Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was recently named the most disliked athlete in America, according to a Forbes survey. It's not a new development — Vick has been a somewhat publicly reviled figure since his conviction on dogfighting charges several years ago.
But as Jonathan Tamari writes, it's interesting to note the way the perception of Vick has changed in Philadelphia and around the Eagles. While the outside world continues to hold Vick's dogfighting past against him, in Philadelphia this year he was discussed and analyzed more or less as any quarterback would be:
There were still varied opinions on Vick — how responsible was he for his turnovers? How much blame did he deserve for the Eagles' struggles? But these were the kind of arguments that surround nearly any quarterback on any disappointing team. While there were occasional reminders — at one Vick endorsement event in Philly one woman pointedly asked what he was doing to help dogs trained to fight – for the most part it seemed that Philadelphia decided the debate had been well flogged and just moved on.
No, the issue with Vick in Philadelphia right now is whether the team can make a Super Bowl run with him as its quarterback. For all of the focus on first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the Wide 9 and the length of time it took the team to adjust to all of the new players, coaches and schemes this year, there's been precious little focus on Vick and his level of responsibility for what happened. Vick threw 11 interceptions and fumbled eight times (losing three) during the Eagles' 3-6 start. He played hurt without telling anyone in the Arizona game, which probably cost them. And he missed the following three games with the same injury, which definitely did.
If 2010 was Vick's breakout season, 2011 was a step back. His performance was brilliant at times but uneven. And the main problem was that this was supposed to have been the year he took over as a leader. Quarterbacks who lead are responsible with the ball and with their own bodies, knowing how important it is for them to stay on the field. Vick showed little regard for either as the Eagles were losing close games early, and he bears a good measure of the responsibility for the poor start that doomed the Eagles' season.
He'll be back in 2012, of course, and the Eagles will hope he's learned some of those lessons the hard way. The great quarterbacks are the ones that view the position as a craft to be honed, and who are always looking for the little-but-important ways to improve their game and their team. That's what Vick needs to show in 2012 if he's to prove that 2011 was the fluke and he really is capable of leading a team on a deep playoff run. He'll still probably show up in the top spot in next year's Forbes poll whether he does that or not. But if he does, the narrative and opinion about him in the town in which he plays will have changed dramatically.