Michael Vick is coming off a season in which he threw 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and had a passer rating of 78.1. (AP)
Mike Vick didn’t know what waited for him when he was told to see coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday morning.
But the churning inside his stomach gave him the sense that something big was about to happen.
“Any time Coach calls you to his office, there’s always butterflies going through your stomach,” Vick said. “You don’t know what the conversation is going to be, but at the same time it’s always great to sit down and talk with the head coach because you always tend to learn something, whether it’s about life or it’s about football.”
In this case, it turned out to be both.
From a football standpoint, Vick learned that he would be the starting quarterback, the first signal caller of the Chip Kelly era.
From a broader perspective, Vick learned a lesson about his own perseverance and how fighting for his starting spot for the first time in his career could bring out the best of his leadership and work ethic.
He spent an entire summer gearing up for the fight and then battled 50-50 with Nick Foles for almost an entire month before he finally won Kelly’s stamp of approval to lead the offense.
“I thank Coach Kelly for the process that we all had to go through, and it just [doesn’t] stop here,” Vick said. "This is just Day 1 and I’ve still got to prove myself each and every day, still going to compete with the quarterbacks each and every day.
“It’s gratifying to know I had to come back and work for everything and it wasn’t given to me. I’m proud because I got the best out of myself when I needed it and it’s gonna be needed and required a lot more.”
Vick said he thanked Kelly when they met in the morning and promised he wouldn’t let his new coach down. He won the job by outperforming Foles in the preseason, completing 80 percent of his passes and leading two touchdown drives in four series. He opened the preseason with a 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson.
Foles also played well, and Vick told his counterpart to keep working, but Kelly made it clear that Vick is the starter for the season (see story), not just for the Sept. 9 season opener against the Redskins at FedEx Field on Monday night.
“I think I proved that I can be consistent every day, picking up the system and being a leader out there, leading the guys,” he said. “It’s natural for me but whatever Coach [saw] I guess he liked. I’m pleased, but at the same time I still understand there’s a lot of work to do. It’s great to know where I stand, but it also tells me how hard I’ve got to work.”
The 33-year-old Vick remained undefeated in quarterback competitions throughout his career, although the fights were never 50-50. He either had the job wrapped up entering camp, like his years in Atlanta, or entered camp firmly as a backup, like he did in 2009 behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb after the Eagles had signed him following a prison sentence.
In 2010, Vick entered the season as Kolb’s backup but won the job after Kolb was sidelined with a concussion. He went 8-3 and led the Eagles to the postseason, then signed a long-term extension going into 2011.
This competition, Vick admitted, raised his game to a higher level, even though he was skeptical at first.
“There’s a lot of comparisons you can make, but I think you’re at your best when your best is required of you,” he said. “You’ve got to be, and sometimes it’s hard to get it out of yourself. Sometimes you need to be motivated, you need to be pushed and there were times where I questioned the situation.
“But I just felt like it was for a greater purpose. And that purpose was to get the most out of me, and I found a way to do that. That’s why I stand before you humbled because I was able to find something within my game, my character, my personality, that I haven’t felt in a long time. And that means a lot.”
A stunning turnaround from June, when he pleaded with Kelly to name a starter before training camp.
“I said that at the end of [mini]camp because I just wanted to know, but you can’t always have your cake and eat it, too,” he said. “I should have never came out and said that. I just was having a moment. But I appreciate having to put in hard work and having all summer to think about what kind of mindset I had to come back with.”
Vick had recently said Kelly’s offense and the daily job battle had rekindled his love for football. It helped him rediscover the fun of the game, which had been lost over the past two years as he went 10-13 as a starter, missed games with various injuries and turned the ball over at a historic rate.
After last season, Vick said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to come back. After the Eagles fired Andy Reid and hired Kelly, Vick agreed to come back for one year under a revised contract that cut his salary.
“I never fell out of love with the game of football … but I felt a sense of guilt for a lot of things that took place,” he said. “I guess I allowed my emotions to get the best of me at times throughout the last couple of years. But hey, it’s football. It’s an emotional game and I put my all into it every time I step onto the field.
“So of course I feel like there was always something I could have done better. I never point the finger at my teammates because I always like I’m in total control. That’s my approach. It’ll be that way until the day I retire.”
Kelly’s decision to ride with Vick shows that the coach isn’t thinking about a rebuild and that he intends to win games right away.
What does it say about Vick’s long-term viability as Kelly’s QB? Vick said he hasn’t even thought that far.
“This moment just puts everything in perspective to me,” he said, “for how hard I’ve got to continue to work, how hard I’ve worked for the last few months, even over the summer. It would be a shame if I let up right now. It would be a shame, not only to myself but my teammates. If anything, I’m just going to continue to work harder.”