Michael Vick is a megastar.
That much is evident the moment you step foot on campus at Lehigh University for the Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp. The abundance of green No. 7 jerseys scattered throughout the enthusiastic, vocal crowd signifies the adoration Eagles fans have for their athletic quarterback.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Just five years ago, Vick plead guilty to federal charges for his role in the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting ring and spent 23 months in prison. He was the recipient of scorn, hatred and protests against his presence in the game of football for the heinous acts he committed on helpless dogs.
Before that, the stardom he had seen with the Atlanta Falcons had already begun to burn out, starting with the infamous “Ron Mexico” scandal in 2005, then moving on to the incident when he flipped the bird to fans at the Georgia Dome in 2006 and the overblown story on a suspicious water bottle detained at Miami International Airport in 2007.
When the then-29-year-old was released from prison, no one wanted him. He was too much of a distraction and too much of a risk for a team to take a chance on. And with two seasons away from football, there was no way he could play at a competitive level as an NFL quarterback; when being quite honest, Vick was never a top-ranked passer to begin with.
But Andy Reid and the Eagles saw something. They believed in the troubled fallen star. They were willing to take the risk on Michael Vick the player while also aiding to rebuild Michael Vick the man.
In return, they received a player better than they could have ever expected. Vick did not just play at a competitive level, his ability passing the football was better than it ever had been before. He forced his way into the starting role for Philadelphia and reclaimed his post as a must-watch player in the NFL.
In 2010, his first season as a starter since 2006 with the Falcons, Vick passed for 3,018 yards with 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 12 games. His 100.2 passer rating and completion percentage of 62.6 percent were easily the best of his professional career. To add insult to injury, Vick was still a successful runner, accounting for 676 yards and nine touchdowns while guiding the Eagles to the NFC East crown.
What Vick did was unfathomable. Two years in prison, two years out of football and somehow, someway, Vick—the No.1 pick in 2001—was better.
Last season, Vick took a step back. His season was marred by injuries throughout and cost the Eagles early in their playoff run. When Vick returned to health, his play elevated and Philadelphia capped off the year on a four-game winning streak just narrowly missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Vick is focused and hungry this season with his eyes set squarely on the prize. He is prepared for a big year in 2012 with improvements to his game and plans to heed President Barack Obama’s advice to slide this season in order to avoid injury.
“I gotta make sure I do the right things with the football,” Vick said following practice last Sunday. “I just try to make sure I have a general understanding of what they’re going to do when I come out. You never know what they’re going to do. Last year at this time I couldn’t have done that.”
Last season was not a bad year for Vick by any means, but it did not end quite the way No. 7 would have hoped.
“Everything!” Vick said when asked what things he was trying to work on in order to help the Eagles be more successful.
Already a lethal force against opposing defenses, if Vick can step his game up another level this season combined with the Eagles’ star-studded offensive and defensive units, that long-awaited championship could finally be within their grasps.
Of course, some heavy news has hit the Eagles organization hard with the report of the death of Garrett Reid, the 29-year-old son of Andy Reid. The past couple days have been very emotional in Bethlehem, knowing the type of coach Andy is and the team that takes the field for him—led by Vick—this is a moment where the Eagles will rally around their head coach.
This tragedy is absolutely heartbreaking, but it is a moment that should be seen as an opportunity to galvanize the Eagles as they fight onward this season in honor of Garrett and the Reid family.
And Vick, as unexpected as it would have been five years ago, will be right at the center of it, fighting for every yard and threading the needle like he never has before with one thing in mind—bringing a championship home to Philadelphia.