Unabated to the QB, Week 3: This Side of Michael Vick

“It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being.”

“Youth is like having a big plate of candy. Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state they were in before they ate the candy. They don’t. They just want the fun of eating it all over again. The matron doesn’t want her girlhood—she wants to repeat the honeymoon. I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.”

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

I’m pretty sure, now that I think about it, that it was the first time I had ever seen Michael Vick play, in that comeback in Morgantown. Up until 1999, Virginia Tech had been, at least to me, a banal Top 25 team, in that class with Clemson and Auburn and Georgia Tech — teams that were always ranked, that always played some good games, always played January bowl games, but never mattered in the title race. Vick, of course, changed that at Virginia Tech, and by the time I laid eyes on him, the Hokies were already No. 3 in the polls.

It was that run down the sidelines during the final drive that arrested my attention. It was so sudden and so graceful — so easy for Vick to transform the dynamic of that final minute from “Virginia Tech still needs a bunch of yards in a short amount of time” to “Oh, they’re in field-goal range now. They’re going to win.”

It was Will Hunting easy for Michael Vick to turn upfield on that play, and what seems so innocuous to us now wasn’t then. Quarterbacks didn’t do that. They weren’t that fast and elusive and graceful.*

*And if they were, they were doing it at a lower level of college football. This is my Steve McNair acknowledgment.

Watching Michael Vick play college football was different. He was unique. He changed the way we thought about the quarterback position; he expanded the idea of the possible. Here was a quarterback who couldn’t just run by everyone with alarming ease, but he could throw the ball, too. It’s important to note that Vick’s problems as a passer derive more from his lack of touch than from fundamental flaws in his mechanics, so he looks far more natural throwing the ball than other running QBs of the last 15 years like Tommie Frazier or Vince Young or Tim Tebow. Vick was special, in a real, beyond-kindergarten kind of way.

From that run against West Virginia on, I decided I wanted very much for Virginia Tech to be in the title game, very much for the Hokies to beat Florida State in that title game.*

*Curses, Peter Warrick.

I think it’s the reemergence of all those possibilities Michael Vick once embodied, all that astronomical potential he has left untapped, that has everyone talking about him through three weeks of the NFL season. It’s tough to come up with an analogue for Vick’s experience: What other athlete so captured the nation with his jawdropping potential, then disappointed it not because he wasn’t good, but because he wasn’t special,* then, right after a season in which he showed flashes of putting it all together, lost it all for committing seemingly heinous acts of violence, only to come back after a three-year hiatus and flash that potential again? Other athletes who have appeared to redeem themselves, like Josh Hamilton, didn’t fail on quite so public a stage. He was, after all, a Minor Leaguer. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had likely reached their peak potential; they each prevented themselves from maintaining that remarkable excellence for very long. Muhammad Ali’s “fall” in boxing was morally debatable — something Vick can’t really claim.

*I mean, Vick got the Falcons to the NFC Championship game. He was a good quarterback.

And so, after 10 quarters of the NFL season, Michael Vick is back, not so much as a player as he is an idea again — the idea that Vick can now embody all that we thought he once could. The becoming great is always more interesting than the being great, which is why Michael Vick is the headline of this season ahead of Peyton Manning, or why Kevin Durant will be more intriguing to watch than Kobe Bryant next NBA season. We want to eat the candy again.

Major caveat to all stated above: Is Michael Vick simply Randall Cunningham from the left side? Is he in any way an evolutionary version of Cunningham? I don’t know enough about the latter’s career — by my time, he was the pocket passer behind one of the greatest offenses of all-time (1998 Vikings) — to adequately answer these questions, but it does seem fitting that Vick is on Cunningham’s old team.

On PTI, Michael Wilbon made the curious comparison of San Diego’s underachievement to Dallas’ in the NFC. Now, I get the fact that the Chargers have been a good team that has fallen short of the Super Bowl on several occasions over the last decade. But the Cowboys have won one playoff game in 14 seasons; San Diego has won three in the last three years, including twice upsetting the Colts. Nate Kaeding cost them last year, but the loss to New England in 2006 was one of the greatest fluke losses in playoff history (does anyone remember Brady’s fourth-down interception that was fumbled on the game-tying drive? Anybody?). The Chargers’ narrative is fairly consistent: They start out poorly, finish strong, and contend in the playoffs. The Cowboys’ seasons are never predictable. They collapsed down the stretch in 2006 to hand the division to Jeff Garcia and the Eagles, then blew the playoff game in Seattle. They jumped to that 13-3 year in 2007 before losing to the Giants with a strategy that could only be called abysmal.* They collapsed again in 2008 in the finale in Philadelphia, then surged at the end of 2009, winning a playoff game before getting unexpectedly clobbered by the Vikings. There is no rhyme or reason to the Cowboys’ undulations, whereas with the Chargers, even though I have picked the Chiefs to win that division, I can honestly say that I think they’re going to be okay. You never know with Dallas.

*Both the Cowboys and Patriots played remarkably conservative offensive games against the Giants in that postseason, even though more wide-open approaches had worked against New York that season. Each team played as if it were the one facing a high-powered offensive juggernaut.

Although, speaking of San Diego, that game in Seattle is the kind of anomalous loss — or “anomaloss” — that I thought might befall them this season.

Atlanta’s victory over New Orleans was another weird game to judge. The Falcons outplayed the Saints, but they still would have lost if Garrett Hartley had made that chip shot field goal. I don’t come out of that game thinking either team is better than the other, but I am more confident that Atlanta will win that division, probably by one game.

And I feel retroactively vindicated from the NFC Championship Live Blog, in which I said you can’t trust Hartley in overtime.

Jets Bash of the Week: You wouldn’t have needed to stop Miami late if you still had Leon Washington! Where’s Joe McKnight at?

Here’s the thing about Braylon Edwards: People were saying how dumb he was not to learn from the example of his former teammate Donte Stallworth, who killed somebody while driving drunk and was thus suspended for a season. One common question last week was “How could Braylon not learn from what Stallworth did? How could he drive drunk after seeing what a teammate did?” Not to go all moral relativism on you here, but this question comes off somewhat comically when you consider that Leonard Little killed somebody while driving drunk, and then got caught driving drunk again some time later. How could Leonard Little not learn from what Leonard Little did?

The first sports column for my high school newspaper, The Academy Torch, was about Leonard Little. The second was going to be on Brett Favre and how I hoped he didn’t retire. I was going to use Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night,” because it has that whole “green bay” line in there.* But then I decided that I kind of didn’t care whether Brett Favre retired or not, so I didn’t write anything about him. The point is, this was in 2004.

*Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Chiefs Plug of the Week: I mean, at what point do we start considering this the greatest team in AFC West history?

They also talked on PTI about whether the Steelers should start Ben Roethlisberger right away. Whether they should start Roethlisberger??? Have we gone mad??? News flash: Charlie Batch isn’t a very good football player. And the Bucs aren’t a very good football team.

Don’t worry, Trent Edwards. The same thing happened to Charlie Frye, and look where he is now!

“My life has changed since getting the Red Zone.” Amen, Tony Kornheiser.

Two quotes from Dan Dierdorf on Sunday that I’m going to call offsetting penalties (one good, one bad):

  1. On Mario Manningham toeing the sideline for a nice catch: “Those are the types of photographs that win you wars.” (As Lisa Simpson once said, “I know what those words mean, but that…doesn’t make any sense.”)
  2. On Michael Griffin catching a punt inside the one to pin the Giants: “That’s one of the two or three best plays in this game.” (First of all, it was a great play. We don’t give football players enough credit for catching balls over their shoulders, which in baseball is treated as some sort of miracle. Second, when Dierdorf started this sentence, I thought he was going to venture into ludicrous hyperbole by calling it either “the play of the game” or “one of the two or three best plays we’ve seen all year.” He didn’t oversell it, and it did turn out to be one of the game’s turning points.)

I’ve yet to make a decision on the new Fox Box. Hated it in preseason, liked it in the season opener, didn’t like it last week. I like the use of logos, but there should probably be some letters in there to inform less discerning fans who’s playing.

I’m definitely down on the return of those annoying Coke Zero commercials from March Madness. That campaign didn’t merit, “Well, we can’t do better than this, so we can totally reuse it six months from now during NFL season.”

This week’s NFC Rankings of Supremacy, presented without comment except to say that I’m thinking long-term here:

16. St. Louis

15. Carolina

14. Tampa Bay

13. San Francisco

12. Detroit

11. Seattle

10. Arizona

9. Washington

8. New York

7. Minnesota

6. Chicago

5. Philadelphia

4. Dallas

3. New Orleans

2. Atlanta

1. Green Bay

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on October 2, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    “What other athlete so captured the nation with his jawdropping potential, then disappointed it not because he wasn’t good, but because he wasn’t special?” Interestingly, this is more or less the question Chuck Klosterman asks in his last book in an essay about Ralph Sampson. And it seems that there are a lot of parallels between the two, as unique athletes who had the potential to completely change the paradigm of their positions. Like Sampson, it seems like there were a lot of people throughout Vick’s career who seemed happy when he failed, if only because it reinforced the notion of a traditional pocket-passing QB. Also, remember when Ralph Sampson shot all those kittens?

    Reply

  2. Posted by james Schneider on October 2, 2010 at 10:20 PM

    Wait, you don’t like the new fox box because other people “might not be able to tell which teams are playing?” I didn’t realize you were so considerate of non-existent people.

    Reply

  3. […] Lang Syne « Unabated to the QB, Week 3: This Side of Michael Vick The Sports Revolution: To Halve Is To Have Not […]

    Reply

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