Michael Vick's return to NFL stardom may have began on the field back when Clay Matthews hunted down Kevin Kolb from behind and sacked his conscience from him, but the start of his road to football redemption can be traced back to 1983.
Michael Vick was only 3 years old in 1983 and wouldn't throw a pass in the NFL for nearly 18 years.
In that year Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid became a father for the very first time to a son who he named Garrett. The next year, Reid would have a second son that he would name Britt. Britt and Garrett Reid played a pivotal part in Michael Vick's return to football.
Neither son has any involvement with the Philadelphia Eagles or the NFL but without them Vick would never have wound up in Philadelphia and presumably never have won the Comeback Player of the Year award for the 2010-11 season(The NFL has not yet announced the recipient of this award but Vick is certain to win it.)
Vick was drafted 1st in the 2001 NFL draft to the Atlanta Falcons. He became the franchise quarterback for Atlanta after breaking multiple records in college at Virginia Tech.
For 6 years the quarterback was celebrated as the most exciting player in the league. That all ended in 2007 when Vick pled Guilty to federal charges in a Dog Fighting investigation. He was suspended by the NFL on the day and spent the next 18 months in prison.
While he spent his time in prison the Atlanta Falcons released him and he quickly became enemy number one for animal lovers all over the world. What Vick did was disgusting and sick but he served his time and showed remorse on his release from prison, being mentored by Tony Dungy. Dungy was a Superbowl winning coach that spoke softly and would not even so much as swear. Dungy's influence on getting Vick reinstated was huge.
In what came as a surprise to many Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, a move that came as a surprise to most people considering the Eagles had one of the leagues best quarterbacks Donovan McNabb at the time. This is the point where the birth of Andy Reid's first and second sons rear their heads.
When Michael Vick was looking for work many teams refused him simply because of his reputation or because of his questionable character. Vick had shown enough remorse to convince Tony Dungy to be on his side but many teams still would not give the supremely talented quarterback a job.
Many people saw the quarterback going to the Oakland Raiders or Cincinnati Bengals at the time. Neither franchise could be considered a stable environment and Vick would have immediately been under pressure to perform and bring victories as a starter.
The Philadelphia Eagles had different plans for Vick. Eagles Head Coach, Reid, could relate to Michael Vick's situation like no other Head Coach. He understood what the quarterback would need and he believed in his character because of his belief in his own sons.
On the 30th of January 2007 both of Reid's sons were arrested in separate instances.
Garrett Reid, his eldest, smashed his car into another on that day while high on heroin. Garrett was reportedly a drug addict and dealer that got a thrill out of selling drugs in “the hood.” His arrest eventually led to a conviction in November of that year for up to 23 months in prison.
Reid's other son, Britt, was involved in an incident involving a hand gun on that day. Britt pointed the gun at another driver following a dispute. He was arrested and pled guilty to a string of charges. Britt was sentenced to 8-23 months in prison plus 5 years probation on gun and drug charges.
Andy Reid missed time with the Eagles to attempt to sort out his family's problems but remained the Head Coach of the team. Britt Reid graduated from a drug court program in 2009 which Andy described as a “big step” in his son's lifelong journey to rehabilitation. In May of the same year, Garrett Reid once again found himself in trouble as he returned to prison for a second stint. Garrett had left prison for a halfway house after the first 7 months of his sentence but failed a drug test and got into a fight with another resident of his home.
It was at this time that Andy Reid first considered what he could do to help Michael Vick. Even as his own sons were struggling, Reid was considering trying to help another troubled young man. In a recent interview with Steve Mariucci of NFL Network, Reid talked openly about Michael Vick and his reasoning behind signing him. “When I was going through the situation with my boys that was basically the same time Michael was going through his situation. My second son came out of prison sooner than my first, before Michael was released so I talked to him. I know that insecurity when they come out. I watched that transition take place, it was everybody else's fault; no I blew it, I blew it I'm never coming back. Then when they come out, I'm back in the big world...Now what?”
When announcing that the organization had signed Vick, Reid told the gathered media that he was a “believer that people who go through the right process deserve a second chance.” Reid does not talk about his family life with the media but when he further elaborated on his plans with Vick he made an obvious reference to his sons, “I've seen people close to me that have had second chances that have taken advantage of those and its very important that people give them opportunities to prove that they can change.”
For the most part Reid did not speak about Michael Vick the football player when he signed him. He understood that what was important for Vick was his rehabilitation as a person. Reid did not talk up what Vick was going to bring to the Eagles or how great a player he was on the field, whereas if you can imagine a typical Al Davis press conference where Vick's head would have been swollen by the huge amount of praise he would receive or if Vick had arrived in Cincinnati to team up with Chad Ochocinco.
Reid was quick to point out that there would be no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia. He knew that Donovan McNabb was his quarterback, “He comes into a good stable unit here. I think Donovan is a huge factor in that, he and Michael are very close.”
Vick was arriving into the perfect situation. He was surrounded by good people who understood exactly what he needed. Tony Dungy, his advisor, acted like a grandfather to Vick. Dungy had earned widespread acclaim for his high standards in ethics and behavior even before his son, James, took his own life in 2005 which must have effected his involvement when counseling Vick.
If Dungy was his Grandfather and Reid acted like a father then Donovan McNabb was definitely his brother. McNabb was the starter for the Eagles when they signed Michael Vick but had no problem lobbying the organization to bring in the player that would ultimately take his place(after a brief Kevin Kolb stint of course). McNabb mirrored his head coaches sentiments on the day of Vick's signing stating, “I believe everyone deserves a second chance. There's not a better place than to come here.”
McNabb was right. Never mind how well he fits in the Eagles offense when throwing to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles were the perfect fit to look after Michael Vick and re establish him as a person.
Even today as Vick is tearing apart NFL defenses Andy Reid will tell you what he is really most proud about Vick's return, “He's righting the wrong, not that you can erase it. He goes and he tells people 'listen I screwed up I had the world right in my hand and I blew it.'” When asked about Michael Vick's efforts on the field he simply said, it's “great!” Reid obviously looked to focus on Vick's off the field changes as he knows that ultimately that is what is important.
Often sports fans and especially those directly involved in the professional games will wrongly prioritize an athletes performance on the field over off the field. As Michael Vick leads his team into the playoffs this weekend, the journey of how he got there should be noted because it started a long time before week 1 of this season.
Andy Reid has kept his job with the Philadelphia Eagles for over a decade not because of his football knowledge, just ask Bill Simmons about his use of the challenge flag, but because of his ability to deal with people and manage football players.
Michael Vick has a lot of people to thank for his return to NFL stardom. Andy Reid should be at the top of his list. Being that he is the head coach of an NFL team, it would be easy to say that Reid would like nothing better than a Superbowl, but in reality Reid is a much bigger person than that. Repaying Reid can only occur off the field if Vick's behavior continues.