PHILADELPHIA – Early on Tuesday morning, Michael Vick sat in the office of Eagles coach Chip Kelly and celebrated yet another rebirth.
"Thank you, I appreciate it," Vick told Kelly upon hearing that he will be the team's starting quarterback this season. Then he said this:
"I won't let you down."
There is little doubt Kelly has saved Vick, much the way former Eagles coach Andy Reid saved him shortly after he was released from federal custody in 2009. Back then Reid gave him a lifeline to the NFL. This time, Kelly has given him a reason to love football again.
The Vick who finished last season with his body broken from repeated hits and his accuracy gone, looked like a man who never wanted to play football again. When he cleaned out his locker following an especially uninspired 42-7 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 30, he looked distraught. He looked through. Few thought he would return to the city that had embraced him when so much of the country still scorned him. It seemed best he play elsewhere, if he was going to play at all.
Then the Eagles hired Kelly and Vick immediately liked the man with the crackly New England accent and fascinating new ways to run an offense. Kelly offered him a chance to negotiate a one-year contract – a shot at redemption if you will – and Vick seized it. He seemed to understand the new coach didn't need last year's problems. Most men in Kelly's position would have looked at the 24 interceptions and nine lost fumbles of the previous two seasons and slashed him from the roster. He appreciated that Kelly was giving him a unique chance.
And Kelly never judged the past. The coach has said repeatedly that he watched tape of Vick looking for the positives, intentionally trying not to determine if each turnover was Vick's fault. What he found was a quarterback he thought could play, one who might perfectly fit his fast-paced new offense that promises to speed downfield. Keeping Vick was a risk worth taking.
For the horrible things he has done in the past – the arrogance that made enemies in Atlanta and the dogfighting operation that landed him in prison – Vick has shown a more vulnerable side in Philadelphia. There is almost a neediness to him. When given chances, he has worked hard to please.
Kelly handed Vick an opportunity. The coach brought enthusiasm. He brought new ideas. He brought fun. He brought a conditioning program Vick loved and an emphasis on nutrition that Vick came to respect. And the player who seemed to hate football last fall came to love it again. He smiled. He laughed. As the plays spilled from Kelly's mind and onto the field, Vick seemed to relish running every one.
When Kelly rewarded his perseverance on Tuesday by awarding him a job some might have thought he would never get again, Vick vowed he would not disappoint the man who had given him this chance.
"I just enjoy hearing him talk," Vick told Y! Sports as he walked across the fields at the Eagles NovaCare practice facility. "He talks fast and he makes sense."
Even as Vick walked to Kelly's office on Tuesday morning, unsure what the coach wanted, he said he was happy for the chance to spend time with Kelly alone. It gave him another opportunity to talk football, to learn something, to get a new idea on how to play a position he seemed to have lost his ability to master.
Hours later he was still ecstatic about winning the job. He talked about showing people he can be consistent every day. He talked about working harder than he had in years, about pushing and fighting and believing he could win a battle he never had to fight before. Throughout his career he had always been handed jobs – as a top recruit at Virginia Tech, as the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons and later in Philadelphia after starter Kevin Kolb got hurt in the 2010 opener.
"I'm proud that I got the best out of myself when I needed it," he said.
When things fell apart last year he took the failure personally. He said he "felt a sense of guilt for a lot of things that took place." He said his emotions took over in the past two years and he couldn't control them. As the team that looked so dominant in 2010 crumbled in 2011 and 2012, he put blame for the losses on himself. It made him come close to hating a game he once loved.
But Kelly has rescued him. And really has an athlete had more spectacular rebirths than Vick? His career looked done when he went to prison in 2007 only to be revived when Reid signed him in 2009. He rose to be the best player in the league for a time in 2010 only to fall the following two seasons.
Now he has risen again. Now the Eagles put their hopes and a fantastic new offense in his hands. The offense is instant, lots of plays quickly called from Kelly. No huddle, plenty of running. It fits Vick's running and passing style well. He might be the perfect quarterback for Kelly's system.
And hearing he had won the fight made Vick smile.
"I'm just going to continue to work harder," he said. "That's why I'm going to go in and do 500, 600 sit-ups, 500, 600 pushups and I'm going to run on that treadmill until I can't run anymore."
It was uncertain whether he really was going to do this or was just being overzealous on a joyous afternoon. One thing seemed certain, however…
If Chip Kelly had asked him to do 500 sit-ups and pushups, he would have done them right there on the middle of the field for everyone to see. Anything to say "thank you" to the man who gave him a chance to rise once again.
CSN Philly 1-on-1 interview with Michael Vick:
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