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Patricia Highsmith Covers Titans-Texans

A couple of months ago I replied to a post with a couple of paragraphs of "Patricia Highsmith Writes About Vince Young". In case you don't know, Highsmith was the FW native who wrote "Strangers On a Train" and the Tom Ripley series. This being the off-season, I thought it would be fun to imagine a world where instead of repatriating to France, the murder-mystery author moved to Nashville and covered sports for The Tennessean.


"Hook 'em, Vince"

Kickoff was three hours away, and Chow was outlining his prize play again. To avoid appearing rude, Young tried to listen. "So, you see, when they show this coverage, the opportunity is there for the slot receiver to be matched up on their strong safety. Just count- ‘One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi’ and throw to the hash! That’s going to be there all day, and will open everything up for us! Wow! Can you imagine?"

No, he couldn’t. He could imagine his aged slot receiver, Moulds, failing to get open on the safety, or his inexperienced slot, Ealy, watching the ball bounce off his hands, hopefully down and not up. He could imagine them not changing a thing on defense, content to let the Titans run that play all afternoon. So, this is the result of 3 nights of film study of the Houston Texans - a potential eight yard gain that isn’t likely to work? Young found these meetings with the yammering offensive coordinator so … tiring. Chow had a reputation for being a genius, which amused Young, who wondered about how dismal the game-planning on other teams must be. Pavlov proved that dogs could be taught, when given the choice between a treat and punishment, to opt for the treat. This put dogs one up on football coaches, Young mused, who preferred to run their favorite schemes even when obviously better options were thrust in front of them

"I'm telling you, Vince, this is gold!"

Young avoided eye contact with his fellow QB, who would try to get Young to smirk or break posture as a means of enduring these meetings. Collins was a sturdy sort, who had been a solid QB in his day (there had been rumors of some…unpleasantness…early in his career, but Young lacked the inclination to learn more about it). Sadly, he was well past his prime, but could rise to the occasion in a pinch. Collins should be paying attention, Young thought, because his livelihood depended on these meetings. Unlike Young, who was graded on wins and losses, Collins’ employment depended upon executing whatever plans the coaches came up with. If he failed to execute Chow’s plays, it would mean the sack for him.

Young made his face appear to focus on the chart in front of him, as his mind wandered to actual productive thoughts. How would the Titans win this game? The Texans were by no means a formidable opponent, but the Titans’ offense had limped to a near halt, due in part to Young’s leg injury (which had slowed him), but also to the general wretchedness of his receiving corps, and the insipidity of the offensive game-planning. Last year, sometimes, unexpected scores would descend upon the game, usually brought by the high-functioning sociopath Adam "Pac-man" Jones (he had one of those colorful nick-names so popular with organized crime, but less so with more legitimate enterprises such as professional football … hmm, Young wondered, and for not the first time, whether there was any significance to that). He remembered that time last year, when Jones was still on the team, and Young entertained him at his home. He had asked, "Jones, would you care for a drink?", and almost visibly shuddered when the misfit fellow asked for "some of that purple drank". Fortunately, somehow Mme. Annette, his housekeeper (she was a Katrina evacuee from
New Orleans; he had employed her on the recommendations of some close acquaintances), had managed to produce some. Not for the first time, Young resolved to sit with Mme. Annette, and query her about her background. There might be something useful to know there.
But there was no "Pac-man" this year. Touch-downs had to come the hard way- through Chow’s offense. It was a real coach’s offense, the multiple reads and route options designed so that the scheme could be operated by any quarterback with a razor-sharp mind and laser-accurate arm. The fact that there were only about eight of this type of QBs in the league did little to dissuade the coaches and commentators from their love of this offense. Young’s arm did not have the needed accuracy, but there were many times in games where the defense’s adjustments for his mobility reduced the need for accuracy in throws, because the receivers found themselves much more open than they would be with a conventional quarterback at the helm. Whether they then caught the ball was simply up to them.

"So, are there any questions, Vince?" Young blinked. Chow was finally through. The meeting was over. Young said, "No, thanks, coach", and flashed that wry smile that gave people the impression that they were in on the joke (they weren’t).Young went into the locker room to begin his real pre-game preparations. His game depended upon improvisations when the called plays broke down, or when better opportunities appeared. Young liked to talk with his teammates in advance, and get a feel for who could be counted upon to stay collected during such impromptu variations, and who couldn’t. His sojourn complete, he repaired to his own locker. This was a big game. Houston was 5 -6, and
Tennessee was 6 – 5. Although he once held a grudge against the Texans, Young had satisfied himself that his point was made. The Texans were not so willing to let it go. A particular nemesis was Mario Williams, an unimaginative lout who let columnists’ criticisms get to him. Young thought it all very childish, but knew he must endure.

Jeff Fisher was Young’s head coach. Although at first non-plussed by the man, largely due to his inability to make any interesting small talk, Young had grown to enjoy his company. Young especially appreciated the way he avoided all the tired banal platitudes Vince had heard all his life in pre-game talks. Fisher grabbed Young’s shoulder and growled, "How is it, Vince? Are you ready?" Young replied, "Sure, coach, you know it’s all good." He spoke in that gulf-urban dialect that he found his teammates responded to, drawling his words as he spoke them. The game was, as the Americans say, a see-saw battle. The Texans played well, even after their quarterback, Matt Schaub, was knocked out of the game and replaced by his backup, Sage Rosenfels. Young passed the ball well, with many of the biggest gains coming as Young improvised, passing up the intended receiver for another who was more open. Young smiled as he thought of how this must infuriate Chow. "He will just have to get used to it", he thought. Young threw for two touch-downs in the 3rd quarter, when the Titans wrested away control of the game.

The Titans won, 28 - 20. In the locker after the game, his teammates came by and expressed their well wishes to Young. He gracefully accepted them, but his mind was elsewhere. He was hungry, and wondered what Mme. Annette was preparing tonight? He didn’t know, but Young was sure it would be excellent. There was Chow. Why did he so often have such a sour look on his face? It was all so wearying.