While every Pro Bowl player endured a long trip to get to Hawaii, the journey for Michael Vick in many ways was the longest.
Less than two years after being released from federal prison, the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback is making his fourth Pro Bowl appearance – and first since serving 18 months for his role in a dogfighting operation.
“This one feels great due to the fact that I’ve been through so much and trained to getting back to this position,” he said after the NFC opened practice Wednesday. “It’s paramount for me and my family and I’m just thankful.”
After starting the year as a backup to Kevin Kolb, the 30-year-old Vick is coming off the best season of his career, leading the Eagles to an NFC East title.
“I’m enjoying the guys and I’m enjoying being out here playing football,” he said. “This is what you work for. You work hard to get in this position. I’m ecstatic to be here.”
Vick was selected to start Sunday after leading the NFC with more than 1.5 million votes, far ahead of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the NFC’s second-leading vote-getter at 948,410.
“I’m going to try to put on a great show for the fans,” Vick said.
In the past, Vick’s running is largely what got him into the Pro Bowl. He takes satisfaction that his passing was better than it has ever been this season.
“I feel like this one, I had to work hard to get it,” he said. “It came in a different fashion. I displayed different talents this year and showed really what I could do in the passing game along with doing everything else. Everything just came together and it worked out for me.”
Vick set career highs in yards passing (3,018), touchdown passes (21), touchdowns rushing (nine), completion percentage (62.6) and passer rating (100.2). The Eagles (10-6) and eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Green Bay. Philadelphia was 8-3 in games he started and finished.
His last throw, however, still stings. He threw an interception in the end zone with 33 seconds left to seal Philadelphia’s 21-16 loss to the Packers.
While Hawaii is nice, Vick’s goal is to get to the Super Bowl. The question is, whether he’ll be with the Eagles or another team.
Vick doesn’t have a contract for next season, and he could become a free agent if the NFL labor situation allows. The Eagles want him back and Vick wants to stay in Philadelphia, which gave him a shot when it seemed no one else would.
“Hopefully, I’ll be with the Eagles next year. We’ll see what happens,” said Vick, who added that he expects “everything to go according to plan.”
“We’ll see what happens over the next couple months. I just got to be patient and take it day by day,” he said.
Vick, who made his three previous Pro Bowls in six years with the Atlanta Falcons. He is being coached this week by the Falcons’ staff, though none of those coaches were in Atlanta when Vick was.
At practice Wednesday, Vick loosened up throwing passes to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who is making his first Pro Bowl appearance in his third season and succeeded Vick in Atlanta.
“Matt is great. The coaching staff is great. We’re just having a good time,” he said. “I like what they’re doing in the offense and it’s been easy. We’re going to go out and try to have fun and everybody enjoy each other.”
Vick looked sharp and fluid as he completed a 20-yard out to Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. On the next play, Vick faked a handoff to Peterson and then hit Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez going across the middle.
The Pro Bowl is the last stop in a remarkable comeback season for Vick.
After his 2007 arrest and later conviction, he went from living in a 20,000-square-foot mansion near Atlanta to broke and bankrupt. His reputation paid a bigger price as he went from hero to hated.
Vick served 18 months at Leavenworth, Kan.
This week he’s staying at a posh, oceanside hotel at Ko Olina Resort, savoring his experience with his teammates and soaking in the 80-degree weather.
“I’m definitely enjoying the weather. I’m about to hit the golf course right now, so we’ve got to cut the interviews short,” he said.
Things seem to be turning around for Vick off the field as well.
He just signed his first paid endorsement contract since his release from prison. He inked a two-year contract with Unequal Technologies, a provider of the shock-blocking football pads Vick wore most of the season.