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Vick can finally talk about football

8/28/2009

    Hunter Martin/Getty Images   Michael Vick resumed his football career on Thursday with a solid performance.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Andy Reid waited 11 seconds Thursday before unveiling his latest offensive weapon. As Michael Vick jogged toward the huddle for the first time in more than two years, the near-capacity crowd at Lincoln Financial Field gave him a warm embrace.

"I didn't think it was going to be that positive,” said a smiling Vick after Thursday's preseason win over the Jaguars. “I didn't really know what to expect. I was running out there on the field and I was listening to see what the reaction was going to be, and I was very pleased.”

With a 4-yard shovel pass to rookie running back LeSean McCoy, Vick began the difficult task of salvaging his once promising career. He participated in six plays, five at quarterback and one as a slot receiver in the first half of a 33-32 preseason win over the Jaguars. He admitted that the largely positive response from the fans may have caused him to make the wrong read on his second play of the evening.

“I was just trying to please the crowd,” Vick said. “I tried to take off and run when I should have really passed the ball off to a running back.”

Vick began his day Thursday by appearing at a bankruptcy hearing in Virginia before returning to Philadelphia in time for the game. He admitted to being “drained” by the experience, but said it didn't affect him on the field. As he faced reporters late Thursday night, Vick had a completely different demeanor than at his introductory news conference two weeks ago. He smiled the entire time and seemed genuinely moved by the reception from Eagles fans.

Reid could have let Vick sit out this game, but in reality, the Eagles desperately needed to get this event out of the way. It is easier to avoid a spectacle in late August than it is in late October. And at least for one evening, the strategy seemed to pay off. A pro-Vick rally outside the stadium spearheaded by the local chapter of the NAACP was well-attended -- if all the reporters were counted.

Wearing a cowboy hat and boots, the organization’s president, J. Whyatt Mondesire, delivered a short speech before fielding questions.

“[Vick] paid his price,” said Mondesire, who directed most of his criticism toward local talk radio. “Now it's time for him to have a second chance.”

Mondesire estimated that 30 people had shown up to participate in the rally, but at least 15 of them must have stayed in their cars. The Philadelphia Police Dept. had dispatched members of its civil affairs unit in case something materialized, but the biggest development was a local television truck almost being towed.

Reporters flocked to a woman who arrived with a homemade sign pleading for Vick to “make amends” and give his time and money to a Dalmatian rescue group. A few minutes later, three women arrived carrying a banner that read: “Murderers ARE NOT role models.” They declined to provide their names, saying they were “concerned citizens of Philadelphia.”

“I don't believe they are just dogs,” said one of the young women as an Eagles fan walked by and playfully began a Vick chant.

This was not the angry scene that some people, including the Eagles, had worried about. And by the way, the Linc might be the worst place in the league to hold a demonstration. Most of the streets surrounding the stadium are closed on game days and there is not a central location where people can gather. Something tells me the Eagles won't be in a hurry to address those issues.

Inside, Vick saw his first game action since walking off this same field on New Years' Eve, 2006. The one time he took off running, he was tracked down easily by Jaguars defensive end Derrick Harvey. After completing a short pass on his first possession, Vick fired a 13-yard strike to Hank Baskett. Vick went through his progressions quickly before finding the receiver. Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel sprinted down the sideline to congratulate Vick as he jogged off the field.

You had the sense that Vick's new teammates were truly excited to see him in action, and that carried over in the stands. In this hard-edged city, it's always been about cheering for the laundry. And for better or worse, Vick is now wearing green and white.

“I had to kind of pinch myself to remind myself that it was real,” Vick said about wearing the uniform. “Regardless of if it’s the preseason or regular season, it's been a long journey for me and I just want to do it right this time around and make the most of my situation.”

This is certainly an important step for Vick, but it will be a completely different story when the Eagles go on the road. That is why it’s hard to imagine NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstating Vick the week of a road game -- like Oct. 26 against the Redskins. Something tells me the folks from inside the Beltway have a little more experience with large-scale demonstrations.

But the best thing about Thursday night is that we finally have a football component of Vick's comeback to examine. For years, the NFL survived without a team coming forward to fight animal cruelty -- but noted dog lover and Eagles owner Jeff Lurie vowed to change that with the Vick signing.

On Thursday, we were able to focus on what this acquisition was all about: a man in his late 20s, whom at one point was the most dangerous running quarterback the game had seen. Contrary to what we've heard from the Eagles organization, Vick isn't going to revive his NFL career by showing up at pet shelters. He'll do it by juking defenders and throwing touchdowns from the Wildcat formation. Watching the Eagles' first-team offense struggle in their goal-line offense had to make fans yearn for Vick. Even though we haven't seen him in two seasons, it was still odd to watch Vick stand on the sideline clapping for Donovan McNabb. I have a hard time thinking he'll be content with that role for more than half a season.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have attempted to characterize the signing of Vick as Good (Eagles) vs. Bad (anyone who criticizes the decision). Like it or not, Vick will become a pawn for special interest groups. To some, he'll remain a convenient object of scorn and condemnation based on his criminal history. To others, he may actually be an agent for positive change.

The guy I saw on the field Thursday night was simply trying to get a foothold on a career that all but vanished two years ago. He didn't come to Philadelphia to effect social change. He's here to reclaim his livelihood. If Vick helps save more animals than he maliciously destroyed, then good for him.

But he's been given another chance to in Philly because the Eagles think he's a difference-maker on the field. On Thursday, he took the first step to fulfilling that goal.

“Down the road I'll be back at the quarterback position full time,” Vick said. “But a
s of right now, I just have to do what I can to win.”