Since the first prisons were built, convicted felons have exited their doors proclaiming themselves as “changed men.” It’s understandable. A few years of striped sunlight can give a man pause; enough time to reflect on the mistakes of his past, with an eye toward correcting them in the future.
But how does two years in a federal penitentiary help a man become a “changed quarterback”?
I have no idea, but that appears to be exactly what happened to Michael Vick.
Call this my “Michael mea culpa” if you wish, because I am now ready to admit that I was wrong about Vick.
Not about Vick, the person, but about Vick, the quarterback.
Much has been said and written about Vick’s personal rehabilitation following his conviction and incarceration for his sadistic torturing and killing of dogs. He has reportedly worked with the Humane Society and taken great strides to educate children and the general public about the evils of dogfighting.
I do not know the man, so I cannot speak to his sincerity. Only he knows what’s truly in his heart.
What I will speak to is his rehabilitation as a quarterback, which is much more easily confirmed, yet that much harder to comprehend.
When Vick was sent away following the 2006 season, he was a phenomenal athlete masquerading as an NFL signal-caller. The Atlanta Falcons gave him a $100 million contract despite the fact that he couldn’t throw the ball from here to there without it slicing, hooking, sailing or creating a divot.
His best season came in his second year, in 2002, when he had a very pedestrian QB rating of 81.6. His completion percentage in his last three years with the Falcons hovered in the low 50s, and he threw nearly as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (49 to 38).
In short, he was much better when running with the ball than he was throwing it.
When Vick went away to prison, it was a virtual certainty that his career as a quarterback would be over. I wrote numerous times in this very space that he was a washout as an NFL QB, felony or no felony, and his prison sentence would mean an end to his career
altogether. After all, taking a guy with terrible mechanics, no accuracy and no touch, and then adding two years’ worth of rust to the mix is not exactly the blueprint for building an All-Pro passer.
I was wrong.
And I still can’t figure out how.
How can anyone explain the season the Eagles’ QB is having?
Heading into Sunday night’s showdown with the New York Giants, Vick was leading the NFL with a ridiculous 115.1 QB rating — a 35-point increase over his career-best. He had thrown 11 touchdown passes — without an interception, and his completion percentage was a Manning-like 62.7 percent. Oh, and he had also rushed for over 300 yards in six games, flashing his still-superior athleticism whenever he felt the urge.
To say that his own team is surprised by his new-found accuracy and touch would be an understatement. Remember, the Eagles jettisoned franchise QB Donovan McNabb not because they were ready to hand the keys to Vick; it was Kevin Kolb who received the massive contract before the season. Vick was nothing more than his backup.
Until he hit the field.
But how has he done it? I can understand a man serving two years behind bars and coming out with a new attitude. Maybe even a new religion. But a new release point? A new pocket presence? A new ability to read defenses?
Somehow, he found them.
Is he the NFL MVP? I don’t know. But I do know that I never thought Michael Vick could play this well.
I was wrong.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.