The Curious Case of Michael Vick
by Patrick Wall
It only took a few hours for drove of Philadelphia Eagles to begin selling their hard-earned season tickets. “If the Eagles are going to sell out, then so am I.” read one Craigslist post. This was nothing to sneeze at – Eagles seasons tickets can cost $3,000 or more, not to mention the waiting list is years long.
To these fans, giving money to the Eagles was unacceptable after the evening of August 13, 2009 when, during the team’s first preseason game, the Eagles announced it had signed former Atlanta Falcons quarterback and convicted dog fighter Michael Vick. Fans were distraught. How could the team they loved so much, led by one of the brightest lights of the NFL community in Donovan McNabb, stoop to such levels? Outrage ran rampant in the City of Brotherly Love.
Vick’s press conference the next day was unlike any other. Team owner Jeffery Lurie said, “We take great pride in building a high-character team. This is very counterintuitive, extremely counterintuitive.” There was no doubt the move was risky, both on and off the field.
Weeks went by and the regular season started up and fans moved on. But within the locker room, a funny thing happened. Not only did Vick’s new teammates not mind the signing, most seemed thrilled by it. Even McNabb was behind the move. In fact, he was the one who instigated the signing, encouraging head coach Andy Reid to pursue Vick.
Vick played sparingly in 2009, his only regular season touchdowns coming against his former team, the Atlanta Falcons. But then another funny thing happened. In December, Vick won the Eagles’ prestigious Ed Block Courage Award, given to a player on each team who displayed courage and inspiration throughout the season. Players vote for their teammates, and the award is presented at the end of the season.
To put this in perspective, some of 2009’s other winners included Tom Brady, former Eagle Brian Dawkins and NFL Players Association President Kevin Mawae. And just like that, fans were again outraged.
As players gear up for the 2010 season, their love for Vick is as strong as it ever was. Former Detroit Lions linebacker Ernie Sims, acquired in a trade just before the draft, spoke yesterday about his relationship with the quarterback.
“[T]he first time I walked through the door and [saw] him, he came up to me and told me his name and he actually told me he’s really into animals also.” Sims said, “He actually wants to see Sidney [Sims’ pet monkey] … and I think he’s a good person and I think we’re going to have a tremendous relationship.”
This kind of talk might seem unusual coming from Sims, who owns a dog kennel business and more than 20 pets. ”I would love to do anything with [Vick] to help him,” Sims said, “When I met him, I felt he was a pretty genuine guy.”
To many fans, Vick’s love from his teammates is confusing bordering on insane. But players seem to meet him with nearly unanimous affection. While most players admit that Vick’s actions were, in Sims’ words, “messed up,” nearly all the players asked about Vick have forgiven him.
“I leaned toward the decision to give a second chance.” Lurie said that fateful August afternoon, “There are going to be many fans that disagree with that and many fans that will be very supportive of that.
“In our society we tend to follow the justice system and when there are ex-offenders we try to provide support and you hope the plan going forward is a positive and not a negative.”
So far, much of the support has come from Vick’s fellow players. The jury may still be out on whether Vick’s signing made good football sense, but to his teammates, the experience has been all positive.