There are some events which are seared into our memories. Where we were when JFK was shot, during the moon landing, September 11th or when Flight 815 disappeared over the Pacific. On a July afternoon, three years ago, I took a nap. I woke up to the news that Mike Vick had been indicted by the federal government on charges related to his surprisingly professional dog fighting enterprise. Vick’s Falcons career would soon come to an end. I remember wondering whether he would ever have the same physical tools to be an impact quarterback in the NFL, much less a starter.
Scrambling quarterbacks are meant to “live hard, die young”. Simply put. They last about as long as Lindsay Lohan’s sobriety. Vick is a rarity in this league. He’s probably the most unique player in the NFL since another Philly QB was shredding defenses with his legs. For 10 years, scouts have been trolling for a carbon copy of Vick at quarterback. It’ll be another decade before we see another quarterback with the intangibles of Vick. Of all the scrambling quarterbacks to matriculate through the collegiate ranks since 2000 he is the only one to experience a modicum of success.
Take Brad Smith for example. Missouri’s Brad Smith was an even more accomplished dual threat—he was in fact the most productive dual threats in college football history, but was ultimately converted into a return man and receiver. Vince Young was expected to be the Bud Fox to Vick’s Gekko however, he still lacks the arm strength, speed, consistency and shiftiness which Vick still has in spades. At 30, he hasn’t lost a step and age won’t deprive him of his escapability and superior footwork.
Vick has the Darrell Green chromosome. At 42, Redskins cornerback Darrell Green still ran a 4.4. At 40, Vick will probably be moving like Donovan McNabb at 30.
In recent days, Fox Studios has been flooding commercial breaks with advertisements leading up to today’s release of their blockbuster sequel, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. They also cut a series of ESPN TV spots with Gordon Gekko opining on Love and Sportsmanship. Eight months ago, the Michael Vick experiment was being prematurely ruled a bigger failure than Arthur Blank’s Bobby Petrino experiment. Of all the Houdini acts Vick has made on-field in his playing career, this one was the most impressive.
If you’ve seen the flurry of Wall Street 2 promos you’d know the plot centers around Gekko attempting to climb back to atop of the financial world after spending nearly two decades in prison. Sound familiar? Michael Vick is the NFL’s Gordon Gekko.
All the speculation about whether his skills would erode in his time away from the game have been answered. Did Vick participate in a top-secret prison league with Adam Sandler and Burt Reynolds for time off his sentence? Unfortunately, we’ll never learn these answers but if Michael Vick can perform at this level for 14 more games, he’ll ascend towards MVP status and spawn a whole new batch of mysteries about his time away.
Prior to Vick, Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles had the most similar qualities. Last week I listened to the 2 Live Stews, question what good has ever come from a quarterback losing his job to injury. Two came to mind. In 1999, Trent Green’s torn ACL following a blow to the knee by Rodney Harrison in the final pre-season game put ex grocery bagger Kurt Warner under center for the Greatest Show on Turf. In 2001 Mo Lewis’ hit on Drew Bledsoe began the Tom Brady era. Both won the Super Bowl.
Drew Brees essentially lost his position as the Chargers starting quarterback after a torn labrum suffered in the final game of the regular season threatened to turn his throwing arm into silly putty. The injury threatened to take away his velocity and forced San Diego to settle their perennial quarterback controversy by letting Drew Brees walk in free agency and promoting Phillip Rivers to the starting role.
The Eagles aren’t charting unknown waters. Michael Vick’s career is gradually beginning to resemble Randall Cunningham’s each and every day. Last Wednesday, Mike Florio of ProfootballTalk.com recounted Randall Cunningham’s reinvention in Minnesota. Much like Vick but four inches taller, Cunningham was the most NFL’s most elusive quarterback—until he retired prior to the ’96 season.
After a year moonlighting as a TNT analyst, Cunningham eased back into the NFL a year later as the backup to Brad Johnson aka “Minnesota’s Kevin Kolb”. Cunningham who wore #12 as an Eagle transitioned to #7 as a Viking. After Johnson was injured early on in the campaign, Cunningham was dialed up in relief. In his first start, Cunningham threw for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns on Monday night in Green Bay.
The story goes that Denny Green continued to assert that Brad Johnson would reclaim his starting position once he was healthy, however, the Vikings continued to delay his return as Cunningham ran (and threw) roughshod through the NFL. He would go on to throw for a career-high 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as the Vikings finished the season 15-1 with Brad Johnson as his backup. The next year, Brad Johnson would start for the Washington Redskins.
Vick was an All-Pro and the youngest #1 overall pick in NFL history (before Alex Smith) that didn’t lose his job and contract to injury but to incarceration. History bodes well for the Eagles and Vick. Philadelphia’s offense has been electrifying. For two quarters under Kolb, Philly scored a field goal. In six quarters, the Eagles offense has scored 65 points. Vick and Cunningham are inextricably linked but with a single caveat. Randall Cunningham didn’t become a starter in Minnesota until his 35th birthday.
If Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals could cut ties with 2006 9th overall pick Matt Leinart, then the Eagles could afford to bench Kevin Kolb for the most exciting athlete in professional football. The Kolb era is beginning to remind me more and more of the Leinart saga than Aaron Rodgers’ experience. Matt Leinart actually had a short, ineffective stint as the starter for Arizona before Kurt Warner relieved him in the 3rd quarter of a Ravens matchup which they trailed 23-6.
Warner and the Cardinals rallied to tie the game at 23 before falling in overtime. Warner never relinquished the starting position again and took Arizona to within fingertips of a Super Bowl.
Vick was no slouch in Atlanta though. In his final season as a Falcon, Vick accounted for 3,400 yards of total offense en route to becoming the first signal caller in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season in a system heavily reliant on the ground game. 2010 will answer how the other hypothetical question about how much more consistent Vick could have been with reliable playmakers surrounding him. Just reminisce about at how poorly Vick’s Falcons performed without him.
For years, in Atlanta, I along with many others questioned the offensive talent around Vick. Atlanta never provided Vick with a trio on par with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy who each have exceptional improvisational skills on broken plays. DeSean Jackson’s game breaking plays came when McNabb was able to buy time behind the line of scrimmage long enough for Jackson to create separation from physically inferior cornerbacks. It goes without saying that Vick has the same elusiveness behind the line of scrimmage.
Amazingly enough, Vick has somehow emerged from his Donovan McNabb internship behind McNabb and his 18 months of confinement as a more refined passer. He now sits in the pocket patiently and only moves when the pocket collapses like a Chilean mine. This Mike Vick hasn’t turned over the ball yet and most importantly is completing a career high 63% of his passes.
Andy Reid’s West Coast pass heavy offense isn’t as conservative as Jim Mora and Dan Reeves’ in Atlanta. The Eagles will pass often. At this pace, Vick could pass for 3500 yards, rush for 1,000 and shock the NFL with an MVP season.
The apparent improvements in Vick’s game lead me to believe every college quarterback should have to spend their senior year in a maximum security prison. If spending 12 months within shank’s reach of violent criminals in a confined cell doesn’t teach pocket awareness, nothing will.