WASHINGTON — This week, with his Atlanta Falcons preparing for the Super Bowl, longtime NFL quarterback Michael Vick called it a career, officially retiring at the age of 36.
He finishes with 22,464 passing yards, 133 passing touchdowns, and an NFL quarterback record 6,109 rushing yards. He was also a lightning rod for controversy, and whether he is hero or villain likely depends on your zip code.
Growing up in Tidewater region of Virginia, Vick grew up a Redskins fan, and stayed in the area to play collegiately at Virginia Tech. As a Hokie, he finished third in Heisman Trophy voting as a freshman, but left after his sophomore season in order to support his family.
As his career wound down with the Jets in 2014, Vick dreamed of returning home to play for the Redskins.
“I’m open to playing for anybody that wants to win,” Vick told Newsday after the season. “But obviously, going back home, I mean, that’ll be a dream come true. But I would hate to get my hopes up for something that wouldn’t happen. So I can’t even think about it right now.’
“That’s home. That’s home for me. Don’t get me excited. Don’t get me excited.”
And Vick had gotten excited playing the Redskins in the past.
In Week 10 of the 2010 season, on Monday Night Football at FedExField, Vick turned in one of the most dominant single-game performances in NFL history. He started early, finding DeSean Jackson for an 88-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage. He added three more touchdowns through the air and two more with his feet.
It was easily his greatest performance after paying his debt to society and earning the right to play football again. That path of redemption didn’t always seem so certain.
Six years before that game, Vick was one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, signing a $130 million contract at a time before quarterbacks regularly earned nine-figure deals. Less than three years later, he had alienated the Atlanta fan base by flipping them the birds, and eventually found himself on the wrong side of the law.
In August 2007, Vick pled guilty to federal dogfighting charges, leading to an indefinite NFL suspension. His situation was made worse when it was revealed that Vick had financed the operation with his contract bonus money. Falcons owner Arther Blank took him to arbitration and was awarded most of the bonus money back.
But the money was gone and Vick was broke, bankrupt and behind bars, making $0.12 per hour to mop floors at the prison. He spent 548 days in prison. The hard part, as he learned, waited for him on the outside.
Animal rights activists hounded Vick and the NFL, as Commissioner Roger Goodell contemplated his reinstatement. Vick went on a media tour, apologizing to every group that would hear him out (he also began the process of repaying every penny of his debt, when loopholes existed that would have allowed most of it to be forgiven).
While reviews of his apology are mixed to this day, he made a very important impression on Andy Reid in Philadelphia. Already armed with Donovan McNabb, Reid took a gamble and a huge public relations hit by giving Vick a second chance.
Vick appeared in 12 games for the Eagles in 2009, mostly as a gadget player or change of pace at quarterback. Reid saw enough in Vick to make McNabb dispensable, and on Easter Sunday, 2010, McNabb was traded to the Redskins.
The rest, as they say, is history.