Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 1, 2011

Michael Vick’s Second Chance Is About More Than Football

On the football field at least, Michael Vick has completed his comeback. The highest paid player in the NFL when he signed a 2005 contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick was drummed out of the league two years later when his involvement in operating and financing an illegal dog fighting ring was revealed. Just months later he was convicted on both federal and state felony charges, eventually serving 19 months in federal prison. While in prison Vick was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, an act which led to protracted proceedings that revealed years of bad investments, shady advisors, and a long list of family and friends who relied on the star quarterback for support.

After his release in 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick to a one-year, $1.6 million contract. As the backup to Donovan McNabb he saw limited action during his first season back in the game. It was the season’s 13th week, in a game against his old team from Atlanta, before Vick both threw and ran for touchdowns, his first scores in three years. Still, the Eagles liked what they saw enough to exercise the team option in his contract, thus assuring Vick that he would have a place to play in 2010.

With McNabb traded to the Washington Redskins, Vick was listed on the Eagles’ depth chart behind Kevin Kolb when Philadelphia opened training camp. But when Kolb was injured in the first regular season game, Vick moved into the starting role. Injured himself later in the year, Vick wound up starting eleven games, compiling an 8-3 record as the Eagles moved to the top of the NFC East.

By almost any measure last season was Vick’s best. He had a quarterback rating of 100.2, completed more than 62% of his passes, and threw for more than 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for 9 more, all career highs. He was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad for the fourth time in his career, and won Comeback Player of the Year honors from both the Associated Press and The Sporting News.

Last February the Eagles slapped the franchise tag on Vick, securing the rights to his services for the upcoming season at a cost of $16 million. Then this week, at a Tuesday press conference, the team and the player confirmed that they had agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension. Vick becomes the third highest paid player in the league, behind fellow quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He also becomes the first player in NFL history to sign two contracts worth $100 million or more.

His performance last season coupled with Philadelphia’s willingness to make a major commitment of both time and money signal the fulfillment of Vick’s determination to bring his playing career back from the ashes. Still two unknowns remain. The first is his eventual record as a football player; the second his ultimate legacy as a person.

Every huge contract is a bet on the future. In Philadelphia, the future has been a long time coming. It’s been more than half a century since the Eagles last won an NFL championship. In the Super Bowl era they have made just two trips to the season-ending extravaganza, coming up short both times. In inking Vick to this new deal the Eagles are betting that he can finally do what over the decades the likes of Sonny Jurgensen, Ron Jaworski, Randall Cunningham, and McNabb could not. Team president Joe Banner acknowledged as much, saying “When you give a player a contract, you’re betting on the future, and you’re using the evidence of what he’s done to that point to evaluate your future projection. And if we didn’t think Michael was somebody capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl, we never would have given him that contract.”

For his part, Vick seems well aware of what is expected. “It’s a lot of money, however you look at it. Obviously, it’s going to create a lot of demands. I know what comes along with it, and I know how to handle it.” Yet as good as his season was last year, the Eagles still made a quick exit out of the playoffs, losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay 21-16 in the first round. Still in the wake of that defeat Philadelphia was perhaps the most active franchise in the league during the off-season, and their newly loaded roster has made the Eagles the pick of many analysts as the class of the NFC. If Vick were to carry the Eagles all the way to a championship, it would be the stuff of a Hollywood script; a movie about second chances and redemption, with Denzel Washington playing the role of Vick’s mentor Tony Dungy.

Real life of course is not so easy. Vick has paid a price for some heinous crimes. He has been given a second chance, both on the gridiron and now financially; and it seems, after some initial protests, with most fans. Second chances are good things. People can forgive, mercy can be shown, the public can move on. In time, criminal records can even be expunged. But for the second chance to ultimately be both deserved and made meaningful, one person can never forget. A part of that one person’s consciousness must always be aware of the past, and know that some part of every day is about atonement; not so much to others as to oneself. Michael Vick says that he has learned to take nothing for granted. “I did that at one point when I had the big contract in Atlanta. And I think that will definitely help me now in understanding what’s most important and how to move forward in my life.” Assuming he means it, then Michael Vick is remembering every day; as he should, as he must. If so, then with or without a Super Bowl ring, his second chance can yet become the chance of a lifetime.

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