Michael Vick, Kurt Warner, and “Sportsmanship”

Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images North America Like most of the football world, I stand in awe of what Michael Vick did last night to the Washington Redskins, mercilessly torching their secondary and slashing through the line, putting up Tecmo Bowl numbers: 6 touchdowns on more than 400 yards combined rushing and passing, with no interceptions, no fumbles, and only 8 of 28 passes falling to the ground. And as a guy with Vick on his fantasy team, I kneel in honor of the 54.1 points he delivered. And like most of the football world, I stand in long term appreciation of the career of Kurt Warner, his contribution to the Rams, the city, and to the game in general. However, Vick’s glory and redemptive story stand in direct contrast to the legacy of Warner and his decision to retire, thanks to a story published this morning by Peter King, nominating Warner as the Sportsman of the Year.

“I don’t think about one more game defining me,” he said. “I’m thinking about the 50 years with my family after this part of my life.” That’s the first reason why I’m choosing Warner as my Sportsman of the Year. He knew when to fold ’em, when so many athletes want one more bow, or one more million.

— SI.com: “My Sportsman: Kurt Warner

On the contrary, Michael Vick had to struggle with the decision to forcibly un-retire himself, to work against all public opinion and against steep odds, to earn his way back into the huddle.

There were times early in the offseason when Vick was linked with the Rams, and I’m not shy in saying that I was hesitant, based on his limited body of work with the Eagles last season. Hesitant to believe that he could come all the way back, and hesitant to believe that the town, or even the locker room, would embrace him as the leader of their franchise.

I’d say no player in the history of the NFL has been mis-evaluated like post-prison Mike Vick.

I think it’s fair to say that no player in the history of the NFL has ever fallen from grace as far and as hard as Vick did, and come back this strong. He is more than “all the way back” — if anything, he’s become a better player than he ever was. (Albert Breer of NFL.com suggests one reason why…)

Marty Morhinweg has to be a HFC candidate in ’11. His QB work speaks for itself — And it’s hard to blame him for what happened w/Lions….
Consider: McNabb has played 6 years w/o Morhinweg, and topped 60 percent passing in 0 of them. In 6 years w/him, did it 4 times….
And now this — maginificient work Morhinweg and Reid have done with Mike Vick, in addition to developing a damn good young QB in Kolb?
One reason @JimHarbaugh is such a strong HFC candidate is b/c of his ability to develop QBs. That strength should help Morhinweg too.

Fortunately, thanks to the rapid and astonishing development of Sam Bradford (credit to Richard Curl? Or to the gifted one himself?), quarterback is one area that the Rams can cross off their list of needs for the next ten years or so. But that doesn’t stop us from appreciating Vick’s remarkable story, and imagining what could have been in a Rams uniform.

Ironically, Peter King chose the complete antithesis of Vick’s story, in lauding Warner. To Mr. King, Warner’s decision to walk away from football and onto the motivational speech circuit, and the cast of Dancing With The Stars, and to his own living room with his kids, is worthy of celebration.

No doubt, Vick could have tried the same path. He could have tried to accept his exile from football, and become a poster child of penitence, working the speech circuit to preach the sins and the power of self-forgiveness. But to do so, he would have had to cage the beast within him that is saying “I can still do this, I can still compete, I can still be the best.” And we saw last night just how strong that beast within him is. If he had tried to walk away, tried to live the life of a football expatriate, that beast would have torn Michael Vick up from the inside. It would have destroyed him as thoroughly as he/it destroyed the Redskins.

Both are compelling stories. But which deserves the honor for 2010? The man who stepped away from sport, or the man whose only chance at true redemption lay between the white lines?

With all respect to Kurt, I would have to side with #7.