Editor's note: This is the second installment of Jason Cole's two-part conversation with Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick, who resumed his NFL career in 2009 after spending two seasons out of the league following a federal conviction and prison time on charges connected to dogfighting. Part 1 of the conversation appeared Monday.
Jason Cole: You say it was a mental challenge last year. But you also knew along the way that some people on the coaching staff during the season wanted to play rookie quarterback Nick Foles. You knew that and just dealt with it quietly. I imagine that the 22-year-old Michael Vick wouldn't have handled that the same way.
Michael Vick (shaking his head and laughing): Man, you would have never heard the end of me (back then). I mean, I would have been, "I don't care, it don't make me no difference, do what you want to do, I'm the best." I would have handled the media the exact opposite of what I did last year. I think when you understand the nature of the business … it's hard to fight it because you know that's somebody's (wanting somebody else to play) and that's what they want. At some point, you gotta play or be almost perfect in order not to suffer those consequences, consequences that you don't want. But it creates a different type of pressure, it doesn't allow you to go out and just play freely. Hey, that's part of the business, that's part of the sport. You gotta be able to handle it and I think I handled it well.
Cole: If you could go back in time and look at 20-year-old Michael Vick …
Vick: Yeah, I know that Michael Vick. It's ingrained. I lived it.
Cole: What would you tell him?
Vick: You need to spend more time with your family. You need to spend more time working on the gifts that you've been given and opportunities that you've been given. If you work as hard as you worked when you was in college, then maybe you could turn things around for the football team that you're currently playing for. Do things different and things may be a little easier. The fact that I took so much for granted because I had so many outside distractions, that didn't allow me to maximize my potential. Now, I'm 32 trying to maximize my potential. I don't feel it's too late, but still, I gotta fight that. …
Cole: I heard this story one time that when you were 15 or 16 years old, there were guys in your neighborhood who wanted to hurt you.
Vick: Yeah, when I was young it was so much violence going on in our neighborhood. There were guys that were envious, but I've had people in my life since I was younger who seen the potential in me and they always protected me. They always made sure that I didn't go to the corner where the dope was being sold and stand on the corner with my other friends who may have had some dope in their pocket. … They kind of protected me until I got out of the city of Newport News (Va.), which is a rough city. But I love my roots and where I'm from. …
Cole: A lot of guys are told to separate themselves from people in their past when they get to the NFL. That's really convenient to say, but it's a whole other thing to do when those people have looked out for you and protected you to that extent.
Vick: Yeah, I think the people who have looked out for you, I think that's when they have to be more conscious of your situation and understand the value and the time that they spent trying to protect you, knowing that that has to continue on. Now, their wants and needs, if you choose to help them to take care of that, that's on you. But they have still to be conscious of the fact that now you're a pro. They helped you get into a situation where you're where you want to be. They still have to understand that they can't overstep certain boundaries because you have a boss to answer to, just like they should have a boss to answer to. It goes hand in hand, but they have to be cognizant of the fact that it can only go so far.
Cole: So it's a really tough thing to do.
Vick: It is tough, and you get a lot of kids who grew up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods who happened to make it out and have some talent and become professionals who just had people around them who they cared about. I think that's normal. It's natural to grow up with those types of people. But, like I say, it has to be a separation there where they allow you to go out and be the person you set out to be or the player you set out to be. Any other distractions become a distraction.
Cole: Did that become harder for you?
Vick: No, because people around me understood. It was more so me inviting them into the arenas that I wanted to be in or wanted to partake in or the situations that we were involved in when we were young. Now the older guys who were a bit more mature, they understood. … I had one of my best friends telling me the entire time that I needed to change, and I never did. He told me that I could go to prison for the things that I was condoning and I blew him off in 2003. This is one of the guys who helped raise me into a young man. He was one of the older guys, eight or nine years older.
Cole: He looked at you and he told you that?
Vick: Yeah, he told me. He always told me the truth. He cared about me genuinely enough. Even to this day, we have a great relationship and he told me. I tell people about it all the time. I'll be like, "He told me that I was going to go to prison one day." I laughed at him. I laughed at him.
Cole: You thought you were invincible?
Vick: I thought money could get me out of any situation and I ended up going to prison. He never said I told you so, never. He tried to help me figure out what was the best situation. I wasn't mature enough to hear it and I wished I would have listened. But hey, lesson learned.
Cole: How many of your friends stuck by you?
Vick: Honestly, pretty much all of them. The ones that I had to get away from, that was the separation that I had to make. They all would have been there if I wanted them to. The majority of them was there, whether they were just for advice or from afar and just understanding my situation was different at the moment. The time that we spent together changed and the amount of time that we was around each other changed. They were all there, we all lived different lifestyles once I came home from prison.
Cole: I've never understood the hysterical reaction by some people who say that you should never be allowed to play again. What you did was wrong, but you paid your price.
Vick: That's how people are, you can't change them. I think at the end of the day they gotta deal with what they're dealing with. It's something deeper than them focusing on me and the detrimental thoughts that they have towards me, the derogatory feelings. I think it's something bigger than just me they're dealing with. They've got to deal with that with God. I've already dealt with it in that fashion.
Cole: You see what Robert Griffin III is going through injury-wise. I know you never had a knee injury like that. But the way he plays, do you ever think, "I need to tell him to slow down just a little bit and make sure this thing lasts?"
Vick: Yeah. It wasn't my place to step in and say, "Don't play," because RG3 was in such a great situation last year. But as I watched him hobble around, I was so disappointed because I'm thinking about the long-term effects. Look at what this kid accomplished in one year. We need quarterbacks like RG3 to continue to be an example for what you can do as a rookie, how you can change the whole outlook of a franchise.
I was thinking about the longevity of the NFL and his playing career. I think what he did was great, but I was so disappointed that he was on that field hobbling the way he was because RG3 got game. That kid got game. He's accurate and he's smart and he knows how to play football. … I'm watching the playoffs. I'm like, I can't watch because I know what it's like to play hurt. I played on a sprained MCL before and it was horrible. I had it taped up and then the last play when he bent it, I was just like, you know what, I ain't watching this game no more.
Cole: You literally turned the TV off?
Vick: I literally walked out. You ask any of my friends. I'm like, I'm not watching this no more because he's one of the next best quarterbacks of the NFL, the future of the NFL, hobbling around with an unbelievable will to win. That was the outstanding part about it, the great part about his will to win. I know what he was feeling and what can you tell a guy in a situation like when he gotta lead his team? He's a general.
Cole: I recently saw the ESPN 30 for 30 video on Bo Jackson. I was sitting there with my two sons and I was saying, "You just don't understand what Bo Jackson was." Twenty years from now, how do we remember Michael Vick?
Vick: I've watched that and I think Bo Jackson was an amazing athlete. I think that's probably how I will be remembered: As an amazing athlete who played the quarterback position, who revolutionized the game first. Who played the position in the NFL like no one has ever seen. The first quarterback to have ever rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, which is hard to do. I accomplished a lot more than what I ever thought I would accomplish, but I still want more. I want that ring. I won't be satisfied until I get it. I think I'll probably be remembered as one of the best athletes ever lined up behind the center. It's satisfying because that was a gift that was given to me from God and I thank Him for that.
Cole: You say you're satisfied, but you sound like a guy who knows the results are still not exactly what you wanted them to be.
Vick: Right, and I won't go into detail about it because Coach Kelly told us as a team, "Don't talk about winning the Super Bowl, just put in the hard work to get there. You talk about if you get there." So I don't think about winning the Super Bowl anymore. I just think about working hard as I can and whatever's in the future is going to come.
Cole: Your biggest accomplishment in this league?
Vick: So many. I think the biggest, I've had some playoff wins that were big, like winning in Green Bay. I feel like that was a big accomplishment for me, but I feel like running for 1,000 yards was probably one of the biggest accomplishments, even though I didn't set out to do it. I think it's still so much more to writing the next couple of chapters of my life. It's all unknown and I'm just ready to take it on, head on.
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