Michael Vick is the top dog of Philadelphia now, the leader of an Eagles pack looking for championship gold, and the alpha male people remembered him being back in 2005.
Vick's recent development as a quarterback can be attributed to maturity and also to finally getting the coaching he so desperately needed. When he was the first pick of the 2001 draft by the Atlanta Falcons, he joined a rapidly aging club entering their third season away from a Super Bowl loss.
Dan Reeves was the head coach of the team at the time, and is best remembered as the guy who helped develop Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. Like Vick, Elway was also an extremely mobile player with an extremely strong throwing arm. Veteran Chris Chandler, a two-time Pro Bowler who had led the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII, started 14 games that season as Vick learned.
Chandler joined the Chicago Bears in 2002, so Vick had the job. He threw for a career high 2,936 yards under Reeves, as well as having a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio, as Atlanta made the playoffs. He also led the league with a 6.9 yards per carry average and piled up 777 yards and career best eight scores on the ground.
The future looked extremely bright for the 22-year old kid who just made his first Pro Bowl by electrifying the gridiron with a skill set never quite seen before in the history of the game. All that was missing from his arsenal was the obvious need for more experiences to learn from.
Then things got sidetracked.
He spent much of 2003 injured, only playing in five games. Atlanta fired Reeves at the end of the year and replaced him with the inexperienced Jim Mora Jr., the son of veteran coach Jim Mora Sr. The young Mora specialized as a defensive secondary coach before getting his first head job by Atlanta.
Being so inexperienced with limited offensive knowledge at 33-years old, Mora Jr. seemed to basically keep out of the local hero Vick's way and allow him to do as he pleased. It worked for awhile, as Atlanta won 22 of 33 games and Vick went to two more Pro Bowls before the bottom fell out. The Falcons lost nine of their final 14 games in 2006 despite Vick setting a NFL rushing record for quarterbacks with 1,039 yards and leading the league best 8.4 yards per carry.
Reports started to leak out about his behavior off the field since 2004. A truck carrying two men and marijuana was stopped by police. The truck belonged to Vick. Later that year members of his entourage were observed stealing an expensive watch at an airport.
In 2006, a woman talked about him carrying the alias "Ron Mexico" and giving her herpes. There was a huge run on Falcons jerseys with Vick's number and Mexico's name on the back of it, causing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banned any further sale of that type of garment.
Later that year, he walked off the Falcons field following a defeat sticking both of middle fingers up in the air towards fans. It was one of his last acts as a member of the Falcons.
In the early part of 2007, a family members drug activity caused authorities to stumble over a dog fighting ring being held on property owned by Vick. After initially denying all charges, he admitted his role and was sentenced to three years in jail. After serving over a year, he was released.
Because of the loss of endorsements, living an expensive lifestyle, having to give moneys back to the Falcons and other, court costs, and many bad financial moves, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He signed with the Eagles for $1.5 million and spent 2009 barely playing in an undefined role.
Upon his recent explosion in 2010, it appears he was doing more than holding a clipboard for Eagles legend Donovan McNabb. Head coach Andy Reid spent two years as a quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers, who had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at the helm.
He had replaced Marty Mornhinweg, who held the job in 1996 and coaxed Farve to his only Super Bowl win. Mornhinweg then left Green Bay to be Hall of Famer Steve Young's quarterbacks coach with the San Francisco 49ers, as well as develop future four-time Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia. He left the Niners after Garcia had the best season of his career in 2000.
After a disastrous stay as head coach of the Detroit Lions, he reunited with Reid in 2003 in Philadelphia. Reid and Mornhinweg, with the help of second year quarterbacks coach James Urban, have obviously taught Vick the much needed intricacies of his position to make him more lethal by taking advantage of his entire skill set.
Vick freely admits his days in Atlanta were spent relying on natural abilities instead of trying to be the best he could. Had he had the work ethic of Peyton Manning, along with a semblance of the coaching he is receiving now, the possibility of him now being on his way to Canton could seem probable.
With Atlanta, he would take off running if his first passing option was covered. He was easily rattled in the pocket, looking for a seam to escape. Now he is hanging in the pocket and taking time to look over all of his options before thinking of running.
Fans of Vick like to point out he now has DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek to throw to in Philadelphia. as opposed to Brian Finneran, Peerless Price, Shawn Jefferson, and Alge Crumpler with the Falcons. Only Crumpler was a Pro Bowler, and with Finneran, were the only receivers there for each of Vick's Pro Bowl years. A young Roddy White and Michael Jenkins spent some time with him, and still start with Atlanta.
While an upgrade of talent around him certainly helps his recent success, so does the fact his starts in 2010 have come against two of the weaker teams in the NFL. His first real test against an upper echelon defense may not come until week 12 against the Bears, but fans look forward to his clash with the Washington Redskins next week.
McNabb, now a member of the Redskins, was traded a few months ago because the Eagles planned to go with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Those plans changed in the opening game when Kolb was taken off the field with a concussion and replaced by Vick, who played very well and sparked the Eagles to making the game look closer than it actually was.
Two weeks after the Redskins, he will face the Falcons. Though the game will take place in Philadelphia, it is an opportunity for Vick to show the Atlanta fans and organization what exactly they are missing by having parted ways with him in 2007. Emotions may run high at this game, but Reid and Mornhinweg will try to put together a strategy that leads the team to the more important victory over retribution.
Though Vick is breaking new ground in some areas at just 30-years old, he most certainly reminds Eagles fans of one of their very own legends in some ways. A legend who was put in the teams Ring of Honor last season.
Randall Cunningham was the teams second round draft pick in 1985. Though not quite as fast as Vick, he was very athletic, elusive, and possessed just as strong of a throwing arm, if not stronger.
Like Vick, he was told to run if his first option was covered by a defensive oriented head coach. In 1990, his third and final Pro Bowl season with the Eagles, he ran for 942 yards. It is still the third most rushing yards in a season by a NFL quarterback, and he was when he was named PFWA NFL MVP, UPI NFC Player of the Year, and won the Bert Bell Award.
He did not leave Philadelphia because of legal trouble in 1995, but because of injuries. He found himself on the Minnesota Vikings two years later, then made the Pro Bowl in 1998 by throwing to fellow Pro Bowlers Randy Moss, Robert Smith, and Cris Carter. He enjoyed perhaps his finest season ever, winning 13 of 14 starts, and winning his third and last Bert Bell Award.
The Vikings scored 556 points that season, which was a record at the time. People marveled how Cunningham had settled into an effective pocket passer, no longer relying on just his legs. Part of that reason was his past injuries and due to the fact he was 35-years old.
Now Vick is enjoying his moment in a similar sun, yet he has the ability to stretch this ride out a lot longer than Cunningham was able to. With Reid at the helm, the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL, he knows stability is at his disposal for the first time since his collegiate days at Virginia Tech University under Frank Beamer.
Though he still owes people money, and some others feel more apologies for what he did to canines, the world is his oyster again. If he keeps learning and progressing, perhaps he can win more than happiness from repaying debt.
A football championship is something Philadelphia has sought since 1960, and something Michael Vick can attain to justify his struggle to be relevant again.