Getting behind Michael Vick
I never thought I'd find myself pulling for Michael Vick, as a football player or as a man. Not after what he did. Engaging in dogfighting, abusing and neglecting a species that wants nothing more than to love human beings, is unthinkable and, for some, unforgivable.
Donovan McNabb felt differently about Vick. McNabb has been friends with Vick since McNabb's days at Syracuse, where Vick made a recruiting visit before choosing Virginia Tech. But 21 months in Leavenworth will test the best of friendships.
McNabb passed that test a year ago, when he urged Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and Coach Andy Reid to take a chance on an ex-con named Michael Vick. As sometimes happens in sports, the result is something Hollywood could never have imagined.
McNabb's largesse will be tested on national television Sunday when he takes on the Eagles and Vick, who moved from backup to starter after Kevin Kolb - the Eagles' designated quarterback of the future - suffered a concussion in the Eagles' season opener.
In three games, Vick is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and completing 61 percent of his passes, the best percentage of his career. Surprisingly, Vick is a more well-rounded quarterback at age 30, with two years lost in federal prison, than he ever was with the Atlanta Falcons. Right, Mike Shanahan?
"Well, in the 21/2 games that he's played in that I've watched him, yeah," Shanahan said. "He has a little bit different type of attack than he had when he was in Atlanta. I've played him a couple of times and to watch him in the 21/2 games and that type of attack that they've had and the type of weapons that they've had, he's taking advantage of every situation."
On Sunday, Vick will try to take advantage of the Redskins' 3-4 defense, which has struggled at times, especially the past five quarters. But McNabb expresses no regret for getting a job for his old friend, even if that friend will try to hang a 1-3 record on McNabb's new team.
"I'm not a guy that's going to sit and try to pat myself on the shoulder," McNabb said. "Michael is a human being. He's a man. He's a hard worker. One thing that I wanted to do was give him an opportunity, give him a second chance.
"So many people turned their back on him and talked about the negative side of things. I think before you begin to make assumptions and try to read into anybody, you need to learn a little about him. I think now people are starting to learn more about Mike the person, not just the football player, but the person."
That's always been the rub. No one ever doubted Michael Vick could play football. But his off-field behavior has always raised eyebrows. There were airport security incidents, the infamous Ron Mexico episode. He flipped off fans after a loss in Atlanta. Dogfighting is not the only incident that colored Vick's career and character; it was simply the most reprehensible.
Since joining the Eagles as a third-string quarterback, Vick seems to have cleaned up his act considerably. When he replaced Kolb in Week 1 and clearly outplayed him, nearly leading the Eagles back to a victory over Green Bay, the rumblings began that he should be starting. He said all the right things, including being supportive of Kolb. When Reid named Kolb to start last Sunday's game, then changed his mind and named Vick the next day, Vick again had all the right sound bites. Maybe Tony Dungy coached him up; maybe we're seeing a new Michael Vick. Too soon to tell.
The one bump in the road came in June, when his former co-defendant was shot and wounded at Vick's 30th birthday party. Prosecutors said Vick left the premises several minutes before the incident, but the larger point is that he apparently has retained his propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - and with the wrong people.
However, he's making twice-a-month appearances for the Humane Society of the United States, and the protests by PETA and other groups have apparently stopped. On and off the field, the Eagles have voiced no complaints about Vick.
But will it be enough to redeem his reputation? Americans love a comeback story, and we're a nation built by second-chancers and outcasts. But pitting dogs against each other, even to the death? Electrocuting dogs, even killing dogs who didn't perform? It's a lot for most people to get past. It's something I thought I could never forgive and forget.
I'm halfway there, almost in spite of myself. Vick served time. He declared bankruptcy. He lost his job, lost some friends, and put those closest to him through hell. He has to live with the consequences, and so far he seems to be doing that like a mature adult, like someone who paid attention to the lessons prison is supposed to impart.
Vick will be scrutinized for the rest of his career, and probably for the rest of his life. No one, including me, is forgetting what he's done. But for me, it's time to forgive, and to enjoy the latest American redemption story.