Sitting at my feet as I write this column, as is the case when I do most of what I do, is my ferocious 10-pound miniature poodle, Benzi. It sends chills down my spine to think that what she means to the average dogfighting magnate is an opportunity to train the next killer by throwing her in a pit to fend for herself the best she can while the future champ develops his bloodlust.
Part of me will think about that every time I hear the name Michael Vick. There’s a special place in hell, I want to believe, for people who kill dogs for sport.
That said, Vick was convicted for his crimes and served out his 23-month sentence. And we usually say of people who do the crime and then do the crime that they’ve served their debt to society. Now, I don’t know that this is actually the case, that the debt should be considered paid in full, because the stigma will and maybe to a degree should always be there, from the regular run-of-the-mill ex-con every time he applies for a job and has to check that special box on the application, to the likes Vick every time he takes a snap in practice with TV cameras pointed at him, with half the fans watching at home on TV that night wondering if he should ever be able to take one in a live game.
I think he should. And let me point out that I’m saying that not because I’m a Vick fan or anything, because I’m not. The way he carried himself even before the revelations about the dogfighting ring that he financed struck me as him being a thug, one, and two, I was one who thought he was vastly overrated on the field. This is a guy who as the #1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft was supposed to redefine the quarterback position in the NFL, but what we got out of Vick in his first stint in Atlanta was feast or famine, the feast coming when he’d break containment and make linebackers and defensive backs look silly scrambling out of the backfield with the speed of a world-class sprinter, the famine coming when defensive coordinators waited patiently and made him beat them with his arm, which he often couldn’t do.
My thinking heading into the 2007 season was that his seventh year in Atlanta may very well have been his make-or-break season with the Falcons, who had in 2004 made Vick the highest-paid player in the NFL but were clearly floundering with Vick at the helm of their ship.
We never got the chance to find out what might have happened in ’07 because of the dogfighting allegations, conviction and prison sentence. Now two years later Vick is in a new role in Philadelphia, which has an established marquee quarterback in Donovan McNabb, who has led the Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl in his 10 seasons, reducing Vick to being little more than a sideshow act as a Wildcat offense specialist when he returns midseason from the six-game suspension handed down to Vick by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell related to the dogfighting conviction.
Which is to say, it’s not as if Vick is back to being the NFL rock star that he was before what happened happened. Far from it. Yes, he’ll be paid $1.6 million for his troubles this year, mainly on the basis of the recognition of the immense physical talent that had people talking about him as being a breakout kind of football player from the day he made “SportsCenter” as a redshirt freshman scoring a touchdown in his first start against James Madison in 1999 doing a front flip over a defender on his way toward the end zone.
But it’s hard to say that it’s guaranteed that he’s back on the road to riches now that he’s back in the NFL, to say the least. Nothing, not even the second year of the two-year deal that he signed with the Eagles, is guaranteed as far as the NFL is concerned.
But football is what Michael Vick does. If he had been a construction worker, I doubt seriously that people would suggest that he shouldn’t be able to get a job after being released from prison, or that anybody would bother to go to a work site and heckle him while he was laying cinderblock or putting up drywall.
I’m not suggesting that I think those who plan to do just that when the Eagles play this fall are doing anything out of sorts. I’m a dog guy, too. Benzi, my beloved Benzi, is still sitting at my feet, curled up in a ball on the doggie bed in my office, taking a dog nap while waiting for me to be done with this column so I can take her for a walk.
I think we’re both hoping to see one of those linebackers or DBs clean Vick’s clock in the open field even just once.
Karma can be a bitch, especially on a football field.
– Column by Chris Graham