PHILADELPHIA — Michael Vick picked a tough place for a second chance.
Philadelphia sports fans, it is said, would boo a cancer patient. They threw snowballs at Santa Claus during a game in 1968. They cheered when the Dallas Cowboys’ Michael Irvin injured his neck and had to be carried off the field in 1999. They behaved so badly that a courtroom was set up at old Veterans Stadium to handle arrests.
But the City of Brotherly Love is where Vick will make his comeback attempt.
“I think everybody deserves a second chance,” a somber Vick said Friday, a day after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We all have issues, we all deal with certain things and we all have our own set of inequities. I think as long as you are willing to come back and do it the right way and do the right things and that you’re committed, then I think you deserve it. But you only get one shot at a second chance, and I am conscious of that.”
A three-time Pro Bowl pick during six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick served 18 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting ring and was reinstated just last month by the NFL after being out of action since 2006.
The superstar said he wanted to play for a team with strong ownership, a solid coaching staff and an established starting quarterback.
He signed a one-year deal for US$1.6 million with a team option for a second year at $5.2 million. None of the money is guaranteed, so the Eagles face no financial risk if Vick doesn’t make the team.
Dressed in a gray, pinstriped suit, Vick called his offences “a horrible mistake” and vowed to crusade for animal rights.
“I want to be part of the solution and not the problem,” Vick said during a news conference. “I am making conscious efforts within the community, working with the Humane Society. Hopefully I can do that locally and continue with my disciplined efforts in bringing awareness to animal cruelty and dogfighting in the inner cities and our communities.”
Eagles coach Andy Reid and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, a mentor to Vick, sat with him and answered questions from more than 100 members of the media.
Reid insisted he did his homework on Vick. Giving second chances is something Reid knows all about: He endured a family crisis in 2007, when his sons were arrested on drug charges.
“Michael has aggressively attacked the issue that he was presented with and done it in a manner that is not only proactive, but sincere,” Reid said.
“I know some people will not agree” with the decision, the coach added, “but on the other hand I think the majority will. Fortunately, in this country, if we handle ourselves properly, we are given an opportunity for second chances. I think people understand.”
Reid clearly had to convince owner Jeffrey Lurie that Vick deserved an opportunity with an organization with little patience for players who cause trouble. Terrell Owens helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in 2004 but got kicked off the team midway through the next season after criticizing management and feuding with quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Lurie called Vick’s actions “horrific” and “despicable.” He said he did serious “soul-searching” and spent several hours talking to Vick before agreeing to the deal.
“I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know about the cruelty, the torture, the humiliation, and I most of all wanted to understand why Michael was being reinstated into the National Football League, a league that he disgraced,” Lurie said.
“After multiple conversations, I felt more open to giving a human being a second chance, who possibly could become a socially active NFL player who actually could do great things off the field.”
McNabb, for his part, said he lobbied for Vick, even though Vick plays the same position he does. The two have been friends for years.
McNabb has led the Eagles to the NFC championship game five times and one Super Bowl appearance in the last eight years.
The 29-year-old Vick said he is content playing any role on offence.
“Whatever Coach Reid decides on, that’s what I will do,” Vick said. “I’m just here to contribute and help win a Super Bowl.”
It is unclear when Vick will be allowed to play in a regular-season game. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally lifted Vick’s suspension on July 27, allowing him to sign with a team, practise and play in the last two pre-season games, beginning with the Eagles’ home game against Jacksonville on Aug. 27.
He will not be allowed to participate in regular-season games until Goodell gives the OK. The commissioner said he would consider Vick for full reinstatement by Week 6 of the season, Oct. 18-19.
“I have said several times in recent weeks that I want Michael to be one of the NFL’s success stories as an individual and as a football player,” Goodell said. “I know the Eagles will provide strong support, but, ultimately, Michael’s success is up to him and the decisions he makes.”