Some of my readers must be convinced that I have a man crush on Michael Vick, considering the gushing praise I have bestowed upon him since I first started this blog in September of 2011. It’s true: I have been very kind to Michael Vick. When others have doubted him I have championed him as the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL. I haven’t always been right. In fact I’ve mostly been wrong. I’ve called a lot of things in my sports career, but I missed the boat on Michael Vick. His last two seasons have been less than stellar after his fantasy football team saving year in 2010. So his failure is actually why he is second on this list. The truth is I don’t have a man crush on Michael Vick. The truth is he’s the most controversial, exciting, talented, and enigmatic football player I have ever seen. The truth is he changed football forever. The truth is he reveals the deep-seeded racism still lurking in America. The truth is he beat LeSean McCoy in a foot-race (he is so much older than McCoy that he was Shady’s favorite player in high school). The truth is he’s in a new system that might play exactly to his strengths. The truth is I’m still not quitting on Michael Vick.
I like biopics. There are a good many that need to be made either as a Hollywood movie or as a 30 for 30 documentary (the writer has just been struck with an idea for a Saturday List). For me, Michael Vick’s biopic is the one that most needs to be made (R.A. Dickey is a distant second). I can’t give you the full story (look up all the articles in ESPN The Magazines outstanding Michael Vick issue). But just understand he grew up in a poor and crime-infested neighborhood where he went fishing even if there were no fish to catch just to escape for a while. The men of his neighborhood would bet him he couldn’t throw a football a certain distance and then he would promptly toss it beyond their expectations. He put up numbers in high school football that would make video gamers playing on rookie mode look foolish. He became the first black quarterback to be drafted number one. He set the league on fire with his new style of play. He beat the Packers in Lambeau during the 2002 Playoffs. He set records. And then he got arrested for dog fighting and went to prison. One of the most popular players in the league went to prison. Then he came back, had one season as a backup, then had a Pro Bowl season and became the first player to earn two 100 million dollar contracts. Supposedly he’s a new man now, as dog fighting was only one of his many personal issues.
Quite the story, no?
And it isn’t done. Bill Simmons wrote a very fine article on Michael Vick last November, but I think he made a mistake trying to define what Michael Vick’s legacy is. That can’t be done yet because Michael Vick the Philadelphia Eagle hasn’t finished his NFL career yet. Someday his full story can be told. What will that story be? It depends on Michael Vick the Falcon and Michael Vick the Man. I’ve highlighted for you the life events that make Michael Vick worthy of an incredible biopic. Now let me tell you how important Vick really is and why he is unlike any athlete in sports for his influence on and off the field.
The Michael Vick Experience
There are some quarterbacks in today’s league that can really run well. And not one of them can hold a candle to Michael Vick. I said before the 2012 Draft that I would take Luck over Griffin because I felt the best comparison that Griffin has is Michael Vick, and no one can be Michael Vick except Michael Vick. Yeah Griffin is good, and he is probably a better thrower than Vick, but so far I think my prediction has a solid chance of remaining true, especially if Griffin faces constant injury. However this new batch of dual threat quarterbacks turns out, none of them will surpass Vick’s running ability. That part of his game cannot be matched. In high school, he once ran for six touchdowns and threw for three in a single game. In the pros, he has just about every quarterback rushing record out there (except single season touchdowns and yards in a playoff game). Michael Vick’s video game characters were unstoppable and could score at any time, but his real life person was like that too: you never knew when he was going to take off down the field and score (2002 vs. Vikings). And that’s why he became the favorite player of many kids, including his teammate LeSean McCoy. I’m going to guess that Geno Smith has chosen number seven for a very particular reason. Michael Vick the player became an über-popular star with his unbelievably exciting play style that fans loved and opponents feared. One time I watched Warrick Dunn line up as the quarterback in shotgun with Vick wide to the right. They ran a reverse play in which Dunn kept the ball, and the opponent was so focused on Vick that Dunn was able to scamper for like thirty yards. It didn’t matter what kind of person Vick was: he was an unparalleled football player.
And then that all crashed to the ground in 2007 with charges of dog fighting.
One of the best football players in the world would be out of the sport and in prison until 2009. His return, although controversial, was fairly insignificant and inconsequential (as far as football goes). The one shining moment was his return to Atlanta, in which he threw for a touchdown and also ran for one. There were protests at the game as well as chants of “We want Mike!” At the end of the season his teammates unanimously voted to award him the Ed Block Courage Award.
Then, in Week 1 of 2011, he entered the game for injured Kevin Kolb and nearly led the Eagles from behind to win. His numbers were enough to earn himself the starting job (a move that many called a knee-jerk reaction. Oops). 2011 became the best year of Vick’s career, highlighted by the absolutely ridiculous game on Monday Night Football versus the Redskins. With what appeared to be a cleaned up act off the field and an amazing year on it, Vick should have become a hero again.
But he didn’t really. His jersey started to sell again, but the national audience didn’t accept him as before. As if to validate their hesitations, Vick’s next two seasons would be mediocre and injury-plagued, and now he’s off the radar, “battling” for his job against Matt Barkley, Dennis Dixon and Nick Foles.
So here we are in 2013. Michael Vick, despite the cleaned up act, is hated by a lot of people. Some say he shouldn’t have been allowed to own a dog again. He’s been hurt time and again, partially because of his own fault, partially because of his dreadful offensive line, and partially (some would say) because officials do not give the benefit of the doubt to a black man who has been to prison.
Ah, but racism is such a dark subject. No pun intended. Yet Michael Vick has brought to discussion the race problem in America. We’ve seen in his career how easy it is to cast aside a man like him. We’ve seen how much more attractive a clean-cut black man like Robert Griffin III is. We’ve seen that people like dogs more than they like other people. People usually love a good comeback story, but sometimes people just want to forget about certain individuals. Think about it: Michael Vick should be someone that everyone is rooting for. He could prove to everyone that a poor black kid can get somewhere in life, fail, then clean up his act and succeed again. They should want to love him not just as a player but as a man. Everyone should want to forgive and forget and watch Michael Vick fly around the field again. Everyone should want to see that Redskins game again. They should want the Michael Vick who torched the 2002 Vikings to lead the way as Wilson, Kaepernick, Newton, and Griffin try to copy his act. But they don’t. We’ve moved on.
Whether we want to move on or not, Vick is still playing in the NFL. He’s in a new system that might set him free. And I want this to work so badly. I want to make sure that 2011 wasn’t just a dream. I want to see that player again. I lived through the Michael Vick experience: I watched him run all over the NFL. I watched him go to prison. I remember him returning. I heard the hatred. I sat in a state of sports stupification as he tossed a ball to DeSean Jackson in the start of one of the greatest games ever played. I shook my head every time I heard of a new injury. And now, in 2013, if Michael Vick doesn’t have a great season, and the lasting memory of his career exists as a series of injuries, I’ll feel cheated of what could have been. I’ll never get to see the ultimate sports redemption story. I’ll never get to know how good he could have been. I’ll never get to see if he can become the voice of animal rights and racial issues that we should allow him to be. I want to know how prison changed him. I want to know about his talks with Tony Dungy. I want to know if he found God. I want to know what people really think of him. I want the Michael Vick story to play to the end. You can’t possibly tell me the young boy throwing footballs in the Virginia ghetto and humiliating opponents at all levels who went through prison and hatred and injury and came back to find himself better than ever can possibly end his career by losing his job to a trio of fourth-rate football players. Robert Griffin III can’t be Michael Vick. Maybe he will break all of his records and become an all-time great, but I just can’t stand to see him be what Vick should have been. He’s too much of a good guy. He’s a cop-out for football fans. He’s the perfect sports idol because he’s not controversial to a middle-aged middle-class white guy. He’s a good influence but that’s what a guy like him is supposed to be. You want to know why we need Michael Vick to be our hero?
Because I’d rather tell my child as he wears a Vick jersey to wear that proudly because, “Michael never quit. He never gave up. He did great things after failing and the cards were stacked against him. So don’t you ever give up” than tell my child wearing a Griffin III jersey, “You can do anything you set your mind to because good people always succeed and there is no bad in this world.”
Do you understand what we might be left with if Vick doesn’t succeed? Stories about Mark Sanchez. The usual NFL week-by-week fodder. We’ll never get to see the ending of the Michael Vick experience.
Don’t kid yourself; you know what he is capable of on and off the field. His career has flashed by in an instant, almost quicker than he flies down the field. But it isn’t over yet. He’s going to get one more chance. If he fails he fails. I just want him to get his turn.
Because it’s not just one last turn for him: it’s one last turn for us.
It’s Still Your Turn Countdown
10. John Wall
9. Tim Tebow
8. Carmelo Anthony
7. Derrick Rose
5. Wayne Rooney
4. The Exiles
3. Cam Newton
2. Michael Vick
1. Coming Soon
Almost there. The Countdown is almost complete (finally!). Hopefully I can write more now that my first year of college is complete. Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!