Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Vick Still Slick?

Welcome to the Jets, Michael Vick.  I thought I was done writing in depth about you, but once again your polarizing self has entered my radar and set my words in motion.  Perhaps you will be a sideline mentor to young Geno Smith, or maybe you will end up as Gang Green's new leader and potential savior.  Many Jets fans are having a difficult time embracing you, and I can't say I blame them.  Dogs are man's best friends after all, so your actions are unforgivable to a wide range of people.  They don't care that you did your time, that you seem to be a rehabilitated man who handled your situation honorably in the city of brotherly love, or that they have looked the other way in rooting for other athletes who did harm to fellow human beings.  There are Jets fans willing to turn their backs on a team they've spent decades rooting for on account of your presence.  If you're in, they're out.  Or so they say for now. I won't try to convince them otherwise, especially those who have still not gotten over the sting of letting Darrelle Revis slip through our hands again.  If you end up playing a prominent role in New York that results in glorious victories for a team that has not had enough of them over the years, plenty are sure to come around and forgive you.  Those who won't, won't.  

I had some harsh words to say about you when I penned Man Bites Dog.  Yet when you were released from jail after missing two NFL seasons, I felt that the Philadelphia Eagles' decision to bring you in as a back-up to Donovan McNabb was a "no brainer".  Deja vu.

You ended up starting and playing well in Philadelphia.  All good things come to an end though, and just as you came to take over for McNabb, eventually you were supplanted by a younger quarterback.  Now you are in search of one more comeback, most likely the final one in your storied career, and that goal has brought you to the Big Apple.  Well, technically New Jersey, but who wants to bother with being technical?  

I have no idea what the future holds in store (hopefully no butt fumbles, speaking of which, Bon Voyage Mark Sanchez), but I do vividly recall the promise of the past.  Below is what I had to say the very first time I wrote about you in an article penned for Suite101.com.  Standing between you and the chance to take a shot at your first Super Bowl appearance was the team that years later would give you an opportunity for redemption after your spectacular fall from grace.  How could I not write of your exploits on the field that season?  It was truly a thing of beauty to witness.  I was confident that with your never before seen level of athleticism, through the brilliant flair with which you played, you were changing the very nature of the game.  Considering your extraordinary potential, it's fair to say that you ultimately underachieved.  Getting in your own way is the surest way to guarantee coming up short.  Yet look around the National Football League today.  Look at the most recent Super Bowl featuring a dying breed quarterback from the old school versus one who was educated in the school of Vick, that is, a QB as dangerous with his legs as with his arm.   Scary in the pocket, terrifying on the move.  You may have failed to take over the league by earning multiple championships, but you sure as hell altered the game's landscape.  So basically my vision of the future was spot on.

People look forward to the Super Bowl for a variety of reasons. To football fans, at least in theory this game is an exhibition of the sport they love at its highest level. In reality, a high percentage of Super Bowls have been blow out snooze fests. If the team you root for happens to be one of the participants, the opportunity to see your team play for the league championship is certainly a thrill. The team I pull for hasn’t been to the big game since 1969, so I can only imagine feeling such excitement. 

Professional gamblers look forward to the Super Bowl for the obvious reason, and amateurs, many of whom don’t watch a single game of the NFL season except for the Super Bowl, put their dollars and hopes into office pools across the nation. Those who do not have a financial or sporting interest in the game still watch it for the theatrical elements of the televised broadcast. I think it’s safe to say that last year’s halftime show will never be topped. Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson are now as big a part of Super Bowl lore as Vince Lombardi, and no offense to Vince, but Janet looks far better topless. Last but not least, there are the highly anticipated, often amusing, increasingly clever commercial spots that negate ideal opportunities for bathroom breaks.

This year, there may be a different reason for people to watch the Super Bowl. It’s quite possible that we’ll be witnessing a changing of the guard in the NFL. In order for this to take place, the Atlanta Falcons must first get past the Philadelphia Eagles. This task has been made considerably easier due to the untimely injury of Philly’s top receiver, Terrell Owens. With TO in uniform this season, the Eagles have been considered favorites from day one to finally get over the NFC Championship hump and make it to the gala event. Without him, the Eagles-Falcons game is a toss up. Plus, it’s also doubtful that another receiver will step into Owens' shoes and attempt to top the horrifically controversial (in the opinion of various talking heads) or rather amusing (in my own personal opinion) act of pantomiming a moon of the crowd, as recently performed by Randy Moss.

Outplaying Rush Limbaugh's favorite player will certainly be no easy task. Donovan McNabb is about due to stake his own claim of greatness. But if Vick and the Falcons prevail, all that would remain for them to do is vanquish either the defending champion New England Patriots, or else the Steelers of Pittsburgh with their rookie phenomenon quarterback. With all due respect to Tom Brady and his two impressive Super Bowl rings, or to Ben Roethlisberger and his impressive winning streak, the man to whom most eyes would be glued is Michael Vick. Why is that? Well, he just happens to be the most athletically gifted highlight reel making player the NFL has ever seen. He plays the most analyzed and admired position on the field, and does so in an unconventional manner never before witnessed. 

Yesterday in the NFL belonged to the likes of Dan Marino and John Elway, and today belongs to Peyton Manning and his two consecutive league MVP awards. However, if you take Peyton out of his domed home stadium and place him outdoors to face wintry elements, his prowess can be tamed by an elite defense. On any given Sunday, a scheme can be concocted to thwart veteran pigskin slingers such as Brett Favre or emerging hot shots like Drew Brees. But just how does one prepare to face a player as talented and unpredictable as Michael Vick? He is two superstars merged into one, both a quarterback with a canon for an arm and a running back with lightning fast legs. Michael Vick may be providing a glimpse at tomorrow in the NFL. Football purists who believe the prototype of a quarterback is a white guy who stays in the pocket and throws perfect spirals right before getting hit in the chest by a charging linebacker probably do not fully appreciate Michael's gifts. Those who can take or leave aging aesthetic values and prefer to focus on the bottom line understand that Vick may beat you with his arm, or he may beat you with his feet, but the important thing is that he will beat you.

Every now and again, an athlete comes along and changes the way his or her sport is traditionally played. You think you’ve seen basketball played as well as it can be played, then along comes someone like Michael Jordan to surpass all expectations. Wayne Gretzky practically reinvented hockey with his ease and grace of movement on ice. Barry Bonds broke the mold and fashioned a brand new standard of the ultimate baseball player. (Okay, so perhaps he had some pharmaceutical assistance along the way.) The Williams sisters have illustrated that the power game need not be the exclusive domain of men on the tennis circuit. Muhammad Ali replaced the image of the powerful, plodding inarticulate heavyweight champion with that of a man who could float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rhyme like a poet, fascinate with his rhetoric, stand up for his religious and political convictions at any cost, and manage to look pretty throughout the entire process. These athletes proved not only to be more talented than their opponents, but dominated their respective sports in unique ways. In pro football, such is now the case with Michael Vick.

The NFL is known as being a copycat league. If a particular game plan proves to be very successful for one team, it’s a brief matter of time before half the league has adopted it. Offensive and defensive fads come and go, and for each one, numerous variations are devised. If Michael Vick proceeds to lead the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl victory, talent scouts throughout the NFL will go in search of running backs with strong arms, or quarterbacks with fast feet. The hybrid QB will be much sought after while the conventional quarterback will become an endangered species. Professional football as we currently know it may be transformed into an entirely different game, sort of like how the NBA went from a league of spot on jump shooters to one of acrobatic dunkers, or how sluggers in baseball could once lead the league in homeruns with 30 in a season, but now hit that many by the All Star break.

On second thought, the more likely scenario is that after scouring the college and high school ranks, the search for Michael Vick clones will come up mostly empty. That’s the funny thing about athletes who play the game unlike it has ever been played before. They tend to be one of a kind.

No comments:

Post a Comment