Editor's note: Jelisa Castrodale's column will now be appearing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the other weekdays it opens for Donny and Marie at the Flamingo Showroom in Las Vegas.
When jazz age novelist and frequent ascot wearer F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, he left behind an Intervention-worthy drinking problem, an institutionalized former wife and a stack of disorganized notebooks that a well-meaning editor would later assemble into his final novel. On one yellowed page, he bitterly scrawled "There are no second acts in American lives," which works as an epitaph but not so much as fortune cookie filler.
It's a bummer for Fitzy that he was under a marble slab in Maryland seven decades before second acts became our standard of living. If it weren't for second acts or second chances, VH1 wouldn't have a single prime time program, we wouldn't watch a shirtless, mud-caked Jimmy Johnson stare blankly into the camera on Survivor and Michael Vick absolutely wouldn't be preparing for his second week as Philadelphia's starting quarterback.
Two years ago, the thought of seeing Michael Vick scrambling around a football field again -- evading defenders and leaving would-be tacklers with their arms around his shadow -- seemed highly unlikely, if not flat-out impossible. You know why. Everyone knows why, even those who never watched his record-setting seasons at Virginia Tech, the ones who had no idea he'd been the NFL's number one overall draft pick, or paid attention when he spent a pair of Februarys playing in the Pro Bowl.
Everyone knows Michael Vick because of the dogs.
Because of what he did with them.
Because of what he did to them.
In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to felony dogfighting charges and was sentenced to 23 months in prison. He served nineteen months in a federal facility and spent another two on house arrest. The NFL suspended him indefinitely, without pay, and commissioner Roger Goodell condemned his actions as "cruel and reprehensible". As a final exclamation point on the severity of his actions, Reebok stopped manufacturing Michael Vick jerseys and quickly pulled the existing ones off of store shelves and websites like they were tainted, toxic products ... and who would argue that they weren't?
Since his release in July 2009, Vick has been uncharacteristically humble, soft-spoken and apologetic.
"Sign him," Philadelphia's then-quarterback Donovan McNabb texted coach Andy Reid.
So they did. After Dungy was willing to vouch for his character, the Eagles immediately gave Vick a one-year deal, apparently assuming that Vick had spent the past nineteen months living The Longest Yard, lining up beside Burt Reynolds and scrimmaging against the guards every Sunday.
"My hat is off to Donovan because Donovan kind of led the charge on this whole thing," Reid told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. McNabb was more than willing to work with Vick, teaching him the playbook and otherwise treating him as a fixer-upper with an unfortunate felony conviction.
By all accounts, Vick respected McNabb's leadership, both on and off the field. An August 2000 ESPN the Magazine noted that the then-Virginia Tech freshman version of Vick carried a notebook covered with taped-on pictures of McNabb, providing the most startling glimpse into the future since a preteen Katie Holmes spent her evenings making out with a Top Gun poster.
And then McNabb was gone. On Easter Sunday, the Washington Redskins woke up, rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and discovered a basket filled with half-eaten marshmallow Peeps, soft plastic grass and a slightly disgruntled Donovan McNabb.
Reid and the Eagles management decided to base their offense around the largely untested Kevin Kolb, the 2007 second rounder who might eventually develop into the off-brand Drew Brees or -- more likely -- a beefier Marc Bulger. Kolb had one solid start last season, racking up over three hundred yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, a performance that should come with some kind of disclaimer since even Katharine Hepburn could've connected eight or nine times against their defense. Is she even alive? It doesn't matter.
Unfortunately for Kolb's Kareer Aspirations, in Philly's season opener against Green Bay, he took a hit from Clay Matthews that left him with a chunk of earth in his facemask and a brain that was scrambled like a pirated cable channel. Enter Michael Vick, who threw for 175 yards and a score in the Eagles 27-20 loss. Since Kolb's concussed brain was still the consistency of baby food, Vick got the start the next week, showing flashes of brilliance and making throws that Kolb would struggle to imitate on an Xbox.
Reid insisted that Kolb would remain the Eagles' official starter, while Vick was equally convincing when he told reporters that he would be A-OK with the backup role. "That's been my mindset," he said. "I've been working hard to be reliable whenever I'm needed. That's the way it's ... gonna be throughout the season."
That lasted one day. "Michael Vick is playing out of his mind right now and that's a beautiful thing," Reid gushed, beginning the press conference in which he would place Vick on top of the quarterback depth chart.
Vick made the most of his first official start, going 17-31 and passing for 291 yards in Sunday's 28-3 throttling of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that couldn't be more unwatchable if they'd been directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
So what happens now, save for the inevitable stories about redemption and an embarrassing number of canine-themed headlines? Off the field, Vick obviously needs to avoid anything that involves a police investigation, like when his thirtieth birthday party ended after one guest blew out the candles with a handgun.
On the field, he's working through a one-year contract and the Eagles haven't talked about an extension; he may not be Mr. Right, but he'll work as Mr. Right Now. Of course even if he leads Philly to a Super Bowl victory, wins the MVP award and in the offseason he throws together a cure for pancreatic cancer, there won't be unanimous celebration and enthusiastic applause. He's never going to get a Disney-produced bio-pic, and not just because Kevin Costner's too old to convincingly play him. His past is indefensible and, for many people, inseparable for from his present.
"It takes time. You have to go out and do the right things," Vick told an Atlanta radio station earlier this year. "It takes patience for you to go out and fulfill all your obligations. And that's what I plan on doing."
Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald scribbled in one of his final unorganized notebooks, "Action is character." That's not a bad way to start your second act.
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
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