Three years ago this Friday, Michael Vick(notes) walked into a federal courtroom in Virginia wearing white Nike Air Force 1 Mids to match his white-striped prison garb. He chomped a piece of gum as he approached the defense table.
Soon his lawyer tried to explain why Vick, during the period he was awaiting sentencing, had smoked marijuana in violation of court orders. He also tried to rationalize why Vick had argued the semantics of his involvement in a dogfighting ring, contradicting previous statements and witness testimony. Prosecutors called it "a calculated effort to hide the truth" and asked for a stiffer sentence.
The scene was mind-numbing. Vick’s actions after agreeing to a plea deal were about to cost him months of additional prison time. Rather than work the system, he defied it and made things worse. It was senseless on every level.
As I sat in the courtroom that day and watched Vick’s pained expression as his family wept at the announcement of his 23-month prison sentence, I figured he might just be a guy too foolish to ever get his act together. This was only the latest mistake in a litany of them.
"I'm willing to say that should Michael Vick get another chance either in society or the NFL, he will take full advantage of it," Vick’s attorney, Billy Martin, said that day.
There seemed to be little hope that Martin’s statement was anything but lawyer talk.
Afterward I huddled with a Vick fan who I’d met through the various hearings. This was a true Vick believer. He had lined up outside the courthouse before sunrise for every hearing to show Vick – by wearing his jersey – support. Even he had no explanation for his hero other than base stupidity. He just kept shaking his head in disappointment. We both agreed that unless Vick changed dramatically, what prison rust wouldn’t do to his future, self-destructive decisions and arrogance likely would.
Last month, when Vick delivered one of the most astounding quarterbacking performances you’ll ever see – torching the Washington Redskins on a Monday night – it was clear Vick had, indeed, changed.
It wasn’t just the numbers, although they remain otherworldly. He went 20 of 28 for 333 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed eight times for 80 yards and two more scores. It was something out of college football, where a talented player (such as Cam Newton) can overwhelm weaker opponents. Only this was the grown-man NFL.
Vick wasn’t just winning because he’d regained his magical physical abilities though. He was now a smarter player. He was a patient passer. He was an effective decision maker. It was clear he’d become a harder worker and more dedicated practice player. He had teamed with coach Andy Reid to unleash his full potential. He wasn’t acting like a fool any more.
Tack on the continued praise from the Humane Society about Vick’s speeches and the endless testimonials from teammates. Everything his attorney said that dark day in 2007 was now coming true.
With each thrilling play, I thought what a lot of people did: Could Michael Vick be named the MVP of the NFL?
Could he achieve the ultimate (other than a Super Bowl championship) moment in his redemptive story? His continued strong play in the weeks since hasn’t slowed his MVP candidacy.
Darrelle Revis(notes) is the best cornerback in the NFL. He’s the leader of the vaunted New York Jets defense. Monday night his Jets had been smoked for 45 points by the New England Patriots. It was total domination/humiliation. From start to finish the Patriots had scored at will.
Postgame, Revis stood in front of his locker wearing a sharp suit, a bow tie and the look of eternal frustration. What had happened, he said, could be summed up easily. Tom Brady had happened.
"The guy is one of the best in the league," Revis said. "It’s him or Peyton."
We know the kind of season Peyton Manning(notes) is having. We also know the kind Tom Brady is having, too, and three quarters of the way through the NFL season the weight of it all is too much for any contender to stand in the way of Brady being named MVP. The Resurrection of Michael Vick included.
Brady's thrown 27 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He hasn’t had a pick in a record seven consecutive starts. He had four TD passes against the Jets, and three against the Steelers, two of the league’s stingiest defenses. His passer rating is 109.5 and climbing, almost approaching the cartoon like 117.2 he put up in 2007.
New England is an NFL best 10-2 (along with Atlanta) and this has come in a season when they had to shift the offensive focuses on the fly. Brady lost his deep threat and best pure receiver when Randy Moss(notes) was traded in early October.
Outside of ever reliable Wes Welker(notes), Brady’s top receivers are now a pair of rookie tight ends (Aaron Hernandez(notes), Rob Gronkowski(notes)), ninth-year veteran Deion Branch(notes), who’s averaged 3.6 touchdowns a season for his career, 5-foot-8 utility player Danny Woodhead(notes), whom the Jets cut in September, and wideout Brandon Tate(notes), who entered the season without a career reception. The running game is anchored by BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes), who gained a grand total of 114 rushing yards last season.
Seriously, those are the "weapons" surrounding Tom Brady.
Almost no one thought the Patriots offense would improve without Moss but here we are. They’ve scored 30 or more points four consecutive weeks. They’ve tried to put Branch in the role of Moss – whose ability to extend the secondary was almost unmatched – but who is kidding whom? "[Branch] is not really a vertical guy," Revis noted.
The other players are clearly better than anyone thought, but when half a dozen different guys are having surprising breakout seasons, the quarterback deserves some, if not most, of the credit. It can't be a coincidence.
Which is why Revis directed the praise toward Brady.
"We couldn’t stop him," he said.
No one really has.
There are fans who won’t support Michael Vick because of what he did to all those dogs back in Virginia. Ever. That’s their right. There are others who see a guy who paid his debt to society and is trying to make the future unlike the past. They’re supporting Vick if not because of what happened with the dogs, then at least what happened since then. That's their right, too.
Either way, his candidacy is an emotional one – pro and con.
Brady's isn't. He's won the award before. He’s won three Super Bowls and two Super Bowl MVP trophies. He already has all the trappings of success – money, supermodel wife, public obsession with his hair. He may deserve being named MVP, but he sure doesn’t need it. This is just another great season in a Hall of Fame career full of them.
So the debate, for some, comes down to heart v. head, even if backstories aren’t supposed to be voting criteria. But what Brady is doing overwhelms Vick's potential Hollywood ending.
Vick’s been great – throwing 15 touchdown passes against just two picks. He’s rushed for six more (Brady has one on the ground). His passer rating is a strong 105.7. He, like Brady, is the focal point of defensive game plans. The Eagles are 8-4 and pushing toward the playoffs, although Vick has played in just nine of those 12 games (six of them victories).
It’s been a great year. In a lot of seasons, it would be enough. Not this time though.
There are still four games to play, but at this point, Vick is the story of the year in the NFL. As someone who watched him chew gum in the face of a federal sentencing judge, that’s an impressive, and unexpected, accomplishment.
It’s just Tom Brady is the league’s Most Valuable Player. And it isn't even close.
- Tom Brady