The Mobile Art
Having done the unthinkable, Michael Vick proceeded on to the unusual.
The Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback had just beaten Brett Favre and the Packers on a snowy night in Green Bay, and now he was openly rooting for his next opponent’s star player to get well. He wanted Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb’s broken ankle to heal enough to play against the Falcons the following weekend.
“That’s going to make the game even more exciting,” Vick said.
Vick’s only 22, in his first full season as a starter, and already he gets it. He knows that to be the best, you have to beat the best -- at their best.
The good news is, he got his wish. McNabb will start when the Eagles play the Falcons at Veterans Stadium tonight. Unless there’s a sequel to the water-soaked women wrestling in the Lite beer commercial, this will be the most anticipated individual “matchup” of the weekend.
Obviously, they won’t be on the field at the same time. But they’ll be showing off the latest in quarterback technology: the QB who can beat you with his arms, legs and head.
It’s scary to think that McNabb -- who played at an MVP-level before he was injured Nov. 17 -- could be surpassed. It’s like buying the latest version of Windows, only to have an upgrade released the next day.
Two weeks after McNabb went down, Vick went off. He had that 173-yard rushing day at Minnesota, capped by a 46-yard touchdown sprint to win the game in overtime.
And ever since, all of the accolades that belonged to McNabb have been applied to Vick.
“He’s one of a kind,” Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila said. “I haven’t seen anybody that can run, throw, do all of the things he does.”
Vick emphasizes the similarities.
“We play the same type of game: Make plays down the field,” Vick said. “We run about the same 40 time. He’s a couple of years older than me [McNabb is 26], a little more experienced.”
I doubt there are many four-legged animals that can run the 40 as fast as Vick.
The two quarterbacks are closely linked. McNabb’s success at Syracuse was one of the reasons Vick chose not to go there.
“It came down to Virginia Tech and Syracuse,” Vick said. “I didn’t want to be in Donovan’s shadow.”
McNabb’s success in Philadelphia smashed the last of the lingering stereotypes about black quarterbacks, paving the way for Vick to become the first black quarterback selected with the No. 1 pick, in the 2001 draft.
When Falcon Coach Dan Reeves called Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer before the draft, Beamer told him, “I promise you, you’ll never have to worry about this guy not working. He’s got a great desire to be successful. He’ll compete.”
When Beamer dropped by the Falcons’ training camp last summer, Reeves said, “You’re exactly right.”
It’s Vick’s work ethic and attention to the little things that let you know he isn’t only hype, that he’ll still be doing his thing long after the magazine covers he graced this season have faded.
“As talented as he is, probably his greatest quality is how competitive he is,” Beamer said. “His desire to excel ... to be on top of his game. He just worked to be good in the game and know what he’s doing in the game.”
Reeves cites Vick’s command of the game, the understanding of the offense and leadership in the huddle. And remember, he’s only 22. He’d still be at Virginia Tech if he had not decided to leave after his sophomore year.
“His progress is going to continue as he continues to feel comfortable with where to go with the ball,” Reeves said. “But the things that he has a grasp of, that you should have a grasp of, he has.”
Playing quarterback means maintaining awareness of 100 different things, right down to the snap count. Once, in Vick’s rookie season, he was so careless that he jumped offside on his own signal. In last Saturday’s game at Green Bay, the Falcons didn’t have a single illegal procedure penalty -- on Vick or any other Falcon.
“That’s the responsibility of the quarterback,” Reeves said. “And he takes pride in doing that.”
Vick and the Falcons didn’t have a turnover, either. It was that tight game management that enabled them to win at Lambeau Field, something no visiting team had done in 11 previous playoff games there. Quarterbacks from four eras, from Johnny Unitas to Steve Young, had tried and failed. Then came Vick, in his first playoff game, showing once again that he’s unlike anyone who came before him.
And it would be tough to bet against him tonight -- even on that nasty artificial surface with those nasty fans at Veterans Stadium. Yes, the Eagles have the league’s fourth-best defense. And yes, they have McNabb and capable backups if he isn’t up to speed.
But with Vick, there’s always the looming potential that he’ll pull off something you haven’t seen before. He can throw the ball 60 yards downfield while on the run or juke defenders with moves you wouldn’t try on PlayStation.
Vick can go the corporate route, calling plays, recognizing coverages and reading through his receiver progressions. Or he can go street and break off a freestyle rap.
Falcon cornerback Ray Buchanan said the advice he gave Vick before the Green Bay game was, “to play like he was in the backyard.”
On Vick’s signature play, he rolled to his left, then ran out of room near the sideline as Gbaja-Biamila closed in on him. Gbaja-Biamila grabbed Vick by the helmet -- lost his grip and watched Vick spin away and sprint up the middle for an 11-yard-gain.
“I had his head,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I had him. Then I thought he was going out of bounds. I didn’t want to get a facemask [penalty]. I tried to get down to his shoulder pads. By the time I did that, he was on his way out. I should have probably grabbed his facemask.”
Yes, teams are better off taking a penalty -- like a basketball player fouling so he doesn’t get dunked on -- because tackling Vick isn’t that easy.
“He uses leverage, he uses a lot of things,” Gbaja-Biamila. “He’s very elusive when he runs. He uses your momentum against you.”
Then he’s gone.
“The dude’s slippery, man,” Falcon offensive lineman Bob Whitfield said.
“They better put some Velcro on their gloves if they’re trying to catch him. He slips out of everything.”
But true greatness is well within Vick’s grasp.
J.A. Adande can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.