Vince Young Not on Vacation at Pro Bowl
Friday, February 9, 2007; 7:29 PM
HONOLULU -- Vince Young didn't see this trip to Hawaii as a vacation. The Tennessee quarterback figured a rookie should never stop learning, even at the Pro Bowl.
So Young mined his fellow stars for any vein of information during the week leading up to Saturday's game at Aloha Stadium. He got solid coaching advice from the AFC's Bill Belichick, while Peyton Manning spoke with him about resilience.
Oh, and every Pro Bowl player taught Young that it's important for the rookies to buy the drinks while everybody is sitting on the beach.
"It's been great. My head's kind of spinning, but it's a great time," said Young, who will back up Manning and Carson Palmer in the NFL's 57th all-star game. "I learned something every day. I'm just looking forward to playing in the game and having one more great experience to finish the year."
Young is the first rookie quarterback to make the Pro Bowl since Dan Marino, but he's just one star on the loaded AFC roster for the conferences' 37th meeting since the merger in a laid-back series tied 18-18.
Manning, the Super Bowl MVP, will start with league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson before an impressive defense led by Miami's Jason Taylor and Denver's Champ Bailey takes the field.
Even with standouts at every position around him, Young still attracts attention with his stunning physical abilities _ particularly among players who still hadn't seen him in person.
"We razz him a little bit because he's a rookie, but he seems really mature," Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "You have to be mature at that position. He's already headed toward a great career. Hopefully Carson and Peyton can teach him a little something."
"I'm just glad he's on my team now," Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne said. "He's a freak out there, and there's lots of freaks at this game. He's got all kinds of skills."
Young got this opportunity through a little serendipity, since he wasn't an original selection to the Pro Bowl after a debut season he called "good, but not great." Though he went 8-5 as a starter with seven rushing touchdowns, his passing was admittedly erratic as the Titans missed the playoffs.
When San Diego's Philip Rivers was forced to drop out of his first trip because of a foot injury last month, the NFL waited nearly two weeks to name Young to the game. Tom Brady apparently declined a Hawaii invitation, preferring to play golf at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Baltimore's Steve McNair also declined, but for a very good reason: He wanted Young, his friend and successor in Tennessee to have the opportunity he already had enjoyed.
Young should see plenty of playing time behind Manning, the Pro Bowl's career leader in yards passing and TD throws from his first six appearances. He gladly acknowledged being on cruise control all week after leading the Colts to their Super Bowl victory, and isn't likely to play much.
But Young, a Houston native who led the University of Texas to the 2005 national title, will welcome every learning opportunity.
"He said he'd throw a touchdown pass to me, just for the people back home," Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson said.
While Young makes his Pro Bowl debut, retiring New York Giants running back Tiki Barber will suit up for the final time in his 10-year career _ and Kansas City guard Will Shields also might be making his 12th and final appearance in Hawaii. Shields, the Chiefs stalwart who has opened holes for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson, could retire in the offseason.
The NFC squad has considerably less star power, a fitting reflection of the AFC's dominance of the regular season and the Super Bowl. Drew Brees, the New Orleans quarterback who finished behind Tomlinson in MVP voting, will team up with San Francisco running back Frank Gore and Carolina receiver Steve Smith.
Yet Pro Bowls rarely turn into blowouts: Just four games since 1988 have been decided by more than two touchdowns.
"They've got a lot of good players, but I look around our practices, and we've got a ton of talent, just a ton," said Baltimore linebacker Adalius Thomas, who will start for the AFC alongside San Diego's Shawne Merriman. "All these guys together _ I wouldn't want to try to stop our offense."