By Alex Brown
Few people have fallen into self-ruin so completely and abruptly as Michael Vick, and even fewer have returned to glory in the same lightning-quick fashion. Such is the enigma that is the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback, and like him or resent him, every game he starts is must-see television for NFL fans.
Vick, a former Atlanta Falcons star, was known as a playmaker who compensated for his incomplete passing game by making plays with his legs.
He set numerous quarterback rushing records and was one of the most recognizable faces of America’s most popular sport.
That all changed in August 2007, when Vick was arrested for financing a dog-fighting ring and sentenced to nearly two years in federal prison. Even his most avid fans were appalled by the brutality of his crimes, and few believed he could return after two years in prison to the same level of play that had once captivated the league. Most doubted he would ever be forgiven.
While losing his freedom, Vick paid his dues in his career, as well. He lost two years in the prime of his physical prowess, went bankrupt while in prison and put an indelible stain on his legacy.
Fast-forward to 2010. After returning last year to ride the Eagles’ bench, Vick thrust himself into the starter’s role this season after an injury to first-stringer Kevin Kolb. At 30, he is once again the most electrifying player in the NFL. He has matured as a passer and has a better grasp of his team’s offense, which he attributes to an improved work ethic, a deeper team focus and a more disciplined lifestyle.
Now a spokesman for the Humane Society, Vick makes regular appearances in schools to warn kids about the dangers of dog-fighting. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he is proud of the way he has turned his life around.
Vick’s compelling story and seemingly changed life have won over many football fans. Others cannot overlook his gruesome past or bring themselves to cheer for him over other players who have stayed out of trouble.
Watching him play, it is easy to lose the significance of Vick’s turnaround. His resurgence is one that cannot be measured in yards, touchdowns or wins. For him, the pinnacle of success will not be winning the Super Bowl, but being a responsible parent to the children he left behind when he went to prison. The mark of his new life should not be an NFL MVP award, but solid guidance to the youth he now counsels to avoid the same traps that got him.
While Vick’s weekly “did-you-see-that?” plays are reason enough to watch the remainder of Philadelphia’s games, seeing him reach the pinnacle of the career he threw away is equally compelling.
Once an example of the consequences of poor choices, Vick is now the poster child for the power of second chances. His fall from grace was a story of scandal and shame. He is re-writing that narrative with one of poignance and promise.
Perhaps most indicative of Vick’s turnaround is the universal applause he has received from notoriously hard-to-please Philadelphia fans. Of course, he will be showered with boos if the Eagles start losing, but for now, Vick continues to dazzle, both on and off the field. I, for one, will be watching — and cheering —the next time America’s Best Comeback Story takes the field.