McNabb vs. Vick: A twist of fate

PHILADELPHIA -- Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick will be linked forever now.

What should be a non-descript Week 4 game between division rivals will now be known as the game in which the Redskins’ McNabb -- the disinherited franchise quarterback -- returns to a city he never could quite call home to play his former team, which is now smitten by the pyrotechnic skills of Vick, once an NFL outcast whom McNabb helped save from pro football oblivion.

It is quite a twist of fate.

Last summer, it was McNabb who first dreamed up the idea of Vick playing in Philadelphia . When Vick was released from Leavenworth Federal Prison, the commissioner's office tried to manage his unprecedented return to the game, but no NFL club would have him. So, McNabb -- who considers himself an elder statesman in the small circle of African-American quarterbacks -- reached out to Vick.

Text messages and phone calls followed. Then McNabb sent a text to Andy Reid, who was among the reluctant head coaches. After weeks of lobbying and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Eagles signed Vick. Many in Philadelphia treated Vick as a pariah, but McNabb loudly preached forgiveness and acceptance in the community and the locker room.

McNabb taught Vick the Eagles' complex pass-first offense. He mentored him -- on and off the field. How to practice. How to prepare. How to handle Philadelphia 's unique blend of passion and pain.

The pain was all too real for McNabb in 2009. He missed two Sundays because of an injury and lost back-to-back games in Dallas to end the season and end his time in Philadelphia .

Not long after, Reid shipped McNabb to Washington , picking Kevin Kolb as the heir apparent.

But there was one more dramatic turn of events. Kolb's concussion on opening day allowed the world to see that McNabb's protégé was ready. Now, Vick -- his path to redemption at another crossroads --- is ready to face his former mentor. They are still friends but now will compete fiercely, seeking refuge from unfinished business and the allegiance of a historically unforgiving city ready to move on.

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN. His latest book is "How Football Explains America."