I'll never forget the night of Thursday, August 9th, 2009.
I was waiting at a train station late at night (10:00 PM?) when my phone rang. My mom was on the line. I didn't believe what I was hearing.
"The Eagles signed Michael Vick."
It took me a good minute or two to fully accept that she wasn't joking. The Philadelphia Eagles had indeed just signed one of the most electrifying and controversial players I had ever watched. I was excited. I was confused. I was shocked!
But the manner in which Michael Vick became a member of the Eagles was hardly the only surprise in his five-year tenure in Philadelphia.
Vick's first season as a member of the Eagles was awkward. He was re-entering the NFL right out of prison and many were unable to accept him due to the crimes he had committed. It's not hard to see why. No one in their right mind likes animal cruelty. What Vick had done was simply unacceptable. He may have served his time in prison, but that didn't mean everyone was ready to root for him.
Beyond the off the field history, it was hard to see Vick's fit on the team. Donovan McNabb was still the starter, Kevin Kolb was drafted to be the future of the franchise, and AJ Feely the third string QB. I remember some thinking Vick was brought in to be a running back (check out the comments in this old BGN thread).
Then there was just the surreal factor. Michael Vick was the man for years down in Atlanta. His style of play transcended the game itself. He was more than just a player. He was an experience. I remember playing as the Falcons on Madden 04, hiking the ball at the goal line, running the length of the field deep into my own end zone, and being able to run back while avoiding the entire defense for a touchdown (think: Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl). It was hard to imagine a guy this talented was coming to the Eagles. And given his time away from the game, it was questioned if he had that same kind of talent.
Things became more clear when Andy Reid, Jeff Lurie, Tony Dungy, and Michael Vick himself spoke on why Philadelphia made the most sense as his destination. The Eagles couldn't offer a starting spot like some other teams could, but what they could offer was more important: a stable front office, a reliable coaching staff, and a locker room with well-respected players. Thought the NFL is a business first operation, Vick wasn't just coming to Philadelphia to rehabilitate his career. He was coming here to rehabilitate his life.
The first moment Michael Vick stepped on the field in an Eagles uniform was a preseason game in 2009 against the Jaguars. He lined up at bunch of positions on the field and it was clear he was rusty. That was, until he hit Hank Baskett (of all people!) with an absolute laser of a pass. It was clear Vick wasn't ready to be a full-time player anytime soon, but that elite talent he entered the league with didn't just disappear either.
Vick entered the regular season with a two game suspension from Roger Goodell. As chance would have it, Donovan McNabb got hurt during Week 1. This didn't have much to do with Vick at the time, but what I find funny is that the Eagles signed former player Jeff Garcia to be an emergency QB on the roster. So, for a short while, Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia, and Michael Vick were all on the same roster (photo evidence!). Isn't that kind of crazy? Anyway, I digress.
When Vick was activated after Week 2, the Eagles used him in a wildcat QB type of role. It didn't really amount to much, and sometimes it seemed silly. But it just felt like Vick was eventually going to make a big play that would catch an opposing team off guard, and eventually he did just that when he broke off a 34 yard gain against the Chicago Bears. Vick next came up big in his return to Atlanta where he threw for a touchdown and ran for another in limited playing time. Vick's final memorable play of 2009 came in the form of a big touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin in a crushing loss to the Cowboys. That game would also be known as Donovan McNabb's last game as an Eagle.
When McNabb was traded away on Easter 2010, it was clear the Eagles were handing the reigns over to Kevin Kolb. Michael Vick was thought of to be the backup, but I remember some thinking it was possible the Eagles might trade him for a low round draft pick during the draft. That didn't happen and the Eagles kept Vick heading into the summer. Unfortunately for Vick and the Eagles, off the field controversy emerged when a shooting took place at Vick's 30th birthday party in Virginia. It turned out that Vick didn't end up in any trouble, but I remember being concerned that Vick was backsliding into trouble again. Thankfully that didn't turn out to be the case.
Vick entered the season as the backup and Kolb as the starter, and there was never a competition. The fact that the Eagles weren't even open to the possibility in the offseason had me believing Vick would never be anything more than a backup at this point in his career. Of course, that all changed when a shaky debut from Kolb ended prematurely with a Clay Matthews sack. Kolb was concussed and knocked out of the game and Vick took over. Shining bright in Kelly Green, Vick dazzled with both his arm and legs. Compared to when Kolb was at the reigns, the Eagles offense looked completely different. The Packers ended up winning that game and Vick said that if he started from the beginning he felt like they could have won. And given the way he was playing, he was probably right.
Kolb remained out with a concussion for a little bit, so Vick took over in the meantime. Vick continued to play well against the Lions and the Jaguars. The Eagles were faced with a tough dilemma. On one hand, Kolb was supposed to be the future. He had been groomed for that purpose. On the other hand, Vick was playing way too well to take out. Still, it was surprising to hear on the radio one night that Andy Reid had officially named Vick the starter. This seemed like such an un-Andy-Reid-like move at the time. It was reactionary instead of calculated. It looked like the right call, however.
Vick went on to have a magical season. That Eagles-Colts game is one I thought the Eagles had no chance in hell of winning yet they went toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and come out on top. That was probably one of the best games I've watched in years. Vick followed up that performance with an absolute mind-blowing Monday Night Massacre in Washington. You can call me a liar, but I just knew that first play was going to be a deep pass to DeSean. I just knew something special was going to happen. And it did. Michael Vick put on an offensive performance that I didn't think was even possible. How was anyone going to beat the Eagles that year?
Another thing I remember coming to like about Vick was that he felt reliable late in games. The Eagles went on to win a few close ones against the Giants, the Texans, and Cowboys after that Washington game. Then Vick's reliability seemed to disappear with a terrible outing against the New York Giants on December 19th, 2010. The Eagles were down 31-10 with 8:17 remaining in the fourth and it looked like everything was over. But then I saw Michael Vick do the impossible. It felt like he single-handily willed the team back into that game after essentially taking them out of it. Time after time, the Giants would look to have Vick wrapped up in the backfield and he would escape to make a big play and run down the field. He was unstoppable. Thanks to the unforgettable punt return from DeSean Jackson, the Eagles won that game. It was easily the best game I had watched in any sport in my whole life. It might just go down that way as well. It's also the perfect example of Michael Vick's talent and flaws in one showing.
And at that point, I was convinced the Eagles were going to win the Super Bowl that year. The story of Vick's redemption was too good. From my perspective at least, he completely transformed from a talented player who lacked discipline in Atlanta into a player who, under good coaching, was reaching his full potential. Unfortunately, things started to go down hill when the Eagles ran into Joe (friggin) Webb and the Vikings in that weird Tuesday night game. Vick went on to have a mediocre playoff appearance in which he almost led a comeback against the Packers but lobbed an under-thrown ball into the endzone intended for a rookie Riley Cooper who couldn't snag the pass.
Still, Vick had proven himself as a starter. The Eagles' future looked optimistic. Vick was rewarded with a hefty contract following the 2010 season which was fair at the time given the market for quarterbacks.
The 2011 offseason was marred by the lockout. The Eagles didn't get into training camp until late August. Vick didn't have the full offseason to take repetitions with the team as the starter. The Eagles got off to a slow start that season and part of it was Vick's fault. He turned the ball over too much which only made life harder on a Juan Castillo coached defense. The Eagles looked like they were going to turn the season around when the played the Cowboys and won 34-7. Vick looked really smooth in that appearance, but more inconsistency plagued him throughout the season. The positive sign at the time was that he finished the season strong and the Eagles ended up winning four in a row. At least it seemed like there was some hope for the 2012 season if Vick could continue to cut down on the turnovers.
Amazingly, this was the first year that Vick had the whole offseason with the coaching staff as the starter. I was convinced Vick would cut back on the turnovers and improve upon his 2011 performance due to this. Many others were convinced that all Vick had to do was stay healthy and his performance would rebound. I ended up not liking this assumption. It wasn't good enough for Vick to stay healthy. He had to change the way he played. This Greg Cosell article really drove home what I wanted to see more out of Vick: the mastery of the pre-snap phase.
Vick never mastered the craft of playing quarterback. He was a spontaneous and improvisational playmaker — reacting and countering rather than dictating and imposing. His extraordinary athleticism was always dangerous yet rarely dependable. You saw a frenetic quarterback, moving, playing randomly, trying to make improvisational plays. He might make a few, or he might not. Improvisation is random and arbitrary.
Think about it this way. Defensive coordinators no doubt will speak to the difficulty and complexity of preparing to defend Vick because of his dynamic, game-changing running ability. That’s an inarguable point. Yet, no one seems willing to connect the dots. If Vick presents such an enormous challenge to match up against from a defensive standpoint, why has that rarely equated to week-in and week-out consistency?
And I really thought Vick could change. But he didn't. He suffered an injury in preseason and then started off the season slow. The turnovers remained an issue. The team really struggled. Fans called for Nick Foles to play. Vick eventually got hurt and Foles stepped in. Foles remained the starter even though Vick returned to health, until Foles got hurt and Vick played in the finale. It seemed like that may have been Vick's last game as a members of the Eagles. But it wasn't.
When Chip Kelly took over as head coach of the Eagles, some thought it was a foregone conclusion that Michael Vick would be back. It was obvious: he had the mobility that Kelly seemingly prefers in his quarterbacks. I was a little less sure. Vick was turning the ball over too much and taking too many sacks for Kelly to be interested, the way I saw it. So when the Eagles re-signed Vick I was a little surprised. But then it started to make more sense. The quarterback market was thin and it didn't seem like a good strategy to just hand Nick Foles the starting job without any competition.
Kelly's plan to bring back Vick turned out to be a great decision. Vick was playing some of the best football of recent and won the QB competition fair and square. Eventually Vick suffered an injury and Foles took over. It turned out that Foles was playing well enough to hold onto the starting job, but that didn't mean starting Vick was a mistake. Some people will argue otherwise considering Vick didn't have potential like Foles did, but once again, I maintain that Vick pushing Foles was really beneficial to his development.
The Vick and Foles debate became really heated amongst the fans. It obviously dominated the conversation here at BGN while it was going on and sometimes things that were said really went too far. I mention this because it looks silly in hindsight. While the Foles/Vick debate raged on outside of the Eagles facility, Foles and Vick continued to remain good friends on the inside. Both respected each other and supported each other. The day they had that joint-press-conference was hilarious. And it really illustrated how great of a teammate Vick was. He didn't complain. He wanted to start but he knew his role had devolved into being a backup. And that right there shows me how far Vick came not only in his career, but as a person. That's not the kind of Vick I could envision in Atlanta.
Vick waited until the official end of the season to state he didn't want to return as the team's backup and would instead to elect to find a starting job. Vick recently received that chance by signing with the New York Jets and having the opportunity to compete with Geno Smith. Considering that Smith struggled last year, I think Vick will have a good chance at winning the job, but we'll see.
A Changed Man
Off the field, Vick completely rehabbed his image. Andrew Kulp phrased this better than I ever could:
The thing that’s most impressive to me, more than anything Vick ever accomplished on the football field, is the way he seems to have legitimately turned around his life. Not only has he managed to stay away from any and all criminal behavior, but he completely paid off all debts, became active in the community and transformed into the type of leader who sets a good example inside the locker room.
There are always going to be people who despise Vick for crimes he committed, and while that’s completely at odds with ethics lessons preaching forgiveness and our justice system that gives citizens an opportunity to pay their debt to society, that’s any individual’s prerogative. But the truth is, by all appearances Vick has done everything in his power to put his past behind him once and for all.
I never thought Vick was a great quarterback, but I do believe he’s an extraordinary example of a man who learned from his mistakes and works every day at being a better human being. If nothing else, you have to respect that.
I mean it when I say it was an honor to watch Michael Vick play for the Eagles. I know some others couldn't wait to see him go and thought he overstayed his welcome. I fully admit that Vick was far from perfect in his time here. And that's the beautiful paradox of Vick. He was so talented yet so flawed. He made mistakes but he never even once gave less than maximum effort. He gave Philadelphia some of the most exciting and memorable sports moments of a life time, and he also made enough terrible plays to make you want to write him off completely. To say he was a polarizing figure would be an understatement.
Now that Vick is gone, I choose to remember the good times and wish him nothing but the best of luck in the future. I truly hope he still has something left in the tank and finds success with the Jets this season.
Thank you, Michael Vick.
PS: one last thing for all of the Philadelphia detractors out there:
Remember which city gave Vick a second chance the next time you start hastily assembling an idiotic sentence involving snow balls & Santa.— Phillip T. Annand (@OnAwardTour) March 21, 2014