A little more than two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles shocked the NFL world by signing Michael Vick. It was a gamble, hiring the once-electric quarterback fresh out of federal prison for his role in running a dog-fighting ring. Donovan McNabb was still the starter and Kevin Kolb was the heir apparent, making the signing even more puzzling, as Vick would be relegated to a third-string player trying to redefine his career after serving 21 months in prison.
Vick was known for flashes of brilliance on the field, sure—breaking the NFL record for rushing yards for a quarterback in a season, or completing 177 consecutive passes without a single interception, back in 2002 for the Atlanta Falcons—but he was also known as the guy who had a poor work ethic, flipped off booing fans and became ensnared in tabloid-worthy brushes with the law.
At best, the Eagles hoped Vick would come off the bench for a few clutch plays. At worst, he would embarrass the team in a public relations disaster.
But something unexpected happened: He not only became the Eagles’ starter after McNabb was traded away last offseason and Kolb was injured during the first game, but the team, with Vick at the helm, began to take on a new identity.
Today, at age 31, Vick is the unquestioned leader of the team. Last season, he was named Comeback Player of the Year and was mentioned in some circles as a potential league MVP. He coordinated informal workouts in Marlton during the summer-long NFL lockout, and he became a talent magnet, the superstar so bright that he attracts other stars to be part of what fans hope will be a Super Bowl team. If the Eagles attain a championship this year, Vick’s just might be the greatest sports redemption story ever told.
Now that Vick is the centerpiece of this so-called “Dream Team,” we caught up with him to talk about his role on the Eagles, his life and his family—as well as what he expects in the season ahead.
SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: It’s your first year as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, all the way from the outset of training camp. What has that been like?
MICHAEL VICK: It’s been great. I’m used to being the guy. These last couple of years, it wasn’t that way. That situation alone made me appreciate the position I’m in now.
SJM: You seem to be asserting yourself more as a vocal leader this year.
MV: I do that naturally. If it’s a situation where I think certain things need to be said … we all have to step up at times. Certain people listen to certain people. You can help them feel better, create a better understanding of the situation. That’s just me doing my small part. I try to take that role whether it’s with [DeSean Jackson, who communicated with Vick while holding out for a new contract following this season’s NFL lockout], or it’s the last man on the roster. We’re all brothers: we all want the best for one another.
SJM: The way last season ended, with a disappointing first-round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, there were critics who felt you’d regressed to the less dependable, Atlanta-era Michael Vick. How did that strike you?
MV: I didn’t hear that, but for critics who say that and believe that, all you have to do is go watch the film. If they know anything about football, they’ll know why we had to react to certain situations we were in. That’s part of the growing process. If everybody expected me to win the Super Bowl in one year, then that’s absurd.… I just enjoy playing football, getting better. Now I have an opportunity to do it all over again.
SJM: With the moves the Eagles have made, suddenly they are the favorites to win the NFC East, and maybe more. You’ve been called the “dream team”, and it’s been said that the Eagles are going “all-in” for a Super Bowl. Does that put a lot of pressure on you, as the quarterback?
MV: There’s always pressure in this game, every year, whether you have a great team, or your team is just average.… You’re going to feel pressure. That’s just the nature of this business. [Pressure] is what drives a lot of players to [become] great players. We thrive on that. You look at it as a challenge. It’s just what this is about.
SJM: How do you find Philadelphia and South Jersey, now that you’ve been here awhile? Is it like the Tidewater, Va., area, where you grew up?
MV: It’s very similar. You could imagine you’re back home. Just the people, the streets, the landscape. It reminds me of Virginia.
SJM: You and your fiancée, Kijafa Frink, have two kids now, 6- and 3-year-old daughters, Jada and London, and you also have a 9-year-old son, Mitez, who frequently visits from Virginia. Do you think fatherhood has changed you?
MV: I think the sense of responsibility of being a father is going to change you; it should change you, as a man, because of the different roles you have to play. I take pride in being the best dad in the world. Part of my motivation in trying to be the best at what I do is so my kids can watch me work and try to apply that to their lives at some point. I’ll be able to explain it in different terms when they get older, but hopefully, I’ll give them some examples to draw from.
SJM: What is the Vick household like? What’s, say, a typical Friday night?
MV: We might order pizza, if my son is in town. We’ll watch a movie. I chase the kids around the house all day. We play video games, get into the coloring books. My [older] daughter, I might make her study for 15 or 20 minutes. We just enjoy one another. I know how to make them laugh. I know how to be the perfect dad—disciplining them when I need to, and having fun when it’s feasible.
SJM: Have you always enjoyed that sort of thing?
MV: It’s all new to me now, because my kids are growing up. When they’re babies, you think about the conversations you’re going to have.… Just having the opportunity to do that and be in the moment now is so gratifying, because they all understand what I say. They all like to be around me. They follow me around the house like I’m going to leave, each and every second.
SJM: When your kids grow up, and someone asks them who their dad was, what do you want them to say?
MV: “I’m proud of my dad, for everything that he’s been through, whether good or bad. He never changed as a person. He never changed toward us: he was always there. He took responsibility at times, when he needed to. He held his head high when he needed to, and he was strong enough to come back.” Hopefully, that can be my legacy, and they can carry on the Vick name and be proud of it.
SJM: You and Kijafa have been here a couple years now. When might you be getting married?
MV: I don’t know, man. We haven’t set a date. It’s going to happen when it’s going to happen. I think whenever Kijafa says, “Let’s do it,” I’m all in. She’s got a lot going on. Definitely, it’s going to happen. I love her with all my heart. I’m going to put the ring on her finger. It’s just a matter of time.
SJM: You must get recognized quite a bit. Nothing is higher profile around here than being the Eagles quarterback.
MV: It’s difficult at times, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I enjoy it. I think everything happens for a reason, so I’m in this position for a reason. I try to make people happy. I try to do whatever I can, just try to be normal. It’s hard sometimes. But I definitely enjoy it.
SJM: At your inner-city appearances, it’s obvious that the people who come out see you as more than just a sports star, but also as a role model. Do you think about that much?
MV: It means a great deal. I accept that responsibility. The fact that I didn’t understand what being a role model represented, five or six years ago, has brought me to this point, where I understand it now. Everything I do, I’m being watched. Kids across the world idolize me and want to emulate me. I think [it’s important], not just being an example on the field, but off the field as well. They can learn from me as far as how you can conduct yourself away from the sport that you’re involved in.
SJM: The fact that it means so much to people must make the constant public appearances easier.
MV: You have to take an approach that you’re doing it for a reason.… If your heart’s not in it, you might as well be doing something else. If I want to do it, I’m going to be there, I’m going to put my heart into it, I’m going to enjoy myself. That makes it easier.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6 (September, 2011).
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