As Matt Ryan, the quarterback the Atlanta Falcons took with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, prepares to face the New England Patriots for a chance to win the Super Bowl, the last quarterback the Falcons took in the first round has stepped away from the NFL for good.
Michael Vick, after spending the 2016 season without a team, has made the decision to call time on his NFL career. The Falcons traded up with the San Diego Chargers in 2001 for the chance to select Vick, the last time the first overall selection was traded until 2016. Vick was the first African-American quarterback to be taken so high in the draft.
An electrifying athlete, Vick was heralded as the vanguard of a new age of NFL quarterbacks, adept at both passing and running the ball. Though by some to be a running back playing quarterback, Michael Vick owns the single season record for most rushing yards by a signal caller (1039 in 2006), and his 6109 rushing yards are the most ever gained by a quarterback. His seven yards per carry average is something most running backs could only dream of.
His dual threat prowess was never more evident than in Week 10 of the 2010 season, when he posted the highest single season score in terms of fantasy points of any quarterback of the 21st century. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and also rushed eight times for 80 yards and another two touchdowns, as his Philadelphia Eagles side trounced the Washington Redskins 59-28. Vick’s fantasy score that day? Just 49.32 points.
Injury plagued his entire career, and it was only in 2006 that he was able to play all 16 games in a single season. This was two years removed from a nine year, $130m contract that he signed with the Falcons after leading them to the NFC Championship game, which they lost to the Eagles. In Week 17 of the 2006 season, the Falcons lost once more to the Eagles, 24-17, as they finished a disappointing campaign 7-9. Vick completed eight of his 14 pass attempts for 81 yards and touchdown, and also rushed for 17 yards. It would be the last time he appeared in a Falcons uniform.
Much has been written about what happened next, events and consequences that cost Michael Vick two years of his prime and saw him land in Federal prison. When he was eventually released in 2009, he was thrown a life raft by the Eagles, thanks to recommendations from Tony Dungy and tellingly Donovan McNabb. It was in replacing McNabb in 2010 that Vick earned his second career $100m contract, as he led the Eagles to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. As well as the demolition of the Redskins, the 2010 season included a game that has since become known as The Miracle at The New Meadowlands.
As infuriating and he was electrifying, Michael Vick did not usher in a brave new type of NFL quarterback. But he provided pure entertainment when he had the ball in his hands. Two disappointing seasons as a backup quarterback on the New York Jets and with the Pittsburgh Steelers neither hampered or improved his stock in the overall annals of NFL quarterback play, as this once dynamic athlete appeared old and slow in his limited action on the field. To be truthful, even as an Eagles fan, I cannot say that I ever truly opened my heart and let him in. His tendency to take off with the ball and failure to protect himself from jarring hits, often after passing up passing opportunities, annoyed me, and I was guilty of declaring him a fraud, and not a real quarterback. But the simple fact of the matter is that, as I’ve aged, I find myself wishing I’d taken the time to appreciate what a special talent he truly was. I’m not qualified to judge the man, especially after the acts for which he was found guilty of, but it’s worth noting that in 2009 he was voted the Eagles winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, and award given to players who are role models of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage. He fell from the top, down to the very bottom, and through hard work and faith (not to mention belief in him from others) he made it back to somewhere near the pinnacle of his sport. The game may never see his like again.