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Despite Owner's Reluctance and Wariness of Fans, Vick Is an Eagle

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 14 -- Michael Vick's second chance at an NFL career began Friday with some protesters lined up on a sidewalk outside the Philadelphia Eagles' training complex and the team's owner, Jeffrey Lurie, saying he'd been extremely reluctant initially to sign the quarterback who had been imprisoned for his role in a dog-fighting operation.

But Vick said he was grateful for his opportunity and prepared to try to make the most of it.

"I know, as we all know, in the past I have made some mistakes," Vick said at a late-morning news conference. "I have done some terrible things. I made a horrible mistake. And now I want to be part of the solution and not the problem. . . . I want to do whatever is necessary and be the best ambassador for the NFL and the community."

Vick was officially introduced by the Eagles on the day after the team announced that it had signed him to a one-year contract, plus an option for a second season. Vick missed the last two NFL seasons while serving his federal sentence, first in prison in Leavenworth, Kan., and then on home confinement in Hampton, Va.

Vick was seated at a table with Eagles Coach Andy Reid and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, an adviser to Vick, as he spoke.

"I committed an act that was cruel and it was unethical," Vick said. "It was inhumane. So I understand to a certain degree [that some will never forgive him]. But our country is a country of second chances and I paid my debt to society. I spent two years in prison. . . . That was a humbling experience."

Lurie said later that he'd had to be convinced to give Vick another chance.

"This took a lot of soul-searching for me," Lurie said. "I was asked to approve Michael Vick joining a very proud organization several days ago. Sometimes in life, you have to make extremely difficult and soul-searching decisions where there is no right answer. . . . When you are asked to approve something that you completely find despicable and anathema, it takes a lot of soul-searching."

Vick is scheduled to participate in his first practice with the Eagles on Saturday. He declared himself "ready to go" and called being with the Eagles a perfect situation. Vick termed it a "surreal feeling" to be back in the NFL.

He called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent conditional reinstatement of him "fair." Under the terms of his reinstatement, Vick is eligible to practice immediately and to play in the Eagles' final two preseason games. Goodell is to rule by Week 6 of the season on Vick's eligibility to play in regular season games.

Vick, a father of three, said the most difficult moment of his ordeal came when he had to explain the situation and his actions to his young children.

"I think everybody deserves a second chance," Vick said. "We all have issues. We deal with certain things, and we all have our own set of inequities. I think as long as you are willing to come back and do it the right way and do the right things and that you're committed, then I think you deserve it. But you only get one shot at a second chance, and I am conscious of that."

Vick's arrival in town was not greeted with universal praise. The front-page headline in Friday's Philadelphia Daily News read: "Hide Your Dogs." The newspaper's back-page headline asked of the Eagles: "What Are They Thinking?"

At 1:15 p.m., a little more than an hour after the Eagles' news conference had ended, four protesters stood on a sidewalk outside the gate to the team's complex. They held signs that said, "Hide Your Beagle, Vick's an Eagle," and "We Don't Want a Killer."

The group had been much larger earlier in the day, the protesters said. One Eagles player, they said, had stopped his car while driving past and had told them that they were rude.

The Eagles indicated they knew that some of their followers would be displeased with the move.

"I know some people will not agree," Reid said. "But on the other hand, I think the majority will. . . . I expect the public to have questions initially, which is obviously taking place, but at the same time I trust that we do the right things here. . . . I think that the majority of the public wants Michael to do well."

Lurie said he wouldn't have approved the move if starting quarterback Donovan McNabb hadn't been in agreement with it. But he also indicated he wouldn't evaluate the success of the signing on football terms.

"If we don't have an extremely pro-active player here off the field, then this is a terrible decision," Lurie said.

Dungy said he'd spoken to about a dozen NFL coaches about Vick. Dungy and Joel Segal, Vick's agent who watched the news conference while standing in an aisle in an auditorium at the team's facility, were evasive about how many of those dozen teams followed up with serious efforts to sign Vick.

Segal said that by the time Vick picked a team, there were two other clubs still in the running to sign him. He declined to identify the teams, although he indicated that Vick might have had a chance to be the starting quarterback with one of the clubs. Fox reported that the Cincinnati Bengals made Vick a contract offer, but the Bengals have Carson Palmer as their starter at quarterback.

"I know they didn't do this as a charity measure," Dungy said. "They feel Mike is gonna help their football team. . . . But they also stepped out to give a man a second chance, and I think that's important."

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