On May 20, 2009, Michael Vick was released from Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas after 18 months in incarceration.
On Aug. 15, 2009, less than three months later, he was on a practice field behind the NovaCare Complex effortlessly firing jet-fueled passes with his rocket left arm down the field to DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Reggie Brown.
Vick hadn’t played football since 2006, but he was only 29 years old, he was in his prime and he was already a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the most dynamic quarterbacks the NFL had ever seen.
Now he was an Eagle, and standing there watching him practice that morning it was impossible not to imagine the possibilities.
Vick turns 40 today, and when you look back at his Eagles career, just like when you look at his life, you have to weigh the man’s flaws and his strengths.
Vick the person. There’s no question he rehabilitated himself while he was in prison. Everyone who’s followed his life since the day he was released knows this. Some people will never forgive him for his crimes, and that’s their choice.
I’ll never forget talking to Vick the day before Thanksgiving 2009 when he told me, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d go back to prison because I came out a much better person than when I went in.”
And that’s how he’s lived his life.
But I wanted to take a minute and focus on what Vick gave us on the football field.
Vick barely played in 2009. Donovan McNabb was still here. He did come in for one snap in that terrible playoff loss to the Cowboys and fired an effortless 76-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin.
In 2010, McNabb was gone, Kevin Kolb was hurt and struggling, and Vick was magical.
In the 10 games he started and finished, the Eagles went 8-2 and Vick threw 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ran for almost 700 yards and nine more TDs. He put on a show every Sunday for a fan base desperate for a new star after McNabb’s late-career doldrums.
Week after week, Vick sacrificed his body, playing like he was trying to prove he was still the superstar he had been before prison. Maclin, Jackson and McCoy all had big years playing alongside their boyhood hero, and there were times the offense looked unstoppable.
Vick threw an NFL-best seven TDs of at least 45 yards just that one year, four to Jackson, two to Maclin, one to Brent Celek.
And on an unforgettable Monday night in Landover, Md., it all came together in a 59-28 embarrassment of McNabb and the Redskins.
First play of the game was that 88-yard thing of beauty to Jackson.
I’ve watched the play 1,000 times. At least. The ball travels 72 yards in the air. Jackson stumbles a bit as he catches it in front of LaRon Landry but keeps his balance and jogs into the end zone backwards.
But I’ll never forget watching it live.
The press box at FedEx Field is directly behind the west end zone, so I sat there watching that pass soar majestically through the air, flying right at me before settling into Jackson’s outstretched hands. I get chills just thinking about it now.
That’s what Vick gave all of us in 2010.
For three months, Vick put on a show and breathed life into a franchise that was trying to figure out what it was following a decade of McNabb.
He played the game with such a flair and had the personality to match. He loved being an Eagle. He loved just playing football again. He was accessible and approachable and wore his heart on his sleeve, never hesitating to let us know exactly what he was feeling – something McNabb never did.
That season ended ugly, with that home playoff loss to a Packers team the Eagles never should have lost to and an unthinkable interception on a pass Vick never should have thrown.
Vick spent three more years here and had some fantastic moments, but it was never quite the same as 2010. He finished his career with cameos in 2014 with the Jets and 2015 with the Steelers.
I talked to Vick as often as I could during his five years in Philly because he was funny and personable, but also because I learned so much from him.
About our ability to genuinely become better people if we really want to and about how wrong preconceived notions can be.
Vick was a flawed character on the field and off, and that makes it more difficult to kind of summarize what he was all about.
But I do know that a decade ago, he made Sunday afternoons – and Monday nights – a whole lot of fun for Eagles fans.
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