He has always been the best player on the field, from the time he was a little boy through his high school days, his games at Virginia Tech and then every afternoon he has suited up in the NFL. The talent was obvious. Somewhere along the line, right about the time Michael Vick signed a contract with the Eagles in an attempt to resurrect his profession and rehabilitate his life, Vick made the commitment to being the best.
Eight games into the 2010 season, Vick is playing at an entirely different level than at any time in his career. He was honored as the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week based on his performance against Indianapolis, a gem of a game for Vick and for the Eagles and more evidence of an amazing story that hopefully has weeks and months and years to continue to unfold. Vick wasn't perfect in the win over the Colts; in fact, there were a handful of where-were-they-going? throws that were downright scary.
But Vick made enough gorgeous throws, enough great decisions, enough big-time plays with his feet and was nearly flawless with his head as the Eagles picked up a crucial win to reach the midway point of the season at 5-3. Prepare for what is ahead this week and through Monday (the game against Washington can be seen on ESPN nationally and locally, as well as on phl17 locally for those who don't have cable television), because Vickmania will be at an all-time high, and he will be the dominating story for the Monday Night Football broadcast crew to discuss. Vick makes his first prime-time appearance in his second career, and you can be sure his story will be told a million different ways in the days ahead.
It makes me pause and think about this extraordinary situation, this remarkable time for Vick, for Andy Reid's Eagles and for the franchise in general. What has happened here transcends the NFL. Vick represents, from this perspective, the American way: He had it all, then lost it all, and has made the most of the chance afforded him.
Now he's our guy. Our quarterback. The man upon whom the Eagles are pinning their hopes to win big this year, win it all. As the Eagles enjoy the calm before the firestorm of attention this week, a moment of reflection is needed. The rise of Vick as a complete quarterback, from the time he joined the Eagles to know, is simply remarkable. How has he improved so much? What has made him the top-rated passer in the league?
Vick's talent, of course, has never been in question. He was the first pick in the 2001 NFL draft and he enjoyed a considerable amount of success with the Atlanta Falcons. But there was something missing, right? We saw it in the NFC Championship Game in 2004 when the Eagles contained Vick's legs and corralled the Falcons offense and advanced to the Super Bowl.
The strategy, simple in theory and not so easy to execute, was to keep Vick in the pocket and force him to throw the football to win games. Vick flashed as a passer, especially with that flick-of-the-wrist delivery and the laser arm, but he never took it to the highest level.
Vick, halfway through the 2010 season, after missing two full years in the NFL while incarcerated, is now in that upper echelon. He is playing "out of his mind," says head coach Andy Reid because, among other things, Vick has blended his natural ability with great desire to be great and by dedicating himself to the game.
"He is a completely different Michael Vick," says former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese, who left the Eagles after the 2004 season to play two seasons in Atlanta with Vick. "He wasn't the first one in the building every day and he wasn't the last one to leave. I'm not sure he ever watched film on his own. He just wasn't around, wasn't one of the guys.
"I see a huge difference. I see a guy who wants to be a teammate and who wants, more than anything else, to be the best quarterback in the league."
Quarterbacks coach James Urban and the Eagles offensive coaching staff has worked wonders with Vick in the short time they have been together. Last year we saw Vick dip his toe into the waters and he had his moments. A run here, a pass there, a tantalizing glance into what could be for Vick. Even in this preseason, working with the second-team offense, Vick's play was uneven. There were few hints that Vick would rank, two months later, first in the league in passer rating and would be named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month in September, miss a month of play and then earn Player of the Week honors upon his return to the lineup.
Remarkable. Truly, truly amazing.
Given everything we have learned about Vick in his second NFL go-around, then, it was no surprise that he spent Monday and Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. Reid gave his players those days off after the win against the Colts given the extra day before Monday's game at Washington, Vick is in this to win, and he isn't going to let anything get in his way. How many people -- professional athletes, kids, anybody -- take advantage of a second chance as well as Vick has done to this point? He is the poster child for turning your life around in a positive direction.
There are so many fascinating angles here, so many stories to follow. The marquee for Monday night, of course, is Vick playing the Redskins, the team that knocked him out of three games with the rib injury. He would love payback. And the angle of meeting Donovan McNabb again is certainly going to be a major theme as well, one that is going to dominate the local scene for the next week, at least.
Then there is the future to consider. What happens with Vick beyond next week, next month, this season? Does anybody know? The question has been asked many times, without an answer: What if Vick continues playing at this superstar level for the remainder of the year? What do the Eagles do in that instance?
The future will have to wait. Who knows? I'm just enjoying the present, waiting with great anticipation for Monday night. Watching Vick is a treat, a treasure. He is a highlight waiting to happen, one of those rare players who makes you rise up waiting for something great to happen. Vick deserves all of the accolades, all of the good things that are happening to him right now.
He combined the intangibles -- desire and commitment -- with his rare talent to become what he is now: the top-rated quarterback in the league and the franchise player the Eagles are banking on to lead them to great things in 2010.