How I learned that quarterbacks respond better to encouragement than booing (A true story)


[Update: See note at the end of this story.] Following, is an excerpt from the book, Tales from the Titans Sideline, by Jim Wyatt. It’s from a story on page 107 of the book called, “It’s a bird, It’s a plane, It’s a McNair fan”:

“Quaterback Steve McNair hasn’t needed to look high and low for fans in recent years. But when some questioned him early on in the 1999 season, all he had to do was look to the friendly skies one day at pracice. Just a few days after he was booed in the season opener against the Bengals, a small plane flew over the practice field with a message to McNair. The plane was pulling a banner that read: “Fly High Steve — Your Fans.” The flight was sponsored by Hammock Publishing, a company based in Nashville. Several employees chipped in on the $300 cost and Rex Hammock matched the contributions to cover the full cost. “We were somewhat disappointed by the boos and we wanted to show our support of Steve McNair,” said Hammock. The plane circled the field as the Titans were preparing to play Cleveland….The gesture lifted McNair’s spirits but also raised a question from inquisitive teammates. “It showed a lot of class,” Coach Jeff Fisher said. “The team responded very well to that. They were asking Steve how much it cost him.”

Here’s the best part: the story had a very happy ending. Steve McNair went on to lead that 1999 team — the one that started off with him being booed — to an AFC Championship and to within a half-yard of a Superbowl win (or at least a tie to go into overtime).

And no one ever, ever booed him again.

The end.

Or, at least, I wish it were.

Fast forward ten years.

Vince Young, another young Titans quarterback with incredible skills and unlimited potential got booed by some fans during the first game of the season this past Sunday (ironically, a game the Titans won). But unfortunately, I couldn’t find a plane to fly around a banner. And even worse than that, Vince Young’s friends and family and coaches couldn’t find him at all.

And so, the booing by a minority of the fans grew into a big brouhaha that finally led to Vince Young’s mother telling Tennessean sports writer Jim Wyatt (the one who wrote the book) that her son needs the love and support of Titans fans.

Okay, let’s get this straight. NFL fans pay lots of money for tickets and NFL players make millions, so fans have the right to boo whenever they want. But personally, I think it’s crazy for fans to boo their young quarterback. Like Vince’s mom, I think quarterbacks should be loved and supported.

Why? Because as a fan, I want to win. For that reason, I don’t want fans — even though they have the right to do so — to do something to a young quarterback that opposing teams in junior high, high school and college have never been able to do: get into his head and make him start questioning his abilities.

So here’s my advice to sports fans everywhere: Boo the referees. Boo the other team. But love and support the quarterback…at least until the team doesn’t make it into the playoffs.

(Note: For another post — sometime in February, I hope — I’ll share my theory regarding the dangers of drafting quarterbacks who’ve never played on a losing team in junior high, high school or college.)

[Update: A few days after this post, police reports indicated that the time during which Young was missing was more serious than early indications. Indeed, Young was displaying some classic symptoms of clinical depression. Several people who have had personal experience with depression have emailed or contacted me via Twitter to indicate their empathy for Young. “His success, wealth and fame,” one person told me, “provides no protection from depression.”]