This season is Michael Vick's best chance to create the ultimate storybook ending

Vick's image rehab is convincing even the staunchest of skeptics. Here, Vick leads a prayer group with teammates and Redskins' players after an Eagles win in January.
Vick's image rehab is convincing even the staunchest of skeptics. Here, Vick leads a prayer group with teammates and Redskins' players after an Eagles win in January.
Posted: July 22, 2012

"Once this is over, it's over. I've seen a lot of dudes come and go. I'm blessed God gave me the talent to still be here. But don't take this for granted. I could be gone tomorrow. You've got one hell of an opportunity. Enjoy the ride. Congratulations."

— Michael Vick, at this year's NFL rookie symposium

Sitting here, midsummer 2012, trying to picture Michael Vick holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Vick has been out of jail and wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey since 2009. Here and now, though, is the first time the vision seems plausible.

Close your eyes and imagine. Vick is wearing one of those souvenir baseball caps that a public-relations aide hands to the players on the winning Super Bowl team as they scurry about, from man to man in a marketing frenzy. The winning hats and T-shirts will be on sale at the airport the next morning, while the losing merchandise will be on a slow boat to some impoverished land. The irony — that the losing stuff will be doing more good than the winning stuff — will be lost on everyone, as the trophy is passed from Roger Goodell to Jeffrey Lurie (and/or Christina, the attorneys willing), from Andy Reid to Vick.

Try to focus. Shiny confetti has been shot from shiny confetti cannons arrayed around the perimeter of the field. It litters the playing surface now with silver snow. A platform has been magically constructed. A microphone is connected to the stadium public-address system, and to the world. And so it goes, from Goodell to Lurie to Reid to Vick, each invested in the moment, each vindicated in the victory.

But who more than Vick?

You wonder if he daydreams about it.

The man's story is remarkable — of squandered greatness, of prison and humiliation, of re-emergence and redemption. It has been a triumph of will, and public relations, and football. You cannot forget the football part. Vick is viewed now as an unqualified success because he has handled himself so well in the years since he finished his prison sentence for dogfighting, and paid his debts, and become a public advocate not only for the protection of animals but for the importance of young men taking responsibility for their lives. But you cannot take the football out of the equation. If he were backing up Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville this season, or out of the league altogether, the story would not be the same.

Instead, he is the starting quarterback of a football team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. He has gotten married. He has written a book and done the interview circuit. He has introduced a clothing line and watched the people line up for a peek. That has been Vick's offseason. He has set himself up, right there on the edge.

But there is one more step he needs to take.

Not personally, but professionally.

I take that back; none of us should even pretend to know Mike Vick personally. His life is just that — his. But if we are having a football conversation, he needs to make a big playoff run to properly finish this tale. Conversely, he needs not to be the reason that Andy Reid gets fired as the Eagles' coach at the end of the 2012 season.

And the truth is, this is the first time since he joined the team that you could honestly say that Vick is in a position to write the right ending.

In 2009, he played the season on training wheels, backing up Donovan McNabb in his final season, wildcatting and what not. After losing the playoffs at Dallas, Vick was asked after the game if he had thought there was enough of him on film to show the rest of the league that he was a viable quarterback again. He said yes. Everybody expected he was leaving.

But McNabb left and Vick stayed as Kevin Kolb's backup. We all live lives filled with what-ifs, but Vick's life is an overcrowded boatload of them:

What if Lurie had said no when Reid asked to sign Vick?

What if the Eagles had been able to trade him after the 2009 season?

What if either Lurie or Goodell had pulled the plug on the grand experiment after the shooting at Vick's birthday party in the summer of 2010?

And the biggest what-if of all: What if Kolb had not suffered that concussion in the 2010 season-opener?

It really makes you stop when you think about it.

So 2009 was a season of return. And 2010 was a season of unexpected opportunity, followed by explosive greatness, followed by the realization that Vick was just too physically beaten up by the end of the season to finish the job. Then came 2011, and the labor lockout that took away the offseason, and all the roster moves and lofty talk that camouflaged a reality that most insiders saw: too much change on the roster, too much inexperience on defense, too much indecision on the offensive line at the start the season, too much change on the coaching staff, just too much. The result was a twin failure: of the defense to hold leads, and of the offense to get much done in the red zone (especially in the second halves of games).

Which brings us to now. A stable roster. Some experience added on defense. An offseason of work for everyone. This really is Vick's best shot, if he can stay healthy and limit the turnovers — a caveat that is so widely held that he has become noticeably cranky about people asking about him staying healthy and limiting the turnovers.

He is on the edge, then. It is right there. He can see it. We all can see it. It is not some enormous stretch to think of him as a Super Bowl champion. It is closer to reality than it has ever been for Michael Vick, the football punctuation that can make his personal story complete.

One step, then.

Open your eyes. We are all about to see if he can take it.

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com, read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich, or follow @theidlerich on Twitter. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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