Michael Vick

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Template:NFL player Michael Dwayne Vick (born June 26, 1980 in Newport News, Virginia), is an American football quarterback for the National Football League's Atlanta Falcons. He is the older brother of current Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick and a second cousin of New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks.

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High School and Collegiate Career

As a grade schooler, Michael Vick showed promise in baseball and basketball. But by junior high his adolescent ways got the best of him, and he became a disciplinary problem for his teachers. His mother pushed him to get involved with an after-school activity. He chose football, and basically gave up all other sports in the ninth grade.

Michael Vick first came to prominence while at Warwick High School in Newport News, Virginia. Although he was, arguably, somewhat overshadowed by quarterback Ronald Curry of Hampton High School in Hampton, Virginia, who would earn Gatorade National Football Player of the Year honors (he was also a first team Parade All-American in basketball). Curry would go on to play at the University of North Carolina. Due to a disappointing collegiate career, however, Curry's stock, as it pertains to the NFL, dropped significantly, and he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 7th round of the 2002 NFL draft as a wide receiver and kick returner.

After high school, Michael Vick attended Virginia Tech. He exploded onto the scene in his first collegiate game as a redshirt freshman in 1999 with three rushing TDs, in just over one quarter of play. His last touchdown was a spectacular flip in which he landed awkardly on his ankle, forcing him to miss the remainder of the game in addition to the following game. He led the Virginia Tech Hokies to an 11-0 season and to the 2000 Bowl Championship Series national title game in the Nokia Sugar Bowl against Florida State University. Although Virginia Tech lost, 46-29, Vick was able to bring the team back from a 21 point deficit to take a brief lead. He enjoyed a spectacular freshman season in 1999 leading Virginia Tech to its first-ever 11-0 regular-season record and a spot in the national championship game. He led the NCAA in passing efficiency, setting a record for a freshman (180.4), which was also good enough for the second-highest all-time mark to Shaun King's record from the 1998 season at Tulane. Vick was awarded an ESPY as the nation's top college player, the first-ever Archie Griffin Award as college football's valuable player, and finished third in the balloting for the 1999 Heisman Trophy, matching the highest finish ever by a freshman in the voting.

Michael Vick's sophomore season was among the most anticipated in college football history. He was favored to win the Heisman Trophy, but a severe ankle sprain kept Vick from living up to the intense media hype. It did have its share of highlights, such as his career rushing high of 210 yards against the Boston College Eagles in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. After finishing with a 11-1 record and a Gator Bowl MVP award in 2001, Mike decided to take his game to the NFL. Virginia Tech has retired his jersey.

Ironically, despite not having played baseball since the eighth grade, Michael Vick was selected by Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies in the 30th round of the 2000 draft.

NFL Career

File:Mvick.jpg
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

In 2001, the Atlanta Falcons traded receiver Tim Dwight and several draft picks to the San Diego Chargers for their number one selection spot in the NFL draft. Eventually, San Diego selected Texas Christian running back LaDainian Tomlinson with one of those traded spots. The Falcons selected Michael Vick as the first overall pick, and he made his NFL debut against the San Francisco 49ers.

On January 4, 2003, the Vick-led Atlanta Falcons upset the favored Green Bay Packers 27-7 in the NFC playoffs, ending the Packers' undefeated streak at Lambeau Field.

However, during a pre-season game against the Baltimore Ravens later that year, Michael Vick fractured his right fibula and missed most of the the regular season. Upon his return, the Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars, going 3-1 in the final four games of the 2003 season. In 2004, he led the Falcons to a record of 11-5, earning a first-round bye in the NFL Playoffs for only the third time in franchise history. The Falcons' 2004 season ended with a defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Conference Championship game.

Many would argue that Michael Vick has revolutionized the quarterback position and has nearly single-handedly transformed the Falcons from a team with a spotty reputation to one of the rising franchises in the NFL. Vick's #7 jersey has become one of the best-selling pieces of NFL apparel. Vick has also become a focal point in the growing rivalry between the Falcons and Carolina Panthers.

Style of Play

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Michael Vick gets flipped after a tackle by a St. Louis Rams player during a 2004 game.

Vick is noted for his unique, explosive playing style. He is considered by many to be the most exciting player in the game of football and he has earned the nickname "Superman". Gifted with tremendous speed and mobility, he can engineer big plays with both his arm and his legs. Notable is the fact that while he throws left-handed, he is otherwise right-handed. In the 2004 football season (including post season), he rushed for over 1,000 yards, which is a higher rushing total than many running backs in the NFL. Vick's mobility has often caused major problems for opposing defenses, which have to defend against him differently than they would against a conventional-style quarterback. Whereas most quarterbacks are not a major threat to run the ball for a lot of yards, Vick is capable of breaking huge runs from anywhere on the field. Additionally, he has often been able to buy more time to throw by evading pass rushers with his spectacular agility and speed. Thus, opposing defenses must find ways to constrict Vick's running lanes in order to contain him. His speed always makes him a danger for opposing defenses, and the Falcons are one of the few teams in the NFL to have a large number of specifically-designed running plays for their quarterback.

Criticism of Vick

While Michael Vick's athleticism is virtually unparalleled, a frequent criticism is that he puts himself at unnecessary risk of injury and has poor fundamental skills. Critics cite the leg fracture he suffered in the 2003 pre-season and a knee injury he suffered early in the current season (which reoccurred a few weeks later), that has hampered his mobility throughout the year as prime evidence that Vick needs to learn to "pick his spots", citing the example of Steve Young, another mobile left-handed signal-caller who had a mediocre professional career before being placed in an offensive system that optimized his talents. Young eventually won a Super Bowl and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

In a November, 2005 press conference, Michael Vick scoffed at the notion that he was a weak "pocket" passer. But, ironically, Vick's knee problem forced him to become more of a pocket passer, and his quarterback rating has improved dramatically since his return.

Many critics have stated that, while Michael Vick has a powerful arm, his passes are not nearly as accurate as other top quarterbacks in the league, such as Cincinnati's Carson Palmer or Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, both of whom have better quarterback ratings. But, other pundits also believe that the Falcons are relatively weak in quality wide receivers. To help remedy this, the Falcons acquired former Buffalo Bills wideout Peerless Price prior to the 2003 season in hopes that he could give Vick a legitimate "deep threat" target. But Price was a massive disappointment, catching just six touchdowns passes over the course of two seasons. He was released by the organization prior to the 2005 season. Arguably, Vick's favorite target is tight end Alge Crumpler, a very good receiver, but certainly no speedster. Some critics have countered that it's unfair to cast the blame on the receivers alone, since Vick remains the common denominator in the Falcons offense.

A few critics have been far harsher, labeling Michael Vick an athlete who happens to play quarterback rather than a true quarterback. His best passing season came in 2002, when he amassed a quarterback rating of only 81.6. Some fans have also reacted negatively to the constant media hype that surrounds Vick, and feel that an over-exuberant American sports media anointed Michael Vick as the best player in football long before he deserved such an accolade.

Vick was selected to the Pro Bowl for the 2005 season, a controversial pick, since Vick's season of 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a little over 2,000 passing yards would be considered, at best, an average performance for a quarterback. He also has over 500 yards rushing with 6 touchdowns. Following Vick's selection, sports columnist Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News called Vick "the most overrated player in the League."

However, regardless of the controversy that surrounds his playing style, Michael Vick continues to woo crowds with his explosive style of play.

Endorsements

EA Sports chose Michael Vick to be on the cover of their popular Madden NFL 2004 game, in which he was infamously almost unstoppable. However, Vick was struck with a perceived curse surrounding players who have appeared on the cover of previous and later installments of the franchise, as he suffered the aforementioned broken leg. Without Vick, the Falcons were dismal. Vick also appeared in a Powerade television commercial featuring a handheld camera view of him during practice knocking receivers off their feet with his passes and then throwing a ball 100+ yards into the upper deck of the stadium. However, most of the commercial's effects were computer-generated; Vick's athleticism and arm strength were clearly exaggerated to the realm of near-improbability.

The Ron Mexico controversy

In March, 2005, a woman named Sonya Elliot filed a civil lawsuit against Michael Vick claiming she contracted genital herpes from him and that Vick failed to inform her that he had the sexually-transmitted disease. Elliot further alleged that Vick had visited clinics under the alias "Ron Mexico" to get treatments, thus he knew of his condition. This led to a deluge of fans ordering customized #7 Atlanta Falcons jerseys on NFL.com with the name "Mexico" on the back. However, due to the media interest surrounding the case, the National Football League began disallowing the use of the jersey/name combination two days after the lawsuit.

The status of the lawsuit is pending.

In a related note, the video game developer Midway Games alluded to Michael Vick and his Ron Mexico alter-ego in their Blitz: The League title. Due to Midway losing their NFL license (EA Sports now has exclusive NFL licensing), all teams and players in the game are fictitious. However, the Washington Redhawks' star quarterback is a mobile, left-handed passer named "Mike Mexico".

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