Ashley Fox: Vick and Eagles on a complicated path to redemption

Eagles QB Michael Vick, who spent time in prison on dogfighting charges, has a 4-0 record and an NFL-best 115.1 passer rating.
Eagles QB Michael Vick, who spent time in prison on dogfighting charges, has a 4-0 record and an NFL-best 115.1 passer rating.
Posted: November 19, 2010

Jeffrey Lurie has bought in, and he knows that you may not have.

Michael Vick once fought and electrocuted dogs. Now, as the Eagles' starting quarterback, he is the most electric player in the National Football League.

After the way he dissected and embarrassed the Washington Redskins, Vick has become the biggest sports story in the country. With his near-flawless play, his speed, and his determination, Vick has put himself back in the limelight and forced the discussion about how we are supposed to feel about him. Do we forgive? Do we forget? Do we cheer?

There is a part of the Eagles' fan base, and by extension the population at large, that will never be able to forgive Vick for what he did. There is a part that doesn't care as long as he is helping the Eagles win. And then there is the majority who are conflicted. How do you celebrate the present, given the past?

"I think it's always important to understand where a person comes from in their upbringing and sort of understand the culture that they are a part of," Lurie told me on Thursday in his first public comments since Vick became the Eagles' starting quarterback. "You have to kind of live the boy Michael Vick to really understand it.

"We can't do that, so we can only look back on Michael as an 8-year-old, 9-year-old, 10-year-old, as he explained it, and the community and his friends and peers and police officers. They all sort of treated dogfighting as something to be entertained by.

"I think once you truly understand it and understand how sorry he feels for being a part of that in later life, then you can't help but root for somebody and give him a second chance. That's how I look at it."

Lurie was conflicted when he agreed to sign Vick to a two-year contract last summer soon after Vick was released from prison, and in May he still wasn't convinced that the Eagles' risky investment had been worth the reward.

But his view on Vick has changed, and not just because the Eagles are 4-0 in games that Vick has started and finished this season - although certainly that statistic can not be diminished or discounted.

Nevertheless, Lurie declined to comment on whether the Eagles will extend Vick's contract, but it's hard to see him anywhere other than here next season.

"The biggest thing I learned about Michael was what a dedicated worker he has become," Lurie said. "We always knew he was extremely talented, but watching the Falcons, I never thought he put it all together because there were inconsistencies. There were weaknesses in his game.

"He is so dedicated to harnessing that amazing, God-given talent in a much-better way now. So the hard work and the dedication and what a great teammate he is, that's kind of what I've learned. And you just have to take it week by week, month by month, and watch him evolve. It's a great thing to see."

There is no question that Vick has worked extremely hard to get to where he is now. He had so far to go when he got here. He lost weight, got back in shape, came to work early, stayed late, studied film, and threw before and after practice. He has been a willing student and has listened intently to Marty Mornhinweg's instruction and followed Mornhinweg's game plans.

If Vick had not done all of those things, there is no way he would have a league-leading 115.1 passer rating and zero interceptions.

Because of his determination and confidence, Vick is beloved by his teammates and his head coach.

But is he sorry for what he did? Or is he just sorry that what he did cost him so much? The cynic in me says it is the latter, but the optimist wants to believe it is both.

On Thursday, I asked two people who have spent a lot of time with Vick just that question - Lurie, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Of course, both are biased toward Vick and have risked their reputations on his return to the league. But they are big thinkers and astute judges of character.

"It's easy to say, 'Yes, he's sorry for what he lost' - because anybody would be," Lurie said. "He was the highest-paid player in football, and he lost everything, [including] his reputation. But I think he's truly sorry. He has a much better perspective on that culture and knows that that culture is horrible and nothing he would ever want to be a part of and is embarrassed that he was. That's all we know."

Said Goodell: "We've had a lot of conversations about that, and I'm convinced he is [sorry for what he did]. I'm convinced he knows he made a lot of mistakes."

Goodell said he texted Vick around 7:30 Thursday morning, telling him: "You're making the right steps off the field. You're doing the right things, and it's showing up on the field. Don't let anyone take it away from you."

Goodell said Vick wrote back, "No way. I know what I'm doing. I'll make it work."

Vick will try to make it work and the rest of us will try to come to grips with how we feel about it. Vick understands that, as does the commissioner. It is not a black-and-white comeback story.

"There are going to be lots of people who are never going to forgive him for what he did, and I certainly understand that," Goodell told me. "[What he did was] horrific, and . . . difficult to forgive, but he paid a significant price. He has conducted himself as a model citizen. He's been accountable. He's been responsible for that. He's trying to take a very tragic negative and make it into a positive and make sure others recognize - 'Don't do the things I did.' Our society needs more of that.

"We need our young kids to see that kind of success story. That's what I'm so proud of. This young man has turned his life around, and he's going to contribute. How well he plays on the football field is not as important, however it does make the message even more powerful because more people are paying attention to it.

"He's put himself back on the stage, and now people are saying, 'What a terrific thing that a young man can come back from that.' But I recognize people aren't going to forgive him - and so does he, by the way. He's very good about that."

Vick is motivated. He has every reason to act right, to get his career back on track. He needs another big contract.

But there is more.

"When he went through the process of reinstatement, he said: 'My No. 1 goal is to make you proud of me and to be there when we get that Super Bowl trophy some day,' " Goodell said. "And I think he's determined to do it."

If he does, that will make this complicated story of redemption complete.


Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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