Part 1 of “Vick,” the two-part ESPN “30 for 30” documentary on former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, sets up the story of Vick, from high-school legend to his downfall with the Atlanta Falcons.
Revolution. Race. Redemption. There are some big topics this story encompasses.
Part 1 tells the story of Vick growing up in hardscrabble Newport News, Virginia, which sets up for Part 2, airing next week, about more details of Vick’s dog-fighting involvement that led to his release from the Falcons and a prison sentence.
We can debate that after the second episode airs. But what is worth revisiting now was how ground-breaking Vick was as he was getting set to enter the league.
Vick not only was the league’s first black quarterback to be drafted No. 1 overall, but he also brought a style and skill to the league that hadn’t been seen previously.
Now in an era where black quarterbacks are entrenched in many starting roles, it’s fascinating to look back at where the NFL was then — and how far it’s come.
In some ways, there are still similarities to how the establishment operated two decades ago. What Vick went through in the run-up to the 2001 NFL draft wasn’t too much different than what Lamar Jackson endured to be the last first-round pick of the 2018 draft.
Still, there were some interesting elements to the first part of the story that caught our eye. Here were a few notable things we learned in Part 1, leading up to his bottom falling out:
Vick’s coming-out party cost 2 Florida State players draft money
It’s hard to put into words what Vick’s performance against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl did to people.
FSU was a redoubtable monster at the time, clearly the best team in the country. Virginia Tech was there because of Vick and Vick alone. If the Hokies had any other quarterback in the country, they almost certainly aren’t No. 2 overall and playing for a national title.
So what Vick did that night in the New Orleans Superdome against a defense that featured 10 future NFL draft picks on that side of the ball can’t quite be put into words.
Vick’s stats from that night told quite a story: 225 yards passing, 97 yards rushing, two touchdowns and two opponents’ torn ACLs.
Early in the game, the Seminoles looked blown away at Vick’s speed. Or, to steal an old Warren Sapp-ism, they looked like blind dogs in a meat house.
It was such a profound effect that FSU defenders Roland Seymour and Tommy Polley both suffering torn ACLs in the game trying to tackle Vick. Neither player touched Vick on the plays where they suffered those injuries.
“I was popping dudes’ ACLs, and I felt bad cause they were [going to be] high draft picks,” Vick said.
Polley recovered enough to play 12 games the next season for the Noles and dropped to only the middle of Round 2 in the 2001 draft.
Seymour was never the same again. The former freshman All-American was a terror that year as a junior but opted out of declaring following the Sugar Bowl injury. After a slow recovery, plus a shoulder injury and some off-field incidents, he played only one game his senior year. Seymour wasn’t drafted and never played in the NFL.
Vick’s connection to Donovan McNabb
There has been a lot written about the parallel paths of Vick and Allen Iverson, both escaping tough areas — Iverson from Hampton, Vick from Newport News — to become the top overall draft picks in their respective sports, football and basketball.
(Oh, and Iverson was a quarterback, too, and he’s repeatedly said over the years that he was a better football player than Vick.)
But Vick and Donovan McNabb were linked quite directly — and well before they became teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Vick was recruited heavily by Syracuse (and every other college in the country), and the appreciation was mutual. McNabb was a star there, finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1998. And he hosted Vick on his recruiting trip, setting up a natural passing of the baton.
Syracuse was the big favorite to land Vick, but he picked Virginia Tech in part because it was closer to home.
Vick and McNabb stayed in touch after that, and following Vick’s 2000 season — after McNabb’s second season with the Eagles — he called the Eagles to get in touch with McNabb. Vick wanted his advice on whether to declare for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season.
McNabb’s advice: “Why look back? What else are you missing?” In essence, McNabb said to do it.
Vick’s aunt summed up how that advice was received. “When Donovan McNabb said that? No more questions! Pack up! Let’s get out of here!”
Vick was off to the NFL.
Vick didn’t train for the draft — and he did OK
Vick admitted he felt at the time that it didn’t matter who had the first overall pick in 2001. He was going to be the guy there.
So Vick didn’t, shall we say, put in his best effort in pre-draft training. He didn’t work out. He partied with friends. He signed endorsement deals. This was everything he had worked toward, and Vick was celebrating.
Hard to blame him.
But the crazy part? It’s one the documentary failed to mention, but Vick ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. That’s world-class speed. Imagine what Vick could have run had he trained. (One b-roll clip shows Vick lining up for his 40-yard dash looking like he’s never gotten into a sprinter’s stance before.)
One story that was told: Vick breaking the finger of a receiver at his pro day. Partying didn’t hurt his legs or his arm a bit, it appears.
About that California destination ...
The No. 1 choice that year was originally owned by the San Diego Chargers. Vick assumed he would be going west for the months leading up to the draft.
Then Atlanta swooped in with a trade, coming up from No. 5 overall. Now the tables were turned: Vick would be going to a city a few hours from where he grew up on a franchise that had been pretty miserable for a long time, save for a few Halley’s Comet seasons of success here and there.
The price the Falcons paid wasn’t enormous by today’s standards, giving up a 2001 third-round pick, a 2002 second-rounder and Tim Dwight for the right to move up four slots.
Of course, the Chargers used their first two picks that year to take Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson, two no-brainer first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers. (Tomlinson already got in, and Brees will be enshrined five years from whenever he steps away.)
At the time, it felt like the Falcons got a steal, even with as good as Tomlinson was right away. History tells a different story now.
Will Vick fully own up to the dog-fighting?
We haven’t seen Part 2 of “Vick.” That’s when the bulk of the dog-related activity is discussed. Vick and his friends all reportedly signed independent declarations of fact on the matter.
What is worrisome is the idea of contrition. In the opening minutes of Part 1, Vick said: “If I had just walked away a year ago, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Those words hang in the air a bit. It’s not the same as saying, I wish I never did it. It’s in essence saying, I wish I hadn’t been caught.
And later, we learn that police had been staking out his house for months, and friends of his had been warning Vick and his cast of hangers-on who frequented the place that they might want to stop whatever it was that they were doing with the dogs.
Vick was shielded then, but he wasn’t shielded enough. He felt invincible. Vick had no short supply of enablers in his life, from his friends back home who leeched his fame to Jim Mora Jr. and the Falcons’ coaching staff who looked the other way when Vick’s job performance suffered and he was constantly spending time away from the facility.
It’s troubling that Vick seems to regret how he mishandled receiving the information that the cops were on him more so than how the dog-fighting itself was wrong.
We’ll wait for Part 2 to see how Vick’s words frame his actions back then. Did he learn? Has he realized how wrong it was? All of that helps make up the complicated legacy of one of the more influential figures in the past few decades of the NFL.
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