FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Michael Vick remembers taking the drive to Philadelphia to restart his NFL career — and loathing every minute of the ride.
He was getting a second chance after serving nearly two years in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring. But Vick wasn’t sure if the Eagles were the right fit.
What if, he thought, after all this time away from football, he was making a huge mistake?
“I’ll never forget,” Vick recalled. “It was a place I didn’t want to be. I wanted to go to a team and start, but I knew I was going to sit behind Donovan (McNabb) and Kevin Kolb. I just remember being angry the whole trip and kind of upset — almost a disgruntled employee before I could even get there.”
Once Vick arrived on that August day in 2009, he sat down with McNabb, then-coach Andy Reid and then-offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and everything changed.
“I said, ‘OK,’” said Vick, now with the New York Jets and reunited with Mornhinweg. “I didn’t know how long it would be, but I was like, ‘OK, this can be my home for a year,’ and it ended up being home for five years. That’s how God works.”
Because of that, Vick says, Philadelphia will hold a special place in his heart, despite the rocky start. “There will always be the sense of gratitude,” he said. “That’ll never change.”
Vick, now the backup to Geno Smith with the Jets, is expected to take a few snaps Thursday night when he returns to Philadelphia in the teams’ preseason finale.
With the Eagles, Vick rehabilitated his image and re-established himself as one of the NFL’s most dynamic players. He dealt with injuries, too, but there was no doubt that the player whose eye-popping athletic ability was often compared to a video game was still there.
Even last season, Vick was looking good in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense until he injured a hamstring in the fifth game. He returned three games later, but was ineffective. Nick Foles replaced him during that game — and Vick never started again.
Despite how his five seasons ended in Philadelphia, Vick insisted he’s “absolutely” OK with it.
“I never want to play second fiddle to anybody,” he said, “but I just felt like that team was in such a groove that I didn’t want to try to become a distraction even though I could have fought for my position and fought for the job.
“But I just felt like that team was just in a good place and didn’t want to interrupt that.”
He became a free agent and signed with the Jets in March, fully aware that the team was going to give Smith every opportunity to be the starter in his second season.
After the Jets’ preseason loss to the Giants on Aug. 22, Rex Ryan announced that Smith would be under center in Week 1.
Meanwhile, Vick will be counted on to mentor Smith and be able to step in if the young quarterback falters — a role he accepted last season in Philadelphia.
“Yeah, I think it helped me for this situation that I’m in now and what’s taking place here in this point in my life,” Vick said. “You always envision yourself being a starter. You always want to be the guy behind the center, but times change and things change and we change as individuals, our feelings and emotions. I think I’ve changed over the years and I still have the same attitude, winning attitude, but now I kind of see things from a different perspective.
“It’s very humbling to be in the position that I’m in now because I get to see things from a different angle. That’s just as important as being a starter, if you ask me.”
Even at 34, Vick sees himself on film and knows he can play at a high level. That might have some wondering if Vick might still have signed with the Jets — rather than a place he could immediately start — if he had a chance to do it over again.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “The worst thing I could do is tell you, ‘No.’ The worst thing I could do is say, ‘I would have done it differently.’ … I’m just happy to be in this position. I think from the beginning I wouldn’t have made the decision if I didn’t think it was the right one.
“I can honestly and candidly say right now that I’m very thankful and grateful to be here as a Jet and excited about what we can accomplish this year.”
(DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer)