Was this really Michael Vick?
This was the new Michael Vick.
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Among other things, Vick's physical appearance was different. He wore a gray sweat suit as opposed to what he wore that afternoon in December 2007 -- let's just say it was attire normally associated with chain gangs from the early 19th century. He was in black-and-white prison stripes courtesy of becoming Case No. 07CR274 for prosecutors. The only thing missing were leg irons.
You should hold your anger, because Vick put himself in that situation.
That was the old Vick, though. According to Tony Dungy, his designated mentor, along with others inside of his post-Leavenworth world around the Philadelphia Eagles, this is the new Vick.
I'm close to agreeing.
"Hey, how are you doing?" I said, entering the elevator while smiling at the guy I covered as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during his six seasons as quarterback and icon of the Atlanta Falcons through 2006.
"So how's it going, my man?" Vick responded, just above a whisper, with a smile creeping across his face. Before I could respond, others moved into the elevator to converse with the obsession of the moment these days in Philadelphia, and one of those entering was one of Vick's teammates with the Eagles.
In other words, I had stumbled upon the Eagles team hotel. I was in town for their game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field against the Kansas City Chiefs, and my purpose was singular: Vick, Vick and more Vick.
This was Vick's first official NFL game since the lifting of his banishment from the league by commissioner Roger Goodell. Prior to that, Vick had only practiced with the Eagles and participated in their final two preseason games. Before that, he was a guest of the government at Leavenworth. And prior to that, he was inside that Virginia courtroom, with Brenda Boddie, his grieving mother, weeping with her head dropped toward the floor. Her sobbing and the whispers throughout the place eventually vanished in a flash, because nobody could breathe.
It was because Vick entered from a back door at the time with federal marshals, and he looked worse than a captured runaway slave.
No wonder, the new Vick was an emotional wreck on Sunday when he stood on the Eagles sidelines during the National Anthem. This went further than his anticipation of playing more than a little behind Kevin Kolb, the Eagles' starting quarterback until Donovan McNabb's ribs stop aching.
"You know, I was thinking about everything, and I was thinking about what it took to get back to this point," said Vick, battling tears later as he stood before the gathered media after a 34-14 blowout win for the Eagles. "I was thinking about my grandmother [Caletha Vick], which I lost in prison and what she would think. The last time I saw her, I was turning myself in to go to Leavenworth.
"So, you know, a lot of things were running through my head, and I know she would have been proud of me. And she's still proud of me. She's the reason I'm going to keep on pushing with my ambition to be great. It's going to grow stronger and stronger every day, because I know that's what she wanted."
This is what the spirit of Grandmom Vick got from her grandson after 11 plays against the Chiefs: hope. It was hope that the new Vick still has some of the old Vick as a player at 30 -- that's approaching dinosaur territory in the NFL, especially for somebody who hasn't played competitively in two seasons.
Said Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose 2-1 Philadelphia team needs more than hope, since it plays in the rugged NFC East, "We wanted to get [Vick] in and gradually get him into game-playing speed while knocking some rust off. I think we accomplished that."
Yes, the Eagles coaches did. They used Vick here and there during the game before returning to Kolb, but Vick's numbers weren't impressive. Despite evolving into a cult hero during his first stint in the NFL with his magic feet and powerful left arm, he rushed once on Sunday from the Eagles' shotgun formation for seven yards. He also threw twice for no completions to finish with a passer rating of 39.6.
It's just that Vick wasn't needed to do more than that with Kolb completing 24 of 34 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, if Kolb continues to prosper, and if McNabb returns as his usual Pro Bowl self, the Eagles may not need Vick to do more than what he did against the Chiefs. That is, he mostly didn't make mistakes. He also was hugged by the historically fickle Eagles fans -- at least for the moment.
The moment is all that Vick cares about.
"I'm pretty much trying to do whatever I can to get back into good faith with the public and with my fans and to show them that I can turn this thing around," said Vick, who made his first public appearance in the Philadelphia area earlier this month to help push inner-city youth away from dogfighting. "I just want to continue to go out there and make good plays and be a good citizen on and off the field."
As for Grandmom Vick, he had a message for her during the game, which he shared afterward: "I made it back, Oma. I made it back. This time I won't let you and the family down. I know what she wants me to do, and that's to be the best man that I'm supposed to be and work at it."
He's working at it.
Terence Moore is a national columnist and commentator for FanHouse. He is a frequent panelist on "Rome Is Burning," an ESPN show hosted by Jim Rome, that is seen Monday through Friday at 4:30 PM ET. Moore spent more than three decades working for major newspapers, including 26 years as an award-winning sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He resides in Atlanta.