Vick will go to and fro until he wins Super Bowl Aug. 2, 2004 / By Pete Prisco / SportsLine.com
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Michael Vick doesn’t quite have the Ben Wallace look yet, but it’s moving in that direction.
Getting a helmet over his growing hair might soon be a problem for Vick, the Atlanta Falcons do-everything quarterback. Yet, there will be no trips to the barbershop this summer or this season, not after what happened last summer.
“I’m growing my hair out it, and I’m not going to cut it until we win a Super Bowl,” Vick said. “I was going to let my hair grow last season, but I cut it three weeks before I got hurt. I’m really superstitious, so I’m going to let it grow. As bad as I want it off my head, and as hot as I am, I won’t cut it off until I win a Super Bowl. I will win a Super Bowl — someday.”
Revealing this piece of information as he sat comfortably in a golf cart at Furman University doing an interview, Vick wasn’t kidding. His hair is considerably longer than it has been for most of his career, which might be good for a bandana endorsement or two, but the preference would be for a nice, neat trim come next February.
Vick is coming off a nightmare season, one in which he became the poster-boy for why stars should be protected in the preseason. While scrambling in the Falcons’ second preseason game last summer, Vick suffered a broken leg, news that devastated a city and his growing legion of fans.
The NFL’s new poster boy, a weapon of the like the league has never seen, was shelved because of a meaningless game running a meaningless play.
It led to a year of mostly watching for Vick, and a year of losing for the Falcons. It ultimately cost coach Dan Reeves his job. One year after a playoff season and an upset of the Packers, the Falcons finished 5-11.
Maybe this was a one-man team? It sure looked that way.
We know better because football is a team sport, and Vick is quick to give a wave of the hand when the one-man band and savior talk is brought up.
“Just because I’m back doesn’t mean everybody else can simply not show up,” Vick said. “This is a team game. You need all 11 guys every play to succeed. We all have to play together.”
That sounds good, but without Vick this is a six-victory team. With him, they have playoff-and-beyond possibilities.
“The things he does amaze me every day,” Falcons coach Jim Mora said. “He’s getting better and better everyday. He’s a special player, and you can see him getting more and more confident with what we’re doing.”
Mora took over for Reeves and quickly made an offensive hire he believed he needed to win in coordinator Greg Knapp. That meant Vick would be learning a new offense, the West Coast with some varying principles to take advantage of his ability to get outside the pocket.
It is a timing offense, meant to get the ball in a rhythm. It’s an offense that made Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre great. But there are questions whether it’s an offense for Vick.
He has a bazooka for an arm and he would seem to be more of a big-play passer than one that would feast in the West Coast’s short passing game. Some have said he’s miscast as a West Coast quarterback. Don’t tell him that.
“I really don’t know what that means,” Vick said. “We have a system and you play within the system. It allows you to get the ball out of your hands. In Reeves’ system, we had plays similar to this. So, I don’t understand that.”
To help acclimate himself to the new system, Vick spent three days a week in the offseason with Knapp studying the offense, while also working on his mechanics.
Said Mora: “That tells you he wants to be great in this offense.”
The end result is a quarterback who appears comfortable with what he’s doing. While he still sometimes holds onto the ball too long — earning a scream from Knapp to get the ball out — Vick seems to be enjoying the new offense.
He’s also still moving outside the pocket, which might or might not be a good thing. Let’s put it this way: He isn’t about to change that, despite the injury last summer.
“Can’t stop, won’t stop, never will stop,” Vick said.
Why should he? Isn’t that like putting weights around the leg of a thoroughbred?
During one practice last week, Vick sprinted outside the pocket, saw a defensive back in front of him, put a move on to drop him to the ground and kept on trucking. How can anyone expect that Michael Jordan-like ability to be stifled?
“In any offense you put me in, when things break down, I’m going to get outside the pocket and move,” Vick said. “Just because this is a timing offense doesn’t mean I’m just a pocket passer. I’m going to get outside. That’s the way Michael Vick plays the game.
“When things break down, you won’t see a different side of me. West Coast, East Coast. It doesn’t matter. I’m taking off if I have to, to make things happen.”
When he does move outside the pocket, he will look to throw first, then, if that breaks down: “Of course, I will try to get out of bounds and get down to protect myself. I don’t want to have a repeat of what happened last year.”
That injury broke more than just a bone. It broke the spirits of the Falcons and it also led to some criticism for Vick, who was coming off such a wonderful season in 2002. When it took more time than expected for Vick to return, some questioned his desire. Was he working hard enough? Was his rehab working?
Normally easygoing and approachable — on the day of this interview, he gladly signed anything put in front of his face — Vick bristled at the notion he didn’t want to return to play, which he did for the final four games.
“I came back at about 80 percent because I was tired of sitting at home and hearing people saying I wasn’t taking my rehab seriously,” Vick said. “I took that as an insult and I wanted to get back and prove that I could play even though I wasn’t 100 percent.”
He’s back to 100 percent now and says there are no lingering physical effects from the injury. It’s a good thing when the only problem is a blister on his throwing thumb, which will force him to miss a day of practice.
“No problems with the leg at all,” he said.
That’s what the Falcons and their fans want and need to hear. The backups are impressive rookie Matt Schaub and veteran Ty Detmer, which says everything about the importance of Vick.
“Vick gets a tremendous amount of credit and has a lot on his shoulders from the media and the fans because of the perspective that we’re nothing without him,” linebacker Keith Brooking said. “Vick is the best athlete in the NFL, there’s no doubt about that. And we can’t afford to lose him again. But we also have to play better around him if this team is going to be better.”
The Falcons play in the tough NFC South, but Vick’s athletic ability makes them a division-winning threat. How much deeper they can get than that depends on his health and the improvement of the defense.
Vick said he plans to play in the preseason, but he will obviously defer to what the coaches want him to do. Vick needs to get work in the new offense, but risking a player of his magnitude in a meaningless game is a fine line.
At least this year, he has something else going for him in that growing hair, which is certainly going to get bigger and bigger each week.
“It’s staying,” he said, “until I win a Super Bowl. I mean it.”
The Falcons have their new motto: Hair’s to You, Michael Vick.
Or course, they’re hoping he gets a nice cut come next February.