So, this is how it will end for Michael Vick with the Eagles, and probably forever.
Eventually, coach Chip Kelly will announce that Nick Foles is the Eagles starting quarterback of the present and foreseeable future. And Vick, who began the season as the starter and seemed to have a rebirth in Kelly’s break-neck offense, will spend the rest of the season holding a clipboard on the sideline while the Eagles find out whether Foles is the franchise quarterback they desperately need or if they have to find one in the 2014 NFL draft.
Either way, Vick’s days with the Eagles are numbered and it’s been a sad sight the last few weeks, watching Vick watch practice while Foles becomes the new hero in Philadelphia.
Thinking back to when Vick joined the Eagles, I never would have believed I could feel sympathy for him. I sharply criticized the Eagles when they signed him in 2009 after he had been released from prison for crimes connected to his dog-fighting operation. Like you, I was appalled when I heard what Vick had done to some of those dogs, including drowning and electrocuting them, just because they weren’t good fighters. I even wrote a column in which I pointed out that Vick’s last year with the Atlanta Falcons wasn’t very good – he had a mediocre season and the Falcons didn’t even make the playoffs — and that he was lucky the NFL didn’t treat underachievers the way he did.
But that was then and this is now and I’ve learned to respect and even like Vick, even if I’ve never been a fan of his inconsistent play. He’s been a stand-up guy with the media and fans ever since he arrived in Philadelphia and he never shied away from the criticism that rained down on him because of the dog-fighting crimes. Nobody asks those questions anymore, but for a long time Vick heard them all the time and he answered them all. He’s done everything he can to turn a negative into a positive as he’s visited schools and youth groups to talk about his past problems and he’s been a shining example of what a person can do with a second chance.
Plus, Vick was the first one to rally to the defense of wide receiver Riley Cooper this summer, after a video of Cooper making a racial slur went viral and just about everyone was down on him. Vick, who understands the power of penance better than most of us, reached out to Cooper in forgiveness, even though he wasn’t happy with what Cooper said or how he said it. And that opened the door for other people to also forgive Cooper and allowed him to get on with his life, much as Vick had to get on with his life after his fall from grace.
Michael Vick has been a model citizen and teammate ever since he joined the Eagles. That includes his latest setback, when he pulled a hamstring in Week 5 against the New York Giants and then had to sit back and watch Foles dazzle the NFL. And even though this was supposed to be Vick’s big chance to become a star in the NFL again, he’s been supportive of Foles and seems to be genuinely proud of Foles’ success.
Vick is one of the most popular players in the Eagles locker room and he’s become a true leader, someone who puts the team ahead of himself. It has to drive him crazy that he lost the starting job he won fair and square in training camp, and he lost it even though he was having a pretty good season when he got injured again.
Now Vick knows that, barring injury to Foles, he’ll probably never take another snap for the Eagles. He also has to know that he might never take another snap for any team – he’s 33 and always gets injured and it’s hard to see another team taking a chance on him, even though he proved earlier this season that he still has considerable ability. But, as former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan used to point out, durability is as important as ability in the NFL, and Vick simply hasn’t had it.
Professional athletes rarely go out on their terms. Their careers usually end because they get injured or simply because Father Time caught up with them, just as he catches up with everybody. That’s hard for a prideful athlete to accept, which is why so many of them hang on too long. It’s still painful to think about an aging Willie Mays in a New York Mets uniform or Johnny Unitas fading into the sunset with lightning bolts on his helmet instead of horseshoes.
But even though Michael Vick isn’t going out in style, he is going out with class. And who would have thought that possible five years ago?
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com