It's more the sense that they are getting a better man than the one who arrived in Philadelphia five years ago. We, in a strange way, gave him back his grace.
I don't want to be too philosophical about this. It's football, after all, not a Vatican conclave. But I do think that coming to Philadelphia after 18 months in Leavenworth for committing unthinkable, brutal acts on innocent creatures of God gave him that second chance we always talk about but rarely welcome when it actually drops into our midst (especially if it's someone else's second chance).
Vick did some horrible things and he paid the price. Eighteen months in Leavenworth is not exactly a time-out for the kindergarten crew. He was publicly humiliated and ridiculed, got death threats, lost endorsements (I know, not exactly a hair shirt there) and was made into the face of animal cruelty. When he came to the City of (Optional) Brotherly Love, longtime "fans" said they would never again root for the team as long as "that killer" was on it. I am assuming they were repeating a phrase they'd previously heard from their friends on the Baltimore Ravens.
I remember that when Vick arrived in my city, I wrote a less-than-enthusiastic column about the prospect of an ex-con QB. My editor enjoyed it, I got a lot of pats on the back from those disgusted fans and it helped me polish my halo a bit.
And then I took a closer look as the seasons passed, and realized that Vick had grown into what we always talk about with misty eyes and hopeful hearts: a changed and repentant man. Sure, you'll tell me, I'm acting like Cindy Lou Who, buying the line that the practiced pro put out there for public consumption.
Yeah, you'll say, he made a lot of money and threw a little bit of it back to charities. Yup, he said all the right things and made all the right moves (except on the playing field or, more likely, the sidelines). Sure, he did all those public appearances that were designed to massage the hardened hearts of Eagles fans and animal lovers.
But, you'll say, he did it in front of the cameras and with an eye to his public image. Unfortunately, that does not comport with the truth. Vick did a great deal behind the scenes, both in the locker room and in the community. He became a leader, someone who had been through a particularly broiling fire and came out on the other side humbled and with a special sort of grace.
And we in Philadelphia afforded him that opportunity. I'm sure a lot of my fellow city residents were unhappy to give him that opportunity. In fact, I'm certain of it, given the vociferous nature of the people who said he should "rot in hell" for his sins. At 8 a.m. Saturday, I posted on Facebook that I would miss Vick, and at least half the responding comments were negative, even bellicose.
I get that. Vick's crimes shocked and saddened me, and I don't judge anyone who has ever loved an animal for the inability to forgive (not forget, though, never forget).
The people who annoy me the most are the holier-than-thou "fans" who say they finally can come back and root for the team. One woman emailed me saying: "Hey, I bet you're sad the killer is gone, but at least I can watch a game on Sunday now without feeling nauseous."
Those are the people who make me nauseous, the ones who suspended their love and their loyalty for a team and a city because they didn't like a player. Those are the ones who don't deserve to have a team to root for.
I'm reminded of Kipling's words:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools . . .
After a few more stanzas, it ends: "you'll be a Man, my son!"
I think he's turned into a good one. Good luck to him.