Picking Splinters: Reexamining Vick

A little over a year ago I wrote a column claiming that then-free agent QB Michael Vick was not worth the risk to an NFL team. Having prefaced this weekend’s game with the Washington Redskins, by claiming the starting job from Kevin Kolb and leading the Eagles to consecutive wins, I thought now would be a good time to revisit that column. Well, actually there was one more reason.

Last Sunday, shortly after the Eagles slammed the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-3, I received an e-mail from Fred Hines. A few of you may know Fred, but I suspect the vast majority of you have never heard of him and certainly have no idea of his relevance to this column. Allow me to enlighten you.

Shortly after writing that aforementioned column late last July, Mr. Hines sent me an e-mail calling the article “one of the most misinformed” he’d read. Let’s just say we agreed to disagree on that count. We were also in agreement on another matter: that I should revisit this topic as it played out over the years.

So here I am, one year and one reminder later, doing exactly that.

Before we get to Vick’s success this season, let’s briefly revisit why I felt he posed a profound risk to an NFL team. From the 2009 column:

His conditioning will be in question after his prison stint. The public still largely feels like he went around to every living room in America and curb-stomped the family pooch. And even before the trouble started, Vick had never proved that he could be a consistently productive quarterback, meaning that many believe he will have to learn an entirely new position now.”

Okay, so a year later, his conditioning looks as sharp as ever – though he admits he lacked his trademarked speed burst last season. Aside from a few tabloid-fueled headlines, there’s been little mention of his 23-month prison sentence for running a dogfighting operation – certainly not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of Eagles fans or gate revenues. And his 2010 completion percentage and QB rating are both well over his career averages, not to mention his 6 to 0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and the pair of wins he’s picked up while helming the Eagles this season.

So, Fred, thanks for the note. You were right. Michael Vick was worth the risk. (Although we’ll have to continue our agree-to-disagree arrangement on the “misinformed” bit.)

Now, what does this mean?

For starters, it means Vick is a phenomenal athlete. He defeated expectations, not only that he’d fail in his return to the NFL, but that he could ever by a No. 1 QB again. Prior to his games against Detroit and Jacksonville his ceiling was as a gadget-play operator. Prior to signing with the Eagles in 2009, most believed he’d have to be a wide receiver.

His ability to reignite his physical gifts at age 30, after two seasons away from the NFL, is truly remarkable. In fact, it’s been so amazing to watch that it’s dwarfed all talk of his past transgressions.

In case you don’t remember, Vick’s dogfighting investigation and trial was easily on par with the Tiger Woods scandal in terms of media attention. You couldn’t turn on ESPN without hearing words like “rape stand” or reports of the cruel deaths suffered by Vick’s dogs at the hands of his associates. Now? Vick’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the PETA homepage. Put his name in the site’s search tool and the top link it returns is from August 2009. Even the most ardent opponents to his NFL return have moved on. The world keeps turning.

I stand by my assertion that the odds were long for Vick to make it back to this point. Had Kolb not suffered a concussion in the season’s first game, this story may be a very different one. But Vick got his chance and he seized it. And now he has a bigger opportunity, one that could completely alter his legacy.

Whether folks forgive him for what he’s done is up to them – some have, I’m sure some never will. But whatever we think about his past, what Michael Vick is doing in the present is allowing fans to remember him for an entirely different set of reasons. And thanks to their risk, the Eagles are now reaping the rewards.