Love him or loathe him, you have to be impressed with Michael Vick. The man, that is, even more than the quarterback. What he’s doing to secondaries is secondary to what he’s doing for himself -- and hopefully others.
There’s an endless scroll of professional athletes who got another chance and failed to take advantage. Whether arrogance, entitlement or just plain-ol’ pigheadedness, too many return to the spotlight unrepentant and unchanged.
Vick, however, isn’t the same person or player we knew. He’s better. A better teammate, a better quarterback, a better man -- one who isn’t ashamed of having cried himself to sleep while locked behind bars. Go ahead, ask him. The big, macho football player isn’t afraid or averse to talking about tears, emptiness and fear.
Perhaps you saw Monday night’s performance against the Washington Redskins, the one where Vick’s howitzer of a left arm -- the one dubbed inaccurate and unreliable in the past -- threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns. There was more. Oh, what a display of fleet feet, which resulted in another 14 points. Vick was better than great, improving the former No. 1 draft pick’s Most Valuable Player chances to 5-1 from 25-1 a week ago and 50-1 at the season’s outset.
Even more impressive was Vick’s post-game interview, in which he stressed just how appreciative he was for a second chance at getting paid for doing what he loves. Appreciation was the theme.
Eighteen months removed from his release from federal prison, Vick is aware the stain of his dog fighting conviction is indelible. But the narrative isn’t over. He has the credibility, fame and life experience to help others.
Watching Vick zig while defenders zagged, watching a sublime athlete make the most of his second chance, it was impossible not to think of a conversation I had last year with Everett Gillison, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for public safety.
Even though folks offer lip service to second chances, Gillison said, people want those who’ve made mistakes to pay in perpetuity. Indelible stains, indeed.
Maybe Vick, through football, can get people to change their minds, to make them rethink who deserves what and for how long. Maybe Vick can help others, especially those not blessed with the size and speed to cash a professional athlete’s paycheck, to feel better about the possibilities.
There are many eyes on Vick, who is being hyped as a potential National Football League MVP alongside the likes of Peyton Manning of the Colts, his brother, Eli, of the Giants, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Tom Brady of the Patriots. From pariah to pedestal. It can be done.
Off the Bench
Few fans, if any, were expecting much last year when the Eagles signed Vick, who, back then, was nothing more than a backup’s backup. The Eagles took a flier. Now they’re flying high. Vick is the starting quarterback on a Super Bowl contender.
He won’t toss four touchdowns every game. He might even throw an interception or two and the Eagles just might lose.
Most quarterbacks are judged solely by wins and losses. Vick isn’t most quarterbacks. Amid all the winning (the Eagles and New York Giants are tied atop the NFC East at 6-3 heading into Sunday night’s matchup in Philadelphia) it’d be easy for cocky to creep in and make a comeback. Not with Vick, who has replaced hubris with humility.
Speaking of hubris, did you see that LeBron James of the Miami Heat, the self-anointed King, is among the 25 nominees for Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Do we really need to recognize yet another athlete with an overinflated ego? James, who has been a fantastic basketball player for years, did nothing in 2010 but take maddening self-promotion and egomania to an absurdly new level.
The folks at Time Warner Inc. should swap out James for Vick, whose tale of change, redemption and leadership-by-example are more worthy of recognition.
“I could never envision this,” Vick said after the Washington game.
The first part of this story is about what Vick lost -- freedom, face, millions of dollars. The second part is about what he gained: perspective.
“It’s fun watching u play homie!” James wrote in a Twitter post to Vick. “Mike Vick for PRESIDENT,” blared another.
Responded Vick: “I’m just having fun playing football again.” Plain. Simple. Understated.
We know James is watching. Let’s just hope that he and other athletes are listening and learning, too.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)