Philadelphia – Michael Vick arrived in Atlanta knowing the Falcons would someday be his team to run. He signed with the Eagles last August assured of nothing except a paycheck and a chance. But there he stood Wednesday, ringed at his locker by a media throng 50 members strong, a sign bearing the words “Walk Your Talk!” above his head.
There he stood, again an NFL starting quarterback.
“I’m very gratified to have this opportunity,” Vick said. “I’m very humbled by it.”
And that, it must be said, is how he seemed. This isn’t the cocksure No. 7 who came to the Falcons looking to revolutionize his position. Too much scar tissue has formed, the bulk of it self-inflicted. Michael Vick is 30 now, and he has been to jail. There was never a guarantee that he would work another day in the only league that matters, let alone run another team.
“Plenty of times,” he said, “I doubted I’d have [this] opportunity.”
But now he does. In a move that left the Philadelphia media in high dudgeon, Eagles coach Andy Reid announced Tuesday night that he was promoting Vick over Kevin Kolb, whom Reid had insisted was his starter no matter what.
On Wednesday at the team’s practice facility, Reid was roasted for what were cast as a series of lies. That was OK, Reid said: “I can handle this.” And there was, he maintained, a greater point: “This is nothing about Kevin Kolb. This is all about Michael Vick and the way he has played the game. He has played as outstanding as any quarterback in the league to this point.”
Vick took over for a concussed Kolb and rallied the Eagles in an opening loss to Green Bay. Last Sunday he started and generated 35 points in a narrow victory over Detroit. He has looked like the Vick of old, only better.
Reid: “Michael Vick has surprised all of us with his play. I’m proud of him … He has busted his tail working at some of the things he wanted to get better at doing — like feeling pressure and subtly moving away but staying in the pocket, like scrambling but keeping his eyes downfield and making the throw.”
The elder Jim Mora, father of the Falcons’ then-coach, wondered on radio if Vick was “a coach-killer.” Among more nuanced offensive minds, Vick has long been regarded as the most tantalizing figure in the sport — the fastest quarterback ever with one of the strongest arms in the sport. Bobby Petrino was so besotted by Vick that he told an associate the 2007 Falcons would average 30 points a game, but that chapter, alas, went unwritten. Vick was indicted before training camp and never played a down for Petrino.
And now it’s Reid, long regarded as one the game’s great schemers, who has Vick at his disposal. “I didn’t appoint him [the starter] for one week,” the coach said. Indeed, Reid has invested a huge amount of political capital in this stunning choice. If Vick fails, Reid might fall.
Will Vick fail? “I know what I can do,” he said. “But until you get out there, you’re not sure you can make the plays you’re capable of making.”
Many will see Vick as the villain, the confessed slayer of dogs. (I cringed when a reporter asked Reid if Vick “would be kept on a short leash” in Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.) But the man has paid his debt, and he has it within him to write a truly stirring redemption song.
Said Vick: “I always reflect on things that happened in the past. A lot of situations could have been avoided. I put myself in those situations.”
Also this: “Everything I’ve been through has made a stronger individual. I’m trying to rise like the phoenix.”
Then this: “There’s no question this is a blessing from God.”
Having known Michael Vick for nearly a decade, I can say that he as a younger man never felt anything could go wrong. He knows better now. I believe he will do everything in his power to make this second chance go right. I believe he’s going to make it after all.