The coach from Denbigh has been to three Super Bowls and collected two rings. The quarterback from the East End aspires to get there and may be looking at his last legitimate shot.
Mike Tomlin and Michael Vick compete against one another Sunday for the first time in seven years and the first time, period, in their current roles. Pennsylvania will be riveted as its two NFL teams collide, but Newport News and Hampton Roads will be watching, as well.
When last they met in a real game — preseason cameos don't qualify — Tomlin was coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs, and Vick was quarterbacking the Atlanta Falcons. Much has changed since that Christmas Eve 2005 encounter, won by the Bucs.
Tomlin, part of Tampa Bay's world champions in 2002, now leads the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise he has guided to a pair of Super Bowls and one title. Vick, who helped the Falcons to within a game of the Super Bowl in 2004, quarterbacks the Philadelphia Eagles.
Though only October, both teams enter Sunday's game in Pittsburgh at curious stages.
Perennial contenders, the hobbled Steelers are 1-2 after uncharacteristic breakdowns in losses at Denver and Oakland. But safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and linebacker James Harrison (knee), both former defensive players of the year, are expected back against the Eagles.
Philadelphia (3-1) sits atop the NFC East courtesy of victories over the Browns, Ravens and Super Bowl champion Giants by a combined four points. Routed by 21 at undefeated Arizona, the Eagles have survived Vick's six interceptions and three lost fumbles, not to mention the shabby protection of his offensive line, and he has persevered with clutch, fourth-quarter drives.
"Offensively, it starts with Michael Vick," Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. "We have to contain him and minimize what he is capable of doing. He is great when plays break down. He is great on the move. He has a strong arm and a quick release. He can make any throw on the field. We have to rush him and rush him hard but at the same time, we have to be in control.
"We cannot give this guy escape lanes. They have some situational features that showcase his running ability. He has run the football quite a bit this year in situational football, in the red area. He has a few rushing touchdowns. That's been a big weapon for them."
Actually, Vick has rushed for only one score, from a yard out with 1:55 remaining to beat Baltimore 24-23. Similarly, Philadelphia scored its winning points with less than two minutes left against Cleveland, on Vick's 4-yard pass to tight end Clay Harbor, and New York, on Alex Henery's 26-yard field goal.
Vick, 32, is a tick slower and a ton smarter than the flash Tomlin and Tampa Bay defended so effectively from 2002-05. NFC South rivals, the Bucs and Falcons played twice each season, and Vick was 2-5 as a starter against Tomlin and Tampa Bay.
While Vick baffled many opponents back then, the Bucs battered him with relentless pressure from the likes of Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. During its 2002 Super Bowl season, Tampa Bay trounced Atlanta twice by a combined 54-16, limiting Vick to 152 yards passing and 10 rushing.
A week after torching the Minnesota Vikings for 173 yards rushing, 46 on an overtime touchdown, Vick managed nine in a 34-10 loss at Tampa.
Might Tomlin swipe the old Bucs technique of dedicating a defender to shadow, or spy on, Vick?
"I've been facing Mike since he came into the league with the Falcons and that's always one of the many ways that you address him," Tomlin said. "But the reality is that when you're talking about a guy as talented as he is, it's a four-man rush, it's a five-man rush, it's a six-man rush and combinations of those with people who are search lights, if you will, for when he breaks contain."
But much like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Vick flees the pocket much more reluctantly these days.
"I think that's just a function of being 30 or 30-plus as opposed to a dude in his early 20s," Tomlin said. "I think you could say that about every quarterback that has played the game that has some mobility. I think the longer they are in the league, the more they're stationary, if you will."
Given their shared Peninsula roots, Tomlin and Vick are well-acquainted. They reunite occasionally at the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation's summer football camp, and few supported Vick's post-prison return to the NFL as strongly as Tomlin.
This is Vick's fourth season back, and he's surrounded by quality skill players such as LaSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. In short, his proverbial window in Philadelphia is closing.
"He's just got an awesome skill set that lends itself to a well-rounded game — one that you need to account for from a defensive perspective," Tomlin said. "All 11 men on the field have to be cognizant of what he is capable of. He has that level of skill."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times