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October 01, 2010
Vol. 52 No. 4

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Friends, rivals to face off

In a soap-opera-esque twist of fate, Michael Vick's rollercoaster journey from franchise-player to prison (and back again) gains another interesting wrinkle this weekend.
Vick will take the field against friend, former teammate and personal lobbyist Donovan McNabb at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. The clash will be a cousin to fan-favorite quarterback battles like Brady vs. Manning-except with a long history that's not just professional, but personal.

McNabb first vouched for Vick 13 years ago, when McNabb was a standout quarterback at Syracuse University. He hosted then high-school-senior Vick as a recruit in 1997, before Vick eventually chose to play for Virginia Tech. By all accounts, the two remain close, now "talking or texting [weekly]," according to Vick. They played as teammates in the Pro Bowl before McNabb defended his friend again in 2009, following Vick's 23-month prison stint for running a dog fighting ring.

In the afterglow of Vick's stellar performance over the first three weeks this season, it's easy to forget the circumstances that led to his tenure with the Eagles. Rumblings of his NFL return started in May 2009, perhaps even earlier, two months before the end of his sentence. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, the self-appointed moral compass of the NFL, met with him in prison to discuss his future. Taking the field as a starting quarterback must have seemed light years away, considering he was still under indefinite suspension. Dungy's visit was the first step among many that shaped his post-prison future.

Andy Reid was one of Vick's many potential suitors. Unfazed by the inevitable public backlash, he held hush-hush internal meetings and visited Vick personally. Reid was familiar with prisons, inmates and the phases of their acceptance-- he had seen his sons Britt and Garret incarcerated. He believed, as any father in his position would, that prison could truly rehabilitate someone. As a coach, he saw the uncertainty of McNabb and Kevin Kolb's expiring contracts, and the potential of the wildcat formation used in Miami and elsewhere. And as icing on the cake, McNabb voiced his approval. This unique set of circumstances led to Vick's signing with the Eagles in August 2009.

Fast forward to April 2010. Vick has slowly won the acceptance of Philadelphia's notoriously fickle fans. The threats of protest from animal-rights groups have subsided. His on-the-field role has been little more than a gimmick up to this point, but his quick legs and cannon arm were clearly still intact. On Easter, the Eagles sent McNabb to the division-rival Washington Redskins, ending his 11-year tenure in Philadelphia.

Reid, a central player in this story, shocked the local and national media by starting Vick last week, changing his tune literally overnight. It was a knee-jerk decision based on six quarters of football, four of which were against the hapless Detroit Lions.

We beg leaders at every level, from sports coaches to politicians, to be accountable and brave enough to admit their mistakes.

Last week, in light of Vick's performance in Kolb's absence, Reid tried to do just that. But did he make a mistake when he traded McNabb? What would the long-term future of the franchise look like if the Eagles had re-signed him? Following McNabb's move to Washington, former teammate Brian Mitchell was quoted in "USA Today" after speaking with him, saying, "[McNabb] wants to go to the Eagles and show them that they made a mistake." On Sunday, he gets his chance.

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