever wanted to know the juicy details that never make it to the broadcast? You can tell a lot about who people really are when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the interview of Titans quarterback Vince Young was set up for the ``PROfiles’’ show, hosted by Laura Okmin.
Some of my favorite shoots are with people I don’t know very well. I love being surprised by someone I’m interviewing.
It’s rare, but extremely rewarding, when you’re getting to know someone as you’re interviewing them. It turns into a real conversation instead of an "interview." I do hours of homework on someone and write dozens of questions before I sit with them. The goal, however, is to ask the first question and that’s it. I hope that the person gives an answer I never saw coming, then the conversation goes in amazing and surprising directions. Those, hands down, are my favorite interviews.
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Of the hundreds of interviews I’ve done, Vince Young has become one of my all-time favorites because that’s exactly what happened.
I hardly knew Vince when I asked him to do the "PROfiles’’ show. Usually my plan is to set up a few activities, something and somewhere the guest feels really comfortable with, which in turn makes them more comfortable with me before we do our lengthy sit-down interview.
The "sit-down’’ is the foundation of the show and can take an hour to do. By the time we do it, hopefully they’ve gotten to know and trust me. You don’t want to do the sit-down first, because it can feel like an ``interview,’’ and that’s not what this show is.
That, however, is exactly what happened with Vince. His new baby was born a couple of weeks early (just days before training camp was beginning), so his schedule changed and was extremely tight. We went to his football camp and then immediately to his house for our sit-down.
To be honest, I was a little nervous about how it would go because I knew we were going to talk about his most sensitive issues: the Dallas strip-club incident that he hadn’t talked about, his relationship with Steve McNair’s sons and 2008 — the year of his benching and talk of suicide. I had no idea how open he was to talking about any of it.
Then he blew me away.
I asked my first two questions about his new baby and then followed up with, "Did you ever have a childhood, Vince?” All I know is when an answer begins with "I used to watch my mom doing crack and cocaine from the peephole in my bedroom door,’’ you know you won’t ask a single question you wrote down in your notebook. The only thing you need to rely on in an interview like that is your ears. You listen. And he wanted to talk.
Vince told me he was tired of being judged by people who didn’t know his story, but he finally had an epiphany this offseason when he realized he couldn’t be upset with people not knowing his story if he refused to tell it. The interview felt like a therapy session. There were four people in my crew standing around the tiny kitchen nook we were in and you couldn’t even hear anyone breathing. He was that riveting. He talked about everything from being an 8-year-old watching his mom do drugs (she’s clean now and they have a great relationship), to being called a "crack baby’’ and being bullied, to dealing with the growing pains (and growth) of 2008, when he lost both his job and, I think, his confidence for a long time.
It was almost as if once he started talking, he couldn’t stop. There were a couple of times when we had to stop the interview for technical issues. When I asked him if he was OK, he flashed a huge smile and said, "I’m great, I’m great.’’ And he meant it.
I can’t even tell you how different Vince is than what I thought. I remember thinking back in ’08: How can he not handle being booed? Is that arrogance? Diva tendencies? Immaturity?
It couldn’t be further from the truth. His friends will tell you he is loyal to a fault. He was enjoying his honeymoon period in Nashville. He loved his team and the fans and really felt like he belonged. Like he was one of theirs. Let me just say that to this day, some of his closest friends are the neighbors in his gated community.
They wrote cards and letters during that tough season and this offseason. They threw his fiancee a baby shower and he seemed shocked to see me so surprised by that. I told him most players live in gated communities so they don’t have to deal with people, which baffled him.
But Vince loves his neighbors, his community. For the first time in his life, I think he felt like they all turned their back on him when he was struggling. Believe me, he gets it now, gets the fickle world of sports and how one touchdown would have turned the boos into cheers. But at that time, it crushed him. He felt like that 8-year-old kid getting picked on and beaten up every single night when the sun went down.
With a father in jail, a mother who had serious drug problems and an extended family who broke into his house to steal things, Vince has seen more in his young life than most of us will ever see. Yet there is something so vulnerable about him that makes you want to protect him. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way with another player, especially a superstar. But I felt like I was talking to that 8-year-old, who was still working things out, only with an old soul.
It hasn’t stopped him from making mistakes. He’s the first one to admit bad judgment the night he went to a Dallas strip club and even worse judgment reacting to a person taunting and threatening him. But considering where he’s from and what he’s seen (he used to run with gangs as a young boy), if that’s the worst thing he ever does, bravo.
How I judge Vince is watching him with Steve McNair’s sons. They don’t stop looking at him. It’s one of the most bittersweet relationships I’ve ever seen -- one that completely breaks my heart. He misses Steve terribly, but let me tell you, he is there for those kids. The next time his maturity is questioned, I hope that relationship and the way he’s stepped up for those boys is taken into consideration.
At the end of the interview, when we began talking about football, the table we were sitting at began bouncing. At first I wasn’t sure why, but then I realized the more Vince was talking about the upcoming season, the more his knee would bounce up and down. He was that excited. I don’t know many things, but I do know he was looking forward to a season getting started more than he ever has.
I also know if things don’t go as perfectly as he hopes, he’ll be much better equipped to handle it.
On the football field … and off.
PROfiles with Vince Young appears on FSN all this week. Check your local listings.
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