Last year about this time, people were wondering if Eagles receiver Riley Cooper's career might be over because of a racial slur caught on camera. That controversy has been mostly forgotten, thanks in large part to Michael Vick's public support for Cooper, something Vick is very proud of.
Vick, now the Jets' backup quarterback, helped unite the team in the days and weeks after the fallout of Cooper being seen on camera using a racial slur at a country music concert. He stuck up for him privately with the team and publicly through the media.
"I know what type of person he is," Vick said at the time about Cooper. "That's what makes it hard to understand but easy to forgive him."
Cooper ended up being a big part of Philadelphia's NFC East championship team, with an 835-yard, eight-touchdown season. He signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Eagles.
Vick told ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor that sticking up for Cooper was "the best thing I've done as a professional athlete, absolutely."
"I changed the whole dynamic of that situation, and that was a proud moment for me. ... I was able to save a young man's career, and that young man went on to have the greatest year of his career and get a contract that he probably never imagined he would get," Vick told ESPN New York.
An unanswered text message from Vick to Cooper this past offseason made some headlines, too. Vick told O'Connor, "A couple of things transpired since [the incident] that I dislike, and I'll be honest with you - after he signed his contract, I sent him a text and I never got a text back, and that made me feel a certain type of way. But I'm not the type of guy who holds grudges."
Vick told Yahoo Sports that he talked about it with Cooper and his relationship with Cooper is still one where they “support” each other.
Vick called Cooper on Wednesday to talk about the issue. All this comes with Vick set to return to Philadelphia on Thursday night as a member of the Jets for both teams' final preseason game, his first trip back to the Eagles since he signed with the Jets as a free agent this offseason. Vick is expected to be greeted warmly by the Eagles faithful, who largely embraced the dynamic quarterback and his tremendous leadership role with the team.
"The two things that best define my legacy in Philadelphia are building 'Team Vick Field' for at-risk youth and leading honest locker room discussions about race. These moments are bigger than football,” Vick said in an email, through his publicist.
“I made life-long friends with many former teammates including Riley Cooper. I talked with Riley on the phone [Wednesday]. I support him and he supports me. I look forward to seeing everyone on the field. There is going to be a lot of smiles."
In the Jets locker room, Vick has been warmly greeted and even admired by many of the younger players (with one having called him "Sir" in the huddle during offseason workouts) as he's gracefully taken on a mentor role to second-year quarterback Geno Smith. It's a new chapter for a player who will always be known for his own controversy, his role in a dog-fighting ring that ended his career in Atlanta and sent him to jail.
Vick doesn't play in Philadelphia anymore, but his impact will still be felt every time Cooper contributes to an Eagles win.
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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer
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