By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
In the days before quarterback Michael Vick inked a six-year, $100 million ($40 million guaranteed) deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, the national football pundits expressed their collective skepticism that he could duplicate the brilliant performance the led to his finishing second in the NFL’s Most Valuable Player voting.
Considering that Vick just three short years ago Vick was in a federal penitentiary with little hope of ever returning to an NFL field, much less walking onto one with a multimillion dollar contract, playing with the pressure of being one of the league’s highest paid quarterbacks and the expectations of bringing the Birds their NFL championship since 1960 is something he welcomes with open arms.
“Everything I’ve been through over the last three or four years of my life has just been a challenge mentally to see how I was going to respond to it, that’s how I feel. And I responded in the right way with the help of a lot of people because I couldn’t have done it by myself,” Vick said.
“No, to be honest I never thought this day would come. Again, in my career I just, like I said I wanted to play a game just to prove myself; to this magnitude I didn’t think it would happen this way. You know. [I] just keep pressing forward and keep believing. I think faith is something that we all have to have at the end of the day. And I’m living proof that if you believe in yourself and commit yourself to doing certain things, you can do them.”
With all the hopes and dreams of Eagles fans, coaches and front office folks heaped upon him as the face of the franchise, Vick comes into the 2011 season having to work with a patchwork offensive line that includes two rookies and a veteran in right guard Todd Herremans moving into the right tackle spot.
After his dazzling performance last season in which he had career highs in completion percentage (62.6) passing yardage (3,018), passer rating (100.1), teams around the league are geared to stop his strong arm and his ability to avoid the rush. In 2011, he became second player in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 500 yards (676).
“I’m always going to have a bulls-eye on my back,” he said. “Teams are always going to game plan to figure out a way to stop me, but it’s my goal, it’s my job to not let that happen. I think it’s all about preparation, my dedication, and my commitment to this sport and to my position not to let that happen. So that’s never going to change. But like I said I’m confident in what we can do as a team.”
Vick’s teammates said they were proud of him and feel that’s an indicative of how the team feels about him as a leader on the field.
“It shows how much confidence they have in Mike and the leadership that he’s shown. With the support, it shows that the franchise, players, coaches, and everybody is behind him 100 percent,” said running back LeSean McCoy.
When Vick came to the Eagles back in 2009, fans and media people were critical of the team bringing him to Philadelphia. Upon his arrival to the Birds Nova Care practice facility, he was greeted with protest signs from animal rights activists and from people who abhorred his involvement in dog fighting, which led to him spending 24 months in a federal prison.
At the start of the 2010 season, the Eagles, certain that Kevin Kolb would be their starter, tried to trade Vick. But in what turned out to be a grand quirk of fate for Vick, Kolb was sidelined with a concussion at halftime of last season’s opener against the Green Bay Packers.
Once Vick got into the game, the human highlight reel that he was in Atlanta took over in the second half. He threw for 175 yards with one touchdown pass and rushed for 103 yards in a comeback that ultimately fell short. Team vice president Joe Banner said it was a combination of that performance and his leadership qualities on and off the field that convinced the team he was their man of the future.
“It was not until Kevin got hurt and Michael went on the field and you saw what happened,” Banner said. “I think from a character perspective we were starting to see that, but from an actual taking charge and handling all the pressure and everything that comes with it, sustaining the performance at that level, I think he had to actually get on the field and deal with all things that come with that as a team leader—dealing with the media, dealing with the public, dealing with the charity work that he was doing and that point we felt like it maybe it was possible.”
While Vick credited a number of people such as former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy for his transformation as a person on and off the field, head coach Andy Reid said it was Vick’s work ethic and attitude even before he became a starter.
“But the hard work that went into doing this, and this was Michael, and he’s had [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg and [former quarterbacks coach] James Urban and [quarterbacks coach] Doug Pederson now to work with, but if it wasn’t his attitude and his want to and his work ethic then none of this was possible,” Reid said. “So I think it’s really a tribute to him more than us and how he’s come back and the effort that he’s put forth.”
Off the field, Vick has been a model citizen and has become one of the biggest advocates against dog fighting and has been visiting a number of schools around city of Philadelphia and throughout the country, educating young people about the importance of staying in school and staying out of trouble. He has also contributed his time and money.
Vick said realizes that in spite of all of his charity work that he’s never going to win over some fans that will never forgive him for the dogs he killed when he financed a dog fighting operation in Virginia.
“I’m just trying to be the best person that I can be. You know, I can’t control what people think, their opinions, or their perception. I think that’s personal and that’s for them,” Vick said. “But the only thing that I can control is what I can control, and that’s trying to be the best person I can be, the best citizen I can be, best father that I can be, and I think that speaks for itself.”