Michael Vick turned 39 on Wednesday. He was celebrated and cheered by many former teammates and friends on social media.
The former NFL quarterback left a lasting impression, good and bad, wherever he went. After he was released from federal prison on dogfighting charges in 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles were the only team that were willing to give him a second chance. Love him or hate him, Vick made the most of it.
Under then-Eagles coach Andy Reid, Vick thrived and threw for 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns against six interceptions after usurping the starting job from Kevin Kolb. He also qualified for the Pro Bowl. In five seasons in Philadelphia, he racked up 9,984 passing yards and 588 rushing yards.
More importantly, Vick reinvented himself. He had been humbled in prison and it showed. The once-mercurial superstar was more willing to openly answer questions from reporters, no matter how combative or mundane. Vick was also a fixture in the community, going around town and educating Philadelphia school children about the evils of wrongdoing in the most horrendous way.
The city molded him. And he molded the city. It was the definition of the perfect place, right time. When he left in 2014, Vick wrote a poignant column in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I would like to thank the Eagles and the entire city of Philadelphia. I was honored to be their quarterback and took the privilege to heart every day,” Vick wrote. “People say Philadelphia fans are tough. I say they are fair. A player is not judged solely by his past or promises of the future, but by his actions today, and the next day, and the next.”
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Vick’s name will always evoke controversy, unforgiving opinions from those that can’t differentiate the monster from the man. Understandable. He committed atrocious crimes against innocent animals. He did say and do all the right things on his redemption tour. He even married a girl from North Philadelphia.
“When he first got picked to come here [to Philadelphia] I thought, ‘This might not be good’”, his wife, Kijafa Frink, told me in 2012. “This is a rough sports town. But when he first came, the reception was so amazing. We would go to a restaurant and people would stand up and clap. I was like, ‘Is this my city? Really? They showed him so much love.”
On July 12-14, Vick will host his youth football academy in the Philadelphia suburb of Coatesville, Pennsylvania. He’ll be teaching the next generation, probably future Eagles hopefuls, how to play the quarterback position.
Even better, he’ll be instructing them on how to learn from his mistakes. Credit Vick’s will to change — and Philadelphia.
“I stand before you a changed man. Use me as an example of an instrument of change,” Vick said years ago. “The reason I became a better player was because I came to Philly.”