By BEN SHATZMAN
While the Philadelphia Eagles were progressing through the offseason in the summer of 2009, gearing up to avenge their loss in the NFC Championship, Michael Vick was merely thrilled to see the light of day. Vick was just one month removed from his release — not the standard NFL release — but his release from incarceration.
He had served 548 days in prison after he was convicted of playing a major role in a violent interstate dog-fighting ring. He had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008. He was dropped by nearly all of his many big-name sponsors. Animal rights organizations like PETA had already begun protesting against him. The electrifying quarterback — the man who was supposed to bring a Super Bowl title to Atlanta — was the joke of professional sports. Michael Vick had hit rock bottom.
But on Aug. 13, 2009, he began his ascension of what seemed like far too steep of a mountain to climb. Amid vehement criticism, protest, hate — you name it — the Eagles penned Vick to a low-end, one-year contract. Surprising, though, was the fact that Philly was among the teams least in need of quarterback help. Donovan McNabb had been the face of the Birds for years. They landed a promising young arm and potential heir to McNabb in 2007 draft, Kevin Kolb.
Of course, many teams in serious need of QB help were hesitant to sign Vick for reasons beyond what he offered under center. It simply was not worth the risk, the backlash and the negative attention, many GMs said. The Eagles knew full well that the addition of Vick meant scores of reporters, cameras and headlines. From the earliest allegations, to his trial, to his release from prison, the coverage of Michael Vick was unceasing. The media made Vick’s story among the most notorious of the decade.
But with all factors in mind, Philadelphia, a city full of sports fanatics who had just seen the Phillies win the World Series and their beloved Birds reach the NFC Championship, stayed true to its nickname, the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles’ organization believed in second chances, and, whether they believed that he would ever see the field or not, gave Michael Vick a fresh start in football, but more importantly, in life.
Friday marked the beginning of a new chapter for Michael Vick. The 33-year-old agreed to a one-year, $5 million dollar deal with the New York Jets, ending his five-year career with the Eagles. It feels like just yesterday that ESPN cameras were zoomed in on Vick at his first training camp. Maybe the years flew by because I grew up in Philly, or maybe because of his injury-prone style of play, but one cannot help but reflect on Michael Vick’s five years in Philadelphia — both on and off the field.
Vick’s performance on the field far, far exceeded the expectations of NFL fans, coaches and connoisseurs. He began as the third-string quarterback, a role that regularly leaves the player in street clothes on Sundays. When McNabb was traded to the rival Redskins and Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion, Vick took over the starting job.
He went on to win NFC Offensive Player of the Month in September 2010, and ultimately led a 21-point fourth quarter comeback to defeat the Giants and make the playoffs. He was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 and signed a 6-year, $100 million dollar deal with Philly in 2011.
In terms of on-field performance, Vick’s 2010 season was by far his most impressive feat, and although his subsequent seasons with the Eagles were less successful, he had already won over the hearts of the hearts of the city that took a chance. He requited the love that Philadelphia showed him. The following seasons were as important as his statistically brilliant 2010 campaign, though. His struggles in 2012 led to Reid benching Vick in favor of rookie Nick Foles. Vick handled the situation as any veteran would. He supported what was best for the team and served as a leader on the sidelines and a mentor to the new starter.
His final season in Philadelphia in 2013 was a fitting culmination of Vick’s time with the Eagles. Chip Kelly was named head coach. Prior to the season, receiver Riley Cooper was the center of attention after video surfaced showing Cooper using a racial slur towards an African American at a concert. While some of his teammates stated that they could never respect Cooper again, Michael Vick was the first person to extend his outright support for his teammate. Vick had suffered through a difficult time himself, and was the perfect person to relate to Cooper and offer support.
Nick Foles ended up as the starter for most of the season, and led the Birds to the playoffs. Michael Vick was, yet again, vocally supportive of any decision that benefited the team. He was the guy on the sidelines with the clipboard, but even television broadcasts revealed the leadership role he took on the team. Although it was the final season for Vick, 2013 confirmed the positive changes that Vick underwent as a person.
Michael Vick’s career with the Eagles is a prime example of the idea that anything is possible to overcome, even rock bottom. Vick was able to win over not just Eagles fans, but really anyone familiar with his story. There were many people who were opposed to any NFL team signing Vick. He was a convicted felon. It makes sense. But the Philadelphia Eagles offered him a second chance, and he took advantage of the opportunity he was given and did not look back. Had the Eagles not taken the chance on him, who knows where he would be today?
As he enters the next stage of his career and vies for the Jets’ starting job, Michael Vick will always look at the city of Philadelphia as the home of the people who took him under their wings, supported him, watched him grow as a person, from a dogfighting, immature, unappreciative felon to a high-character role model for anyone and everyone who has gone through a tough stretch. The relationship between the people of Philadelphia and Michael Vick will last far longer than five years – it will last a lifetime. It can be categorized as nothing other than “brotherly love.”