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Out of Prison, Michael Vick Gets Second Chance: Quarterback Finds Mentor in Tony Dungy, New Team in Philadelphia Eagles

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 15, 2009

On May 5, Tony Dungy walked into the visitor's room at the 22-acre U.S. Federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., and met Michael Vick. It was not unusual for Dungy to be inside a prison. As part of his Christian outreach programs, the man who coached the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl title in 2007 has long worked with young men convicted of crimes.

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This time he had come at the request of Vick's attorney, Billy Martin, who was from the same home town as Dungy's wife. He wanted a mentor for Vick. Would Dungy be one?

Dungy was interested. In Vick, who was nearing the end of a 23-month prison sentence for dogfighting, he saw a potential role model, someone who could speak of the mistakes that had destroyed Vick's reputation at the peak of his career. But first Dungy had to talk to Vick, to look at him, to gauge his remorse.

Many had been wondering the same thing.

As the end of Vick's sentence drew near and the potential loomed for a return by one of the National Football League's most dynamic players, the list of people Vick had to impress was lengthy. It included league commissioner Roger Goodell, the country's most prominent animal rights organization, and, not to be underestimated, one of the NFL's 32 team owners and his head coach.

Soon there would be more pilgrimages to Leavenworth from people wishing to speak to Vick, to measure his soul.

Dungy, as the first, wanted to know about Vick's faith. "Where was the Lord in all of this?" Dungy recalled Friday.

Vick told him he had been a religious person before he reached the NFL but as he became a bigger and bigger star he had abandoned his religion. Now, he told Dungy, who retired as the Indianapolis head coach after this past season, he wanted to bring it back.

"That's when I felt this is a young man who is on the right direction," Dungy said.

And largely because of the respect most in the NFL have for Dungy and his judgment of people, this is where the rehabilitation of Michael Vick began. If Dungy, who spent two hours that day talking about life and choices with the 29-year-old quarterback, was willing to take a chance on believing in Vick, perhaps others could too. Which is how Vick began his journey from being a social scourge, a man who admitted to wantonly torturing and killing dogs as part of an organized dogfighting operation, to a point where he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles this week that could pay him more than $7 million over two years.

On Friday, Vick sat at a news conference alongside Dungy and his new coach, Andy Reid, at the Eagles' headquarters in Philadelphia and declared: "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."

It is a conditional reclamation, one in which Goodell must still decide how soon Vick will be allowed back on the field for a regular season game. His contract with Philadelphia can be voided after a year. But given where he was, getting to this point was among the unlikeliest of journeys.

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