Vick stars in 'Catch Me If You Can'
By Jim Armstrong
Special to Page 2

True story. John Elway was asked one day late in his career if he still could run as fast as he did in his 20s. "Depends," Elway said. Depends on what? a reporter asked him. "Depends on who's chasing me."

That's the thing about Michael Vick. Doesn't matter who's chasing him. Unless the Eagles sign Michael Johnson to play outside linebacker this weekend -- not a bad idea, if you think about it -- nobody can catch Vick. Dude would finish second in the 40 between light and sound.

Michael Vick
I thought Leo was in "Catch Me If You Can"?
Vick is the only NFL player who racks up frequent-flyer miles during games. The only defensive player with any hope of hitting him this side of the first-down marker is Browns linebacker Dwayne Rudd. Provided, of course, Rudd could get within 15 feet of him before throwing his helmet.

It's not just the raw speed, though. It's that uncanny elusiveness that separates Vick from other NFL quarterbacks, past, present and, presumably, future. Vick is better than Tiger Woods at escaping traps. He's the Roadrunner and every opposing defensive player is Wyle E. Coyote. Not even the supernatural, the ghosts of Lambeau, could catch him Saturday night. Not even the KGB -- Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila -- could apprehend him.

Gbaja-Biamila, at worst the NFL's second-quickest player off the corner -- see Taylor, Jason -- was one hyphen and two steps too slow. He reportedly shouted something at Vick during one futile chase, but Vick couldn't hear him. The one time Gbaja-Biamila managed to get his hands on his target, Vick simply spun away and headed downfield, smirk intact.

In retrospect, we should have known. We should have realized that, with Vick at the controls, none of that Lambeau Legend stuff was going to matter. The Packers, who've been around since the Model T, hadn't lost a home playoff game until Vick rolled into town. But then, none of those previous Packers had ever seen the likes of this kid. None of the current ones, for that matter.

Let's not make the same mistake twice. Let's not assume, just because the Eagles are the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- with a reasonably healthy Donovan McNabb, no less -- that Vick is going to run and hide. Oh, he'll run, all right. He runs more than Barry Bonds walks. And judging from what we saw in Green Bay, he isn't about to be caught. Forget linebackers and defensive ends. The only thing that can stop Vick is the end zone.

Michael Vick
Not even the ghosts of Lambeau could help Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila .
You do what you want, but I'm not going there again. I'm taking the Falcons, your basic wild-card team, to beat the Eagles and every other outfit that wastes its time trying to keep Vick out of its secondary. Yep, I'm going with the Dirty Birds, whose coach can't win the big one, to rule on Super Sunday, and for all the right reasons. Well, one anyway: You can't tackle what you can't catch.

You can get the Falcons in third-and-eight all day long, but it won't matter if Vick can turn it into a first down with one flash of light, one burst of brilliance. What, you think the Packers didn't show up Saturday night? That wasn't the problem. They were there, ready to play, all set to make a statement, but Vick demoralized them by escaping every trap they set.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're saying. Can the hype. The kid's only 22, just finishing his senior year if he had stayed at Virginia Tech. He's got a lot of growing up to do before we go talking Super Bowl. Even Elway, the last one-man team to play on Super Sunday, didn't get there until his fourth NFL season.

Makes sense and all, but it misses the point. Forget the experience factor. Vick is in position to make a Super Bowl run because he's 22. Young legs rule in football, and nobody else's move with the force and fury of Vick's. Elvis has left the building, but the Renaissance Man just arrived. We can't view him, classify him like we do other quarterbacks. Nor can we hold him to the same statistical criteria. Or didn't you notice that Vick threw for only 117 yards in dismantling the Packers?

Vick is the man for all seasons. One minute, he's Dan Marino, the classic quick-release pocket passer. The next minute, he's Fran Tarkenton making it up as he goes along. The next minute, he's Bo Jackson barreling around the corner, too fast for the front seven to catch, too strong for the secondary to tackle. Nobody -- not Elway, not McNabb, not Steve Young -- has ever had that kind of package.

Michael Vick
Vick could run his way to glory in San Diego.
He already knows greatness up close and personal. Question is, how long can Vick sustain it? We can't project him like we do other quarterbacks, either. We don't know if time is on his side or not. Who's to say, at 32, he'll be any better than he is at 22? Or whether he'll even be around, for that matter. Frankly, there are more than a few reasons to think he won't be.

They call them hits, but we all know better. They're actually collisions -- violent, potentially bone-crushing, mind-altering confrontations with fate. With every hit he absorbs, every slide he disdains, you wonder about Vick's future. You wonder, with everything else God gave him, whether He drew the line at durability. You wonder if Troy Aikman, who collected concussions like J. Lo collects husbands, would like to sit him down and talk to him about the long run, not his latest one.

But enough about the future. For Vick, the place is here, the time is now, and the Super Bowl is there for the taking. Already, the pieces are falling into place. Instead of having to face the Bucs, the only team with a history of tormenting him, Vick will face the Eagles, who, for all their credentials, will be playing with a quarterback who hasn't taken a snap in two months. Win in Philly and Vick will be one step from the world's stage.

Which reminds me. Memo to the Eagles' defensive players: Gentlemen, start your engines. You're going to need them.

Jim Armstrong, a sports columnist for the Denver Post, will be a regular contributor to Page 2.



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