Rooting for this Michael Vick

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This isn't about the Michael Vick who played in Atlanta. That was a different guy, a different player. That guy didn't work hard. He was dazzling to watch on the football field but hard to cheer for off it.

That Michael Vick nearly wasted his talent. He nearly threw it all away because he could not escape his upbringing to realize that fighting dogs was wrong.

That Vick got close to the Super Bowl once, on a blustery evening in Philadelphia, of all places. His Atlanta Falcons were the underdogs and lost to an Eagles team that finally fulfilled its promise and won an NFC Championship Game.

Shortly thereafter, that Michael Vick went to prison.

No, the Michael Vick I'd like to see play in a Super Bowl is the one who emerged from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., humble, appreciative and nearly broken. He is the one who didn't take football for granted. He is the one who embraced the second chance then-coach Andy Reid, owner Jeffrey Lurie and the Philadelphia Eagles gave him when it seemed no one else would.

This Michael Vick is so different from the player and person the Falcons selected first overall in the 2001 draft that he is hardly recognizable. This Michael Vick gets it. He changed. He evolved. He grew up.

When ESPN surveyed nearly 320 players across the 32 NFL teams and asked which active player who is not a teammate they'd most like to see in the Super Bowl, the results were somewhat predictable. Adrian Peterson. Tony Gonzalez. Calvin Johnson. Russell Wilson. Andre Johnson.

They are all worthy, for their own reasons. Peterson is an NFL MVP who is the Minnesota Vikings' career rushing leader and nearly eclipsed Eric Dickerson's record for rushing yards in a season. Peterson and the Vikings got close to the Super Bowl in 2007, losing to the New Orleans Saints by a field goal in overtime in the NFC Championship Game.

Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer at tight end who came back for one more season in Atlanta to make a run that fell much too short. Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the game. Wilson is the most dynamic young talent. Andre Johnson has posted seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 11 years with the Houston Texans.

Vick's story is unique. His is a story about redemption, about making a massive mistake, paying a steep price, then changing.

Many people will never forgive Vick for what he did to those dogs in Virginia. It is understandable. What Vick did was heinous and ugly and unnecessary and wrong. But I had a front-row seat for his reclamation in Philadelphia. I was around him almost every day in 2009 after the Eagles gave him a chance. I heard him speak to school-age children about learning from mistakes. I watched him interact with his teammates, defer to Donovan McNabb, support Kevin Kolb and then play so surprisingly well in 2010 that Reid had no choice but to make him the starting quarterback, even after Kolb had recovered from a concussion.

Vick handled it all with grace. He answered every question. He said he was sorry, over and over and over. He was never a problem. He studied film. He was the first player at the Eagles' training facility every day. He bonded with Reid. He learned from McNabb. He was a great teammate, a leader and a friend.

Vick prepared and took care of his body and worked to regain the playing form he had in Atlanta. And he became better as a player.

Of course, Vick had financial reasons to walk the straight line. He was up to his chin strap in debt. But he could have emerged from prison more defiant than he was before he went in. Vick could have blamed others. He didn't have to partner with the Humane Society. He didn't have to give talks at schools and tell kids his story.

But he did.

Vick's is the ultimate American story. He committed a crime, did his time, then made sure he would not make the same mistake twice.

Even after being benched for Nick Foles, Vick has shown maturity. He doesn't necessarily like that Chip Kelly opted for Foles. He yearns to play. He is a competitor at heart. But Vick has been everything Kelly could've asked. He supports Foles, who is nine years his junior. He is an active participant on the sideline during Eagles games, telling Foles things he's seen, congratulating him for his successes, telling him to shake off his mistakes.

The Philadelphia Michael Vick is so vastly different from the Atlanta Michael Vick that he is hardly recognizable. That is amazing. It is good. And it is the reason I would love to see him get a shot at the adulation and recognition playing in a Super Bowl brings. Sadly, it is a shot that is slipping away.

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