In September of 2007, Michael Vick was the example of everything wrong with athletes of the National Football League and professional sports.
Back then, the fleet-footed quarterback had a litany of brushes with Johnny Law and numerous brush-ins with scandal; all of which came to a head during the federal prosecution for his infamous dog-fighting ring. Yet "Ron Mexico" was so out of touch with reality, so arrogant and self-entitled that he hadn't gotten the message.
Regardless of how loud and clear it may have been.
Despite being out on bail for his part in the "Bad Newz Kennels," a random drug test turned up traces of marijuana in his system.
Facing serious prison time and already under the watchful eye of Big Brother, No. 7 saw no problem with ingesting an illegal narcotic. And who could blame him?
I mean, he was THE Michael Vick!
Who would ever catch him? Even if some lucky son of a gun manged the feat, mortal rules didn't apply to those chosen for greatness.
Well, we're all familiar with the fiery crash-and-burn ending of that story.
Skip forward to September of 2010 to what must have seemed like a lifetime for the former Pro Bowler.
The Philadelphia Eagles are fresh off their second-consecutive impressive performance with him behind center. While he didn't start the opener against the Green Bay Packers, Vick nearly led the Iggles to a stirring comeback, thanks to a concussion that knocked the original starter, Kevin Kolb, from the game.
However, the head injury kept the future of the franchise from a Week 2 date with the lowly Detroit Lions, giving the 30-year-old ex-con an opportunity to start. Suffice it to say, "The Michael Vick Experience" didn't disappoin: 21-of-34 for 284 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, plus seven carries for 37 yards on the ground.
Most importantly, Philadelphia got its first win of 2010 on the road.
The team now sits at 1-1. Kolb has been cleared to play, yet some observers are clamoring for the season's first quarterback controversy. The rationale is that the Eagles have looked wonderful with Vick triggering the offense, they're clearly excited to have him on the field, and Kolb can't boast as an unproven fouth-year QB.
Forget that Vick played against a Packers' defense protecting a large lead and started agtainst the Detroit Lions.
Some have even gone so far as to suggest the mercurial former Atlanta Falcon should force his way out of the City of Brotherly Love. The suggestion isn't as insane as it sounds—it's become commonplace for a discontented NFL player to hold his breath on the sidelines until he gets his way. So why shouldn't a guy who's had a couple of good games demand greener pastures?
Shoot, "I've gotta do what's best for me" has become the magical antidote to any selfish, boorish behavior. Why not take advantage of it?
So what does Vick do?
He jumps on the ESPN grenade the first chance he gets:
"I came into this season and this year as the backup and that's been my mindset...That's the way it is, and the way it's gonna be throughout the season...Hopefully, somebody will give me that opportunity [next year]."
What a difference 1095 days make. And a set of prison bars.
How Vick has handled the situation shows that he is a new man, for now.
Or maybe just "a man" compared to the little boy who came perilously close to chucking his golden ticket in the dumpster.
Gone is the attitude, "I'm different and special, so I don't have to play by the rules." Gone is the lack of appreciation of how lucky he is to play football for asinine sums of money. Gone is the buffoon who listened to all the sycophants in his circle, nearly throwing his good fortune away.
In his place is a man who clearly recognizes the sudden stroke of luck that may bring his story full circle. A player who hasn't forgotten his second chance, authored by commissioner Roger Goodell, which allowed him back on the field.
And that's a good thing.
Can you imagine what would've happened if Vick decided to take the other route? If he jumped at the first chance out of Philly like Sarah Palin going after a television appearance?
That would've played out well—a clown who should've counted his blessings decides to bite the hand that fed him, when few others would even toss him a rancid scrap from a decaying rat carcass.
Instead, he took the high road.
The story isn't finished yet, and probably won't be as long as Vick is an Eagle; but—for now—it seems as if he has put the floppy shoes and big red nose away for good.
Hopefully, more athletes follow his lead.