Have Eagles become a halfway house?

Quarterback Michael Vick, shown at practice, is saying what he is supposed to say and doing what he is supposed to do.
Quarterback Michael Vick, shown at practice, is saying what he is supposed to say and doing what he is supposed to do.
Posted: August 17, 2009

One of the great ironies in the downfall of NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who now seeks a cleansing rebirth with the Eagles, is that a dog began the chain of events that eventually ensnared him.

A drug-sniffing police dog prowling near a nightclub in Hampton, Va., on April 20, 2007, led officers to a parked car that contained a good deal of marijuana smoke and a man who happens to be Vick's first cousin.

The man, arrested on drug-possession charges, gave his address as a home on a rural property in nearby Smithfield. Following the arrest, police showed up at the property and they found, well, they found some pretty nasty stuff.

Vick may not have appreciated the irony of the dog that inadvertently saved other dogs, but he most certainly did not appreciate the prospect of having to own up to what happened at his property or to acknowledge his part in it.

"I'm never at the house," he said after the raid. "I left the house with my family members and my cousin. They just haven't been doing the right thing."

Turn your back for a minute and a dogfighting operation just springs right up. What's a man to do?

This may seem like old ground - Vick lying for the sake of expediency - but the Eagles are risking a good deal on the premise that the quarterback's word is worth more than it once was.

Of all the participants in the news conferences at which Vick's signing was announced and he was welcomed to Philadelphia, the only one whose motivations were completely understandable was Vick.

The man is broke - bankrupt, in fact - and needs a job. If any of us were in his position, we would also say whatever was necessary to get and keep that job.

We would sit for hours with Roger Goodell and Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie - good lord, wasn't prison enough suffering? - and repeat the I-know-I-did-wrong-and-must-make-it-right mantra until they seemed to believe it.

We would memorize the key phrases:

Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. I had a lot of time to think in prison. I want to end up helping more animals than I hurt.

Maybe it's all true. Maybe the experience remade Vick into something he has never been. Watching as your three co-conspirators flipped on you, taking plea bargains in return for testimony until you had to tuck in that not-guilty plea and run for the sidelines yourself, that can rock your world. All those friends and family members, the ones who inhabited the six houses you once owned, were just a school of remora who attached themselves to your success and then swam off when the real sharks arrived. Plenty of time to think about all that.

What will it take? Make a couple of school visits. Some photo-op runs into the neighborhoods with those Humane Society people. Can't be that hard. Eight-by-10 in Leavenworth, Kan., is hard. Everything else is easy.

No, Vick's motivation is obvious, and, to be honest, it doesn't really matter if he is reformed as long as he acts reformed. It's all the same to the Eagles from a public-relations standpoint.

But the motivations of those who brought Vick here are harder to decipher. Reid said everyone deserves a second chance, and it's easy hip-pocket psychology to decide that Reid would like to succeed in a reclamation project with Vick where he has not in various attempts with his own sons.

Second chances don't always work, though, and Reid has thrown a potential bomb into a talented, contending locker room. He has also introduced real competition to Donovan McNabb - you can't call it anything else - and there is no record of how McNabb might handle that situation.

Most puzzling is that Reid has done all that to acquire a quarterback who isn't all that good. Vick can run well enough, or could at one time, but his completion percentages and passer ratings were mediocre by NFL standards.

If Vick was brought in to be a gimmick player only, a wild card in the Wildcat offense, that seems like a slim reward for a pudgy risk. Is this a football franchise that weighs something carefully on the seesaw of what it costs and what it might bring in return, or is it just a halfway house?

Lurie, a noted puppy lover who apparently agonized before agreeing to the acquisition, also seems taken by the whole Father Flanagan aspect of the thing. Lurie grilled Vick harshly, the owner said, as only a rich kid from Boston's Chestnut Hill can grill a street kid from Newport News, no doubt, and came away convinced. Maybe this guy helped electrocute dogs with jumper cables before, but that was just a phase.

He looked into the quarterback's eyes and saw what he wanted to see - and you can take that either way. For the record, Vick came into the meeting 1 for 1 in lying to NFL owners, and we won't know for a while if his perfect record remains intact.

In the balance for the Eagles is a potential mess. Thirty percent of their fans will hate this move because of the dreadful nature of the crimes and because there is an undeniable racial component in this particular cultural disconnect. Thirty percent would accept Osama bin Laden on the roster if they thought he could help win a game, and they won't care. The rest will wait and see how it plays out. If the team suffers and falls, the fall will be steep. And for what?

"When it all boils down, people will try to take advantage of you and leave you out to dry," Vick said while still denying his role in the dogfighting operation. "Lesson learned for me."

The Eagles could be about to learn a painful one themselves, although they don't seem worried. The team did its homework, Reid said, with the confidence of someone who has no idea what sort of school building he just entered.

Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read

his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.

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