Just after the break of dawn, as Southern Californians hit the snooze alarm and well-heeled Texans wearing the previous night's clothes filled the breakfast joints in Century City and Beverly Hills, a new Wheaties box featuring Longhorns Coach Mack Brown was being distributed. Asked mid-morning about the cereal box, Brown said, "Vince should be on there . . . with me holding him up."
With his Rose Bowl performance, Vince Young elevated his status, even among his teammates and coaches. He ran for 200 yards, passed for 267, sprinted eight yards with 19 seconds left for the winning score, and secured himself god-like status in his adoring home state. It's good to be Vince Young -- so good that he must bid adieu to college and move on.
Any position other than, "Kid, it was great; now get out" would be irresponsible. Oh, the love-fest will tempt Young to stay, as will life as the biggest BMOC in the history of the university. Brown spoke late Wednesday night, immediately after the game, of Young coming back to win the Heisman, playing for a repeat championship and putting individual records so far out there it would take perhaps decades for anyone to break them.
Does it matter a whit that Jim Brown and Jerry Rice and Walter Payton and Joe Montana and John Elway never won the Heisman Trophy? Of course not. And it won't ultimately to Young's career either.
Vince Young cannot be allowed to take another snap in college football.
If he does, the good folks at the University of Texas have failed him.
In the spring of 1984, after Michael Jordan's junior year at the University of North Carolina had concluded, Dean Smith, after making all the important phone calls, sat down with Jordan and told him he was leaving college for the NBA. Jordan cried. He loved North Carolina, still does. He felt the same way about Chapel Hill that Young feels about Austin. It's home. Still, Smith knew he had to advise Jordan to leave. And now, Brown has to do the same for Young.
Leading up to Wednesday's Rose Bowl, word from in-the-know Longhorns circles was that Young was leaning heavily toward coming back for his senior year. And that seemed incredibly shortsighted. Nothing that happened in the game against USC, other than an injury, would have convinced me otherwise.
But after turning in one of the dominant performances in college football history, against a two-time defending champion no less, Young simply has to go.
Asked about his decision to stay or to go, Young said during his morning-after interview session that he will sit and talk with his family and Brown about what to do.
Brown, after a half-night's sleep and some time to think about the kid who delivered the University of Texas its first football championship in 36 years, had changed his tune for the most part. "The worst thing that could possibly happen," Brown said, Young sitting next to him, "would be for a coach to try to convince a young guy to come back if it wasn't the best thing for him."
Knowing that scores of Texas loyalists had worked their way inside the room to hear what is traditionally a media-only news conference the morning after the championship, Brown went even further. He called Young the most important student-athlete who ever went to school at the Austin campus, and added, "He's not going to make some foolish statement today just to make everybody shut up."
Longhorns football fans make Red Sox fans appear noncommittal. And what Texas Nation wanted Thursday was for the kid to say he was coming back. Brown did well to head that off quickly.
Brown said it would be "ungracious of us" to pester Young to come back to school. "What's best for him," the coach said, "will be best for the University of Texas." He frowned at the notion that Young could decide to come back and then be unhappy.
Some see Matt Leinart's decision to return to Southern Cal after winning back-to-back championships as an indication that Young could come back, but beyond playing the same position, Leinart and Young couldn't be more different. Young grew up poor in Houston, never dreaming of what awaits him, his mama and his grandmamma now. He didn't spend the last year hanging out at the Playboy Mansion or waking up with Nick Lachey bunking on his sofa, as Leinart did.
If Sean May, the son of a former NBA player, wanted to return to North Carolina after winning the basketball championship, fine. If Young, a son of great struggle, wants to return to an infinitely more violent and therefore risky game after winning the college football championship, somebody (starting with his head coach) had better stop him.
When Young said Thursday that he sat "on that balcony [of his hotel room] last night talking to the man upstairs," he was talking about his journey from the "hard, hard time" he had growing up in Houston to the brink of a dream.
Almost always, I'm a loud proponent for college athletes staying in school. The exception is for those who have completed their apprenticeships.
Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas did that in two years. Jordan did it in three. Young had done it by midseason of his fourth year. That's right, Young has already finished four full years at Texas. Graduation is reportedly within reach.
"Our job," Mack Brown said of the coach's responsibility to Young and the other juniors drawing NFL interest, "would be to help the families understand all their options."
Nobody in a Texas uniform has the options Young does.
The kid is 6 feet 5, 235 pounds, the best passing-and-running combination coming out of college since Elway. He's got a lot of what Leinart has as a quarterback, and a lot of what Reggie Bush has as a running back.
It was going to take a player of extraordinary skill to beat Southern Cal, and that's what Young is. When Mack Brown says, as he has repeatedly, that Young is one of the best players ever to play college football, he isn't over-hyping one of his own. When he says, "I don't think there's a better quarterback in college, and I don't know that I've ever seen one," it's easier to nod in agreement after what Young did against USC.
Earlier in the week leading up to the Rose Bowl, someone asked Brown what he would do if Young led Texas to a national championship then decided to leave for the NFL. "I said I'll kiss him," Brown replied. It's time, clearly, to pucker up.