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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Same flash, new glow
QB Michael Vick is still young but sees his career rushing by. He aims to be best he can be on, off field.
By JOANNE KORTH
Published September 12, 2006
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Michael Vick tried the words on for size, and though they sounded strange when he said them aloud, he could not deny how snugly they fit.
Yep, that’s him.
In his sixth season with the Falcons, Vick is still the human joystick, still electrifying, still dynamic and dazzling. Every authentic No. 7 Vick jersey should come with 3-D glasses and a thesaurus. But as the seasons start to add up for Vick, the kid with the Superman tattoo on his hand faces an odd reality.
His NFL mortality.
“Man, it’s like time is winding down,” said Vick, who turned 26 in June. “Even though I’m young, that’s the way I feel. Six, seven, eight and the next thing you know, 10 years and then 12 years. And then, next thing you know, you’re gone.
“So it’s all about making the most of my opportunity right now. That’s why I stepped it up so much as far as my maturity level and things I need to do to put myself in position to help this team get to where it needs to go.”
It would seem Vick’s quest to lead Atlanta back to the playoffs after a regrettable end to 2005 began Sunday with a 20-6 upset win at preseason Super Bowl favorite Carolina. Really, it began in late December with an embarrassing 44-11 loss to the Panthers and a shameful secret.
Vick dogged the meaningless 2005 finale.
The admission came on the eve of training camp, in the process of explaining to a USA Today reporter his evolution from gifted star to hard-working leader.
“The only person who knew that was me,” Vick said. “That’s what helped me a lot to come back this year changed as a player and a person. It took a lot for me to say it.”
No one would ever have known.
Yet Vick, already one of the most scrutinized athletes on the planet and knowing all too well the sort of criticism such a statement would invite, wanted to come clean.
“I had to get it off my chest,” he said.
As expected, critics called Vick a quitter, questioned his commitment and wondered whether he had lost the respect of coaches and teammates. Inside the Falcons facility, where Vick spent countless hours during the offseason studying game film and throwing passes, his admission was viewed quite differently.
“He was disappointed in his performance and, to me, that shows that he’s willing to accept accountability and mature enough to admit when he hasn’t been as good as he can be,” third-year Falcons coach Jim Mora said.
“I think it’s a real positive and I think his teammates appreciated it. I saw him really take a strong leadership role all offseason. He’s got more of a calmness to him. He’s always a great competitor, but there’s something just a little bit different this year.”
It’s called maturity.
In retrospect, 2005 was a difficult year for Vick. Yes, he continued to cash paychecks from his 10-year, $130-million contract and earned his third Pro Bowl selection. But after a promising 6-2 start, the Falcons lost six of their final eight games and missed the playoffs one season after reaching the NFC title game.
In addition, Vick’s off-field behavior was a topic of discussion everywhere from sports talk radio shows to courtrooms after an Atlanta-area woman sued Vick, claiming he gave her herpes in 2003. Vick settled out of court this summer.
“He’s like the Lindsay Lohan of the NFL,” Mora said. “He’s always in the news.”
Vick’s past headlines include being with a friend accused of stealing a Rolex watch when the two went through airport security. The legal problems of younger brother Marcus Vick, who was kicked off the team at Virginia Tech, certainly didn’t help Vick’s image.
This offseason, a Web site published a blurry photo of Vick in which, the site claimed, he was holding a joint.
“I’ve always said I’d only want to be Tom Cruise for a day, world-famous for about a day,” Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney said. “It’s a hard life. Obviously, Mike’s been rewarded very well, but you’re not like any other 26-year-old in America. You can’t think just about yourself and what you enjoy doing.
“You have to think about perception, because perception is reality.”
Vick says he will be more cautious in how, and with whom, he spends his leisure time. He started by spending most of the offseason with new quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave and young receivers Michael Jenkins and Roddy White. Vick also spent quality time with himself, forging a new attitude toward the pitfalls of fame and fortune.
“It’s all good; it only makes me stronger,” Vick said. “Every problem that comes about, I can’t make it right. What
I can do is put my faith in God and let Him handle the problems, and take it upon myself to try to do the right things.
“A lot of those situations, I know if I was right or I was wrong. From there, I just put it in His hands and try to keep moving forward, try to be happy every day, try to live life to the fullest. There are going to be things that will take you two steps backward, but I’m going to try to keep moving forward.”
This is Vick’s third season in the West Coast-style offense installed by Mora and coordinator Greg Knapp, who after two seasons of trying to make Vick a better pocket passer seem willing to let the one-and-only Vick be Vick. From now on, though, Vick will leave his trademark stutter-stepping to the football field.
Much like Vick, time is fleeting.
“It’s a different approach this year,” Vick said. “I’m going to enjoy every second from here on out until my career is over.”