You have to wonder how many Philadelphia Eagles fans are plunking down some serious cash for a No. 7 jersey today. After Michael Vick's dazzling performance in Sunday's 35-32 victory over the vaunted Detroit Lions, you've got to figure his jersey is selling a bit more briskly than, say, Kevin Kolb's No. 4.
Wear it proudly, Philly fans -- and you will. Vick is the man of the hour, a still-explosive playmaker capable of beating Detroit -- on the road! Kolb? He can't even get out of the way of an unblocked defensive lineman or two, won't even shake off a little concussion and get back on the field. Make way, Mr. Kolb, your time as the Eagles' starting quarterback is over -- after one half of one game.
Then again, maybe not. At least Eagles coach Andy Reid isn't ready to pronounce those magic words just yet, the ones that would render the mushrooming start-Vick-now crowd howling with delight. No, Vick isn't the starter -- not yet, anyway.
What Vick did manage on Sunday, besides an impressive performance against a not-so-impressive opponent, was to take perhaps the biggest step yet in his road to redemption. It really isn't necessary to dredge up why Vick needs to be redeemed -- mention Bad Newz Kennels, dog fights and electrocution, and good old No. 7 springs to mind.
Vick has done much to atone for his crimes, it's true -- two years of his professional career lost while he served an 18-month sentence in federal prison for running that illegal dog-fighting ring out of his Surry County mansion, plus a lengthy suspension following his release. He lost millions, endured a remarkable level of public scorn, made humble apologies for his actions -- did perhaps all that he could, possibly more than most in his situation would, to reclaim his identity as more than simply a dog killer or at best, Ron Mexico (not going there, either).
It was a swift, painful fall from grace for the former Virginia Tech and Atlanta Falcons star, possibly the greatest player to ever don a uniform for the Hokies (no offense, Bruce Smith -- really) and a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback after becoming he No. 1 overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft. Getting back to what he once was, the admiration he garnered with his breath-taking big-play ability on the field, it just didn't seem possible not so very long ago.
The apologies, the public service announcements for the American Humane Society, the heart-felt chats with school kids about avoiding the terrible choices he made -- Vick did all that, could keep doing all of that for the next 50 years, and it wouldn't have done much to restore that tarnished image.
On Sunday, Vick found the magic formula, the sure-fire path to restored adoration -- he won. Yes, there were indeed 10 other guys out there with Vick on the offensive side, 11 others playing defense for the Eagles -- but Vick outshined them all. That's what connecting on 21-of-34 passes for 284 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes, not to mention showing off the flashy mobility and field vision that made him such a superstar once before. It's a quarterback league, so thumps the endless drumbeat of NFL television analysts, and Vick is still a quarterback with a rather special set of skills.
"I'm glad to be standing here, in this place, helping the team win and fighting with this team the way we fought today," Vick told the philadelphiaeagles.com Web site afterward. "It is an unbelievable feeling to have."
It might seem unbelievable, period, considering where Vick was in the public eye just three years ago. Even getting back on an NFL field back then seemed a stretch -- after all, who could root for Vick? Yet Eagles coach Andy Reid pushed for the signing, and after a year of wildcat-quarterbacking, slot receiving and a whole lot of time on the bench, Vick got a huge opportunity on Sunday with his first start in four years.
Reid was quick to state that Kolb remains the starter (if he's healthy, that is), and Vick was just as speedy to voice his support of that decision. If Kolb doesn't produce, and fast, that situation will change in a hurry.
One thing is certain -- Vick's performance against the Lions has the City of Brotherly Love, more than ever, in an awfully forgiving mood.