Karen Heller: It's all about Eagles' green

Posted: August 15, 2009

Michael Vick, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons, Bad Newz Kennels, and Leavenworth Prison, is now not with the hounds, but the Birds.

Why did the Eagles acquire a convicted felon who hasn't played for two years? Perhaps Jeff Lurie, Joe Banner, and Andy Reid missed the relentless drama of T.O. and wanted the locker room transformed into the soap opera of old.

Sure enough, at yesterday's news conference, Vick was - if you'll pardon the expression - hounded almost exclusively by questions about his six years of running an illegal dogfighting operation and 18 months of incarceration. There were almost no inquiries about Vick's six seasons with the Falcons, five as starting quarterback, or his once-impressive rushing game.

"I think everyone deserves a second chance," Vick said. "If I can help more animals than I can hurt, then I have contributed and I have done my part."

Coach understands

Certainly, Reid understands about forgiveness and second chances, dealing with two troubled sons who have done time.

Still, they can talk about second chances - so much that it began to sound like the Eagles' new fight song - but in the end, as it always is in professional sports, this is about winning and money.

Lurie, enriched sixfold by the Eagles, claimed to do a lot of "soul searching." Then he searched his wallet, paying the NFL bargain-basement price of $1.6 million this season for the three-time Pro Bowler.

"I wanted to understand if he had enough self-hatred for me. I needed to see a lot of self-hatred in order to improve this," Lurie added. Perhaps self-hatred, along with a physical, is a prerequisite for signing.

As news of Vick's acquisition by the Eagles spread at Thursday night's season opener against the Patriots, fans at the Linc let out a chorus of barks.

This is dog-adoring America, after all, where pets are pampered and loved unconditionally, sometimes more than children, sometimes more than NFL stars - though they frequently amount to one and the same.

To many people, training pit bulls to kill or be killed is heinous, unforgivable, and there are no second chances. During the quarterback's trial, an associate testified that after one dog lost a fight, Vick sanctioned the pit bull's torture by dousing the animal with water, then electrocuting it. For that dog, and others under Vick's "care," there were no second chances.

"To root for someone who participated in the hanging, drowning, electrocution and shooting of dogs will be impossible for many, no matter how much we would all like to see the Eagles go all the way," said Pennsylvania SPCA director Susan Cosby.

For Vick, dogfighting was always about the money. "He's one of the ones that they call 'the big boys': That's who bets a large dollar," a dogfighting insider told ESPN in 2007. "I'm talking about large money - $30,000 to $40,000 - even higher. He's one of the heavyweights."

The NFL and Eagles officials can talk about second chances and forgiveness, but as it was for Vick with those dogs, it's all about the money.

If Vick proves a winner, there will be enough forgiveness to drown out any howls of disapproval.

And if his playing isn't up to par or he proves a bad fit with Donovan McNabb, that second chance will be over before the season ends.

Of second chances, Reid said, "That's what makes this country such a great thing and," in a gaggable moment, "the NFL such a great thing."

And then, the moment the news conference was over, the Eagles Web site began hawking the new Michael Vick No. 7 Eagles jersey, yours for only $79.99.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.

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