It was just two years ago that Michael Vick infused a city of cynical Eagles fans with passionate faith that the Lombardi trophy would at last find a home in Philadelphia.
Then came the 2011 season of turnovers, interceptions and penalties. As the dream faded, many wondered aloud: Have we seen the best of Michael Vick?
This year, just as Eagles fans began looking past Vick to other talent, the team has started banking wins. The first two were like ugly stepsisters: not pretty, but they still count. The most recent win over the New York Giants, 19-17, merited the loud, boisterous Philly celebration it generated. Zero fumbles. Zero interceptions. Sixty-six thousand exuberant fans at The Linc. Priceless.
To look at his numbers, one might think Vick’s better NFL days are past.
The first number is 2009, the year Vick emerged from 21 months in prison and found a home in Philadelphia as a backup quarterback behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb.
The second number is 2010. McNabb went to Washington and Kolb became the starter. In only the second game of the season, Kolb sustained a concussion and Vick took over the Eagles’ offense in the second half. No one knew the change would be permanent.
By Week 4, the Eagles announced that the 30-year-old Vick was the starting quarterback.
Skeptics who thought the former Virginia Tech champion had lost his ability after a two-year absence from the NFL were left speechless. Vick passed for 175 yards and ran for 103 more in the 30 minutes following Kolb's departure, and by the end of the season, the former All-Pro had racked up a total of 3,018 passing yards and 676 rushing yards, second only to running back LeSean McCoy.
Vick ended the season with a career high 100.2 passer rating as the Eagles advanced into the postseason with a 10-6 mark.
Though Philly eventually lost to Green Bay, the Eagles nation had found its hero.
Then there was another number: 2011.
Facing high expectations from every angle, Vick led the Eagles to a disappointing 8-8 season even though early predictions had them winning a Super Bowl. The versatile Vick, who likes to run like an All-Pro back, missed four games—one fourth of the season—due to injury.
He finished 2011 with a total of 3,303 passing yards, 589 rushing yards and a passer rating of 84.9 percent. The numbers said the Vick story may be nearing its finish.
Finally, there are the most recent numbers this season.
Vick has passed for 1,146 yards, rushed for 130 and has a passer rating of 72.7. In just last week’s game against the Giants, his total quarterback rating was 90.1, third in the league behind Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
If Vick’s performance is measured only by statistics, then it would be time for the Eagles to look in the faraway Big 10 and SEC for the next crowned prince of Philly. But the value Vick brings to the game cannot be easily quantified in a statistical chart. It’s the other part to the story unfolding whenever Vick takes the field and releases his relentless playing style—measured more in the bigger picture of points and wins.
This year, wrapped by reinforced Kevlar and semi-protected by a struggling offensive line, Vick is finding a way to sneak through the cracks and win. It often has observers, and the playmaker himself, feeling dizzy from one too many twists and turns.
Still, Vick has heaved his team into a 3-1 record, making another stats list. Only four teams have started 3-1 with a worse point differential since 1966, but narrow wins are wins.
Vick continues to have his critics, but the self-assured player is confidently writing the next chapter in his story. In every game he plays, the tenacious Vick rushes, sprints and throws, sparking to life the words that will be recorded about him down into Philadelphia Eagles and NFL history.
Maybe Vick himself said it best last Sunday in the postgame conference (via the Eagles' official website) after defeating New York in a virtually error-free game: "Now I'm getting into my groove."
No numbers or percentages. Just Michael Vick in his winning groove.