Michael Vick should be used to playing the role of the villain by now. That’s not really who he is—at least not anymore—but Vick will always be a polarizing figure for things he’s done both on and off the football field.
So it didn’t come as any surprise when the media eventually portrayed Vick as the pouty veteran during a months-long competition against Nick Foles for the Eagles’ starting quarterback job.
Every day, reporters grilled Vick for his true feelings on an arrangement he willingly entered into upon agreeing to renegotiate his contract way back in February. Finally, toward the end of the last Birds minicamp in June, No. 7 gave the vultures something to feast on.
“Hopefully, Chip [Kelly] makes a decision before training camp … so we can go out there as quarterbacks and just focus on this season and not answer questions about competition every day.”
Vick was said to have demanded Philadelphia’s new head coach name a starter largely based on the strength of that quote. Even though the competition was still in its infancy, pundits theorized Vick wanted to know where he stood so that he might flee town with plenty of time to catch on someplace else.
Only Vick was very specific about what frustrated him—the constant interrogation. When it came to his expectations, he typically sounded at peace no matter the result.
Two days prior to Vick’s supposed out pattern, he told reporters, “I’m always going to be a leader on this team, regardless of what my place is.”
When training camp opened a month later, he claimed no role was too small. “If I have to watch film with all the quarterbacks, or if I have to coach the quarterbacks one day, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Michael Vick is a lot of things, but a bad teammate is not one of them.
That much was never clearer than on Thursday, when Vick appeared at the same podium as Foles for an unusual joint press conference. There, the four-time Pro Bowler admitted the hamstring injury that’s knocked him out of action would keep him out this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys as well, perhaps longer. Then Vick more or less endorsed Foles as the Eagles’ starter for the next 10 minutes.
“You can’t have animosity towards a teammate because of the way he plays or what people want or what they feel.”
If Vick is bitter about potentially losing his job, he’s had a funny way of showing it these many months. Not all veterans are best buddies with the guy who’s trying to take their paycheck. Fewer still would be content with doing whatever it took to aid that player’s development, let alone consider themselves a team leader as their power waned.
Yet the leadership role is not one Vick has shied away from at all. One need not search much further than the tremendous shape the 33-year-old was in by the time he arrived at training camp. Vick is the poster boy for Chip Kelly’s customized conditioning programs, adding “four pounds of pure muscle” in the offseason—and believe me, when you see him in person, it shows. Dude is ripped.
Hard work is one thing, but Vick also diffused an impossible social situation in the Birds’ locker room during camp.
When wide receiver Riley Cooper’s racially insensitive remark became the biggest story in the NFL in July, Vick went to bat for his white teammate like nobody else could, drawing on his own experience as one of the most reviled men in professional sports. Through his own struggles, Vick was able to provide a level of understanding to the situation that otherwise may not have been achievable.
The Eagles’ locker room could have been fractured permanently, or Cooper’s NFL career could have been over and Philly even worse off at wide receiver. Cooper stayed, and the club is on the upswing.
Nothing has demonstrated the class of leadership Vick exudes better than the ongoing quarterback controversy though. Vick himself hasn’t played poorly with a 90.6 passer rating, but Foles has been even sharper with his 127.9. If the second-year player hangs another big one on the Cowboys this week, there is no longer any debate over who’s going to be quarterback.
There are numerous routes Vick could have taken. He could’ve clammed up and refused to speak to the media. He could take out his frustrations on Foles. He could demand a trade or his outright release. Not saying any of these actions would get him anywhere, but they’re all things men in similar situations have done before.
Not Vick. He stood front and center with Foles—his friend—and publicly refused to let this become a problem with his teammate or even stand in the way of the team’s success. In the history of the NFL, there’s seldom been anything quite like it.
“We know the most important thing is for the Philadelphia Eagles to win, no matter who’s the quarterback. We can’t worry about that. That’s what messes up friendships, and that’s not what this is about. We want to keep this friendship for as long as we live.”
Difficult as it may be to believe now, there was actually speculation as to whether or not Vick would make it out of training camp with Philadelphia over the summer. Had he lost that open competition to Foles, the thinking was the 11-year veteran would either want out or the front office might decide there was no reason to hang on to him.
The fact of the matter is Vick wouldn’t have to play another down this season to have been worth the investment. His leadership alone has paid dividends.
At this stage of his career, Vick may not be anybody’s franchise quarterback. That said, any team in the NFL would be lucky to have this caliber of player in its locker room. Personally, I’ve been more impressed by that than anything he’s ever done on a football field.