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August 18, 2009

Dogs, Birds and Michael Vick

After three years, a conviction for operating an interstate dogfighting ring, a two-year prison term, and his descent into the role of Most Hated Man in Professional Sports, Michael Vick is once again an active professional athlete. The disgraced quarterback, who was conditionally reinstated to the NFL earlier this month, has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

So after weeks of false leads, from Mike Florio's Pro Football Talk and other media outlets, about where Vick was headed – He's at the airport in Chicago! He was spotted in Foxboro! No, he's in Baltimore! – he ended up signing with a team with which he hadn't been previously linked. A team that already has an All-Pro quarterback, isn't known for bringing in players with rap sheets and is already operating in an environment in which large chunks of its fan base hate team management.

Why did they do it? Amateur Eagles-ologists have speculated that coach Andy Reid was motivated to give Vick a second chance by the recent drug-related legal troubles of his two sons. The team, in Vick's introductory press conference, stressed that they weren't minimizing Vick's crimes but rather attempting to help him redeem himself. The team's star quarterback, Donovan McNabb, was not only OK with the move, but actually lobbied for it.

Reid and the Eagles’ brain trust have never been afraid to make moves that aren't popular with the fans, something that has led to their unpopularity, along with Philadelphia fans' ever-present
if-you-haven't-won-a-championship-you're-worthless attitude. Nevertheless, the Eagles haven't played to an unsold seat in years and have a season-ticket waiting list a mile long. I highly doubt the Vick signing will hurt them at the box office.

Ever since talk began of Vick's reinstatement, I've taken the position that if he shows genuine remorse about what he did, Vick should be allowed back in the league. But, any team that signs him is going to have to take the heat, whether from PETA, from dog-loving fans or what-not. And that's certainly happened in Philadelphia in the wake of Vick's signing.

On the airwaves of the city's two sports-radio stations the day after the signing, fan after fan renounced their fandom, vowing to never again attend another Eagles game. But fans say that all the time and rarely stick to the pledge, whether it's over steroids, labor disputes or anything else.

A similar reaction happened in the same city in 2006 when the team across the parking lot, the Phillies, allowed pitcher Brett Myers to make his scheduled start just hours after he was arrested in Boston for assaulting his wife. I'm guessing virtually every fan that made that vow was back on the bandwagon two years later when the team – with Myers playing a key role – won the World Series.

Football and money-wise, Vick's signing is a low-risk, high-reward situation for the team. If he causes any trouble, they can release him with limited liability – and with a huge club option for 2010, Vick will be very highly motivated to both play hard and keep his nose clean.

The Eagles don't need to count on Vick to be their starting quarterback, but can instead bring him along slowly, give him time to learn their famously byzantine playbook, and eventually use him either as a backup or in creative sets utilizing the popular "Wildcast" formation. Finally, Vick gives them another offensive weapon, creating matchup problems for opposing defenses.

I can certainly understand how fans, especially if they love dogs, would object to Vick's presence in the league or on their team, and I don't begrudge them for feeling that way. But if Vick, once he returns from a four-to-six-week suspension, helps the Eagles win a game or two – or leads them on a significant postseason run – I expect fan forgiveness to come surprisingly quickly.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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