How do you describe color to a blind man? How do you explain Just Blaze instrumentals to a person hard of hearing? These are akin to attempting to share the glory and excitement of the Michael Vick era with someone who was not around to witness it themselves. Mere video highlights are not enough, they do not give you the type of visceral experience of awe and wonder that he fostered. I was not old enough to see Randall Cunningham, Tommy Frazier was before my time, but the reverent tones with which the older heads speak of them is akin to how I will share Vick stories with my posterity.
Michael Vick first sprinted into my consciousness in the year 2000. I was in 6th grade and had just begun to really develop my own fandom outside of my fathers. Steve McNair had just led the Tennessee Titans, as they crop dusted the Jacksonville Jaguars to the tune of 33-14. McNair tossed up a near double-double with 112 passing yards and 91 rushing yards, that would have blown my mind if Michael Vick had not put up 225 and 97 only 19 days prior. I grew up in a home where things like even basic cable were a sometime luxury, the 2000 National Championship happened to fall during a time we had enough money for basic cable. It was divine intervention. For weeks after, all I could remember was #7 doing whatever he wanted, rifling passes to the opposite hash and outrunning defensive backs like he owed them money. For a long time I thought that the Hokies had won that game going away, turns out they had gotten tarred and feathered by the Seminoles. Such was the power of Mike Vick.
Michael Vick was distinctly ours. A quarterback who plied his trade in the Black Mecca of Atlanta, wore a du-rag under his helmet (was always disappointed he never rocked the two-tone), a chain tucked in his pads, and made cameos in rap music videos. He was a symbol of creativity, the football version of Mariah Carey, where he could do stuff on the field no one could do, and those who tried ended up ruining their own careers in the pursuit. Granted his free lancing at times came at the expense of team wins, but win or lose it was a thrilling ride. The ridiculousness of it all was enthralling to watch, like this Powerade commercial. Besides the fact that he was throwing passes unnecessarily hard to teammates five feet away from him, Vick overthrew his receiver on the last play by about 50 yards. But we did not care then, and we surely do not care now. Michael Vick was a part of the fabric in our lives, like a family member we furiously defended his flaws to those we deemed as outsiders, and lauded his accomplishments. More myth than reality, Vick made us feel like it was possible to do things we only saw in video games, and we all longed to step into his shoes if even for but a moment. (shoutout to Madden 2004, #7 was the greatest video game football player since Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl). And perhaps that is the crux of the issue, at some point one has to step away from augmented reality and confront the sometimes painful characteristics of our existence.
I remember when they came for him. I was a year out of high school, playing football at a Junior College in Southern California. Resigned to playing defensive back, because apparently a noodle arm and 4.6 speed do not translate well to running a spread offense. By now, I had already come to the grips with the fact that Michael Vick’s star power did not necessarily align with his on field performance. Maybe that was why they came for him so vociferously. Cracks in the armor had begun to show, and the howling hordes were at the gates with the scent of blood in their nostrils. Initially, I paid this no mind. Surely, a nation who feasted on pig carcass slaughtered in inhumane ways, would see the irony of indicting a man for dog fighting? We were all naïve. We underestimated the ability of the public at large to view a man’s life and livelihood as less important than that of an animal. We were not looking for complete exoneration; none of us would have argued that his treatment of those animals was anything but heinous. A fine would have been adequate, coupled with perhaps community service. When you consider a year of his life lost, and how viciously he was dragged by detractors, there was a part of us who felt his color played into it. America was split, and the side winning this tug-of-war was a majority white populace and structurally racist system of law that has shown time and time again that the lives of black people have infinitesimal value. Funny how trauma further cements the bonds among family. We held figurative candle-light vigils in our homes, closed ranks around our brother; and when he returned to Atlanta wearing a different jersey; with a different bird of a different feather we packed the stadium in #7 jerseys welcoming back the prodigal son.
Michal Vick announced recently that he will be retiring. Despite the fact he has been little more than a backup these last few years, I am still saddened by his departure from the landscape of football. This is not a kind sport or deity; it chews up its practitioners and spits them out as crumbled communion bread on the tables of the worshiping public. Vick’s end was prophesied before his beginning, an undersized quarterback who made his way by being fleet of foot, injuries forever nipped at his heels. However, whether it be being the first one to go into the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and win a playoff game or leading the comeback versus the Giants, Mike Vick left us with a treasure trove of memories. I will forever remember him running away from defenders, and as he goes into the next chapter his life story, I pray that he never stops running and separating himself from the crowd.
Run Mike Vick. Run
Tune into more sports & culture rigamorel by following Jotham via @jothamkitara