ATLANTA — This is not the Michael Vick that fans here in Atlanta knew before he was convicted on dogfighting charges and spent 20 months in a federal pen.
Here, Mike Vick flipped off a jeering fan.
In Philadelphia on Tuesday, when Philadelphia Eagles Coach Andy Reid announced that Vick was the Eagles’ new starter, Vick said: “I’m humbled.”
Here, Mike Vick, a former No. 1 pick with a $130 million deal, dazzled fans with his footwork, but frustrated them with his tendency to pull the ball down and run at the first sign of danger.
In his game last Sunday against Detroit, the second-string Vick – playing only because the starter was injured – stayed poised even as he scrambled, relying on his arm and football mind as much as his athletic legs.
Here, Mike Vick didn’t give a hoot what people thought of him.
In Philadelphia, Vick is all about how people perceive him, even taking part in a BET documentary that details the truth about his former “double life” as a kennel owner where failing fighting dogs would meet their demise through drowning and electrocution.
A three-year project
The narrative of redemption is a nearly three-year project that began while he was in prison. It involved his Christian mentor, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, the support he received from former teammate Donovan McNabb, and the faith of the Eagles organization, where even the most “Sunny in Philadelphia” optimist would have been hard-pressed to forecast this day.
Meanwhile, Vick has turned some of his most ardent critics to his side, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for which he now volunteers as a spokesman. (Most of the dogs taken from his Bad Newz Kennels are now thriving in new homes.)
As recently as June, Vick was described by Forbes as one of the 10 most disliked people in sports. But in Philadelphia, at least, “he’s gone from pariah to savior,” says ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.
Nationwide, the storyline could be the similar.
“This is potentially a phenomenal story about the kind of redemption that is possible in America,” writes FoxSports Jason Whitlock, a long time Vick critic. “The story is about the possibilities that lie ahead, not what transpired in the past.”
His past, however, is certainly not behind him yet. As recently as this summer, Vick flirted with trouble again, leaving his 30th birthday party in his hometown just minutes before a man got shot. The NFL investigated, but did not fine or suspend him.
And then there was the Philadelphia Daily News headline announcing Vicks’s elevation to a starting role – a dig as much as a declaration: “Top Dog.”
But even sportswriters who lambasted Vick for his role in running the Virginia dogfighting ring – not to mention his at-times disrespectful antics – sense a determined change in the QB. That’s exemplified not just by Reid’s comment that Vick is “playing out of his mind right now,” but Vick’s conscious decision to take full advantage of his second chance.
Reid’s decision to give him the QB mantle in one of the nation’s craziest – and harshest – sports towns, has shown Vick that his more recent, responsible decisions have paid off.
“Everything I’ve been through has made a stronger individual,” Vick told sportswriters Tuesday. “I’m trying to rise like the phoenix. There’s no question this is a blessing from God.”
OK, that stings a bit, since the phoenix is the symbol of the city of Atlanta. But even here, minds have changed about the city’s fallible departed QB.
“Having known Michael Vick for nearly a decade, I can say that he as a younger man never felt anything could go wrong,” writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley. “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.”