Philadelphia By halftime, the Linc was buzzing: Michael Vick was an Eagle.
Suddenly, no one seemed to care much about the preseason game against the New England Patriots on Thursday night. All that mattered to most fans was that the disgraced quarterback had joined their team.
Even though five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb is the man on the Philadelphia Eagles, the team gave Vick a one-year deal with an option for a second year.
“We don’t need another quarterback, especially him,” longtime fan Donald Crispin said.
The 29-year-old Vick, once the NFL’s highest-paid player, has been out of action since 2006. The former Atlanta Falcons star was convicted in August 2007 of conspiracy and running a dogfighting ring, and served 18 of a 23-month sentence in federal prison. He also was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
“I’m a believer that as long as people go through the right process, they deserve a second chance,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He’s got great people on his side; there isn’t a finer person than Tony Dungy. He’s proven he’s on the right track.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally lifted Vick’s suspension on July 27, allowing him to sign with a team, practice and play in the last two preseason games. Once the season begins, Vick can participate in all team activities except games, and Goodell said he would consider Vick for full reinstatement by Week 6 (Oct. 18-19) at the latest.
The Eagles reached the NFC championship game last season under McNabb, but are still looking for their elusive first Super Bowl win.
McNabb has led the Eagles to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl appearance in the last eight years, and was rewarded with a $5.3 million raise in the offseason. The Eagles tore up his old contract with two years remaining, and gave him a new deal worth $24.5 million over the next two seasons.
Philadelphia is a surprise landing point for Vick. It was among 26 clubs that said there was no interest in him, but that may have changed when backup Kevin Kolb strained a knee ligament earlier this week. Kolb’s injury isn’t serious and he’s expected to return next week. The Eagles also have veteran A.J. Feeley.
“There won’t be a quarterback controversy,” Reid said. “We have to make sure he gets back in football shape. He comes into a good, stable unit here. Donovan and Michael are very close.”
Reid made sure he spoke with McNabb before signing Vick.
“I pretty much lobbied to get him here,” McNabb said. “I believe in second chances and what better place to get a second chance than here with this group of guys. ... He’s no threat to me, not for Kolb. We had the opportunity to add another weapon to our offense.”
Vick could be used in a variation of the Wildcat offense that the Miami Dolphins made popular last season. He’s also familiar with the West Coast offense, though Atlanta ran a different version than the one Philadelphia uses.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete, both running the ball and throwing it,” Reid said. “I’ll think of something for him.”
When news of Vick’s signing circulated in the press box during the first half of the Eagles’ preseason opener against the Patriots, even the team’s public relations staff seemed surprised.
The crowd quickly caught on at Lincoln Financial Field. Fans standing on the concourse were in disbelief. One guy wondered how quickly he’d be able to buy a Vick jersey. Another asked if this was a joke.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Michelle Harlan, a mother attending her first NFL game with a young son.
In a “60 Minutes” interview set to air Sunday, Vick accepted blame for not stopping the illegal dogfighting operation he bankrolled.
Vick said he feels “some tremendous hurt behind what happened.”
He said he should have taken “the initiative to stop it all ... I didn’t.”
Asked if he was more concerned about his playing career or the dogs he hurt, Vick replied, “Football don’t even matter.”
The animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wasted no time reminding people exactly what Vick had done.
“PETA and millions of decent football fans around the world are disappointed that the Eagles decided to sign a guy who hung dogs from trees. He electrocuted them with jumper cables and held them under water,” PETA spokesman Dan Shannon told The Associated Press.
“You have to wonder what sort of message this sends to young fans who care about animals and don’t want them to be harmed.”
Reid believes most Eagles fans will accept Vick.
“This is America. We do make mistakes,” Reid said. “This situation is a chance to prove he’s doing the right things. He’s been proactive speaking across the country.”
Since Reid became the head coach in 1999, the Eagles have avoided players with character issues. The lone exception came in 2004 when Philadelphia acquired wide receiver Terrell Owens. That move paid off when Owens helped lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl in his first season. But T.O. quickly wore out his welcome, criticizing management over a contract dispute and feuding with McNabb. He was released midway through the 2005 season.
“I couldn’t envision Mike being here,” said former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese, a teammate of Vick’s in Atlanta in 2005-06. “I didn’t see where he fit in. I think most people in the locker room would accept it. Donovan is very secure in his position. He wants to see Mike get another opportunity.”
Players around the NFL expressed happiness that Vick was back in the league.
“That’s a lot of talent right there that was going to go to waste if nobody picked him up,” Baltimore running back Willis McGahee said. “I think he’ll fit in pretty good there. They’re going to take care of him.”
Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said he hopes the Eagles use him as a quarterback instead of a gimmick player.
“He’s better than 95 percent of the quarterbacks that are starting right now in this league,” Mason said. “He can sit behind Donovan and learn, and hopefully he’ll get an opportunity to get in there some games. But if he just takes this time to grow as a player, his future is going to be bright.”