Top 50 Hokies Spotlight: Michael Vick
Michael Vick is an enigma.
Star… convict… loved…hated…revered…loathed…redeemed
We all know the story. We’ve seen and heard it again and again. And in the past year the “Vick” ESPN 30 for 30 film brought Vick’s story once again to all sports fans.
However, Michael Vick almost never became a Hokie. He wanted to attend Syracuse, because of his admiration for Donovan McNabb. Fortunately for the Hokie faithful, Vick was sold on the ability to stay close to his friends and family, and be mentored and coached by Frank Beamer; he chose Blacksburg to call home.
Vick exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman from Newport News, Virginia, in 1999. In his first game against James Madison, Vick recorded three rushing touchdowns in just one quarter of play. The #11 BCS ranked Hokies ended up walloping the Dukes 47-0. This JMU game began the most legendary Hokie season of all-time.
Vick became must-see TV. As his legend began to grow after each win, the Hokie games started to be nationally televised. Leading up to the National Championship game, Virginia Tech had six straight nationally televised games. The Hokies national exposure captured the attention of American college football fans who finally were introduced to Virginia Tech football. While the Hokies had a massive win a few years prior against Texas in the Sugar Bowl, Tech was still not a household name when compared to the Michigans, Alabamas, and Florida States of the college football world.
Vick most certainly changed that. He was electrifying. No one had seen the quarterback position ever played the way he did it before and everyone wanted to see as much as they could of the Hokies QB. His Tech highlight reel remains one of the most ridiculous of all-time.
Vick delivered on the hype and the Hokies went 11-0 in 1999, a perfect undefeated regular season, and were rewarded with a birth in the 2000 BCS Sugar Bowl National Championship game against Florida State. Die-hard Tech fans will remember how the students, now famously, tore down the goal posts in Lane Stadium after Tech beat Boston College to secure an undefeated season before going on to face FSU.
As most Hokie faithful remember, the Hokies were just one quarter away from beating Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles to claim the National Championship trophy. Vick, with some help from Corey Moore on defense, almost single-handedly brought the Hokies back from a 21-point deficit to secure a 29-28 lead going into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Hokies ended up losing the game 46-29.
Vick finished the 1999 season with over 2,000 passing yards, over 680 rushing yards, and 30 touchdowns (21 passing, 9 rushing). He appeared on ESPN the Magazine, won the ESPY for the nation’s best college player, won the Big East Offensive Player of the Year, won the Big East Rookie of the Year, and, somehow, only finished third in Heisman voting behind Ron Dayne and Joe Hamilton.
After coming off of a loss in the title game, the 2000 season began with National title hopes, with Vick returning for his redshirt sophomore year, but he was injured against Pittsburgh and was forced to miss the UCF game and the start of the Miami game in the middle of the season.
Tech ended up climbing the rankings to #2 before losing to said #3 Miami team. The Miami game was their sole loss of the season. Vick and the Hokies went 10-1 in the regular season and Vick’s final game in the maroon and orange was a 41-20 win against #16 Clemson in the 2001 Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. Vick finished the 2000 season with 1200+ passing yards, 600+ rushing yards, and 16 TDs (8 pass, 8 rush).
Vick later declared for the 2001 NFL draft and was selected as the #1 pick by the Atlanta Falcons. He was the first African-American quarterback to go number one in the history of the NFL. This was only the second time a Hokie had gone #1 in the NFL draft, with Bruce Smith going first overall in the 1985 draft to the Buffalo Bills.
After being drafted, Vick’s career path was the subject to sustained publicity due to his once-in-a-generation type talent. Here are a few highlights of his professional football journey:
- Defeated Brett Favre and the Packers in Lambeau in the first round of the playoffs in 2003
- Signed a 10 year $130 million contract with the Falcons ($37M guaranteed) in 2004 which made him the NFL’s highest paid player at that time
- Appeared on Madden 2004 game cover
- Received endorsements from Nike, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Powerade, Kraft, and more
- Selected to four Pro Bowls (2002, 2004, 2005, 2010)
- Shifted the culture in the NFL; appeared in music videos with hip-hop artists
- First NFL QB to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and still holds the record for most career rushing yards by a QB with 6,109
And let us not forget the legendary "Michael Vick Experience" ad below:
But Vick also attracted attention for his off-the-field activities:
- In July 2007 Vick and three others were formally indicted on federal felony charges of operating an illegal interstate dog fighting business (“Bad Newz Kennels”)
- In August 2007 Vick accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to “Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture.” He also admitted to providing most of the finances for the operation and to participating directly in certain dog fights in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina
- In November 2007 Vick turned himself in early to begin serving time against his impending federal prison sentence
- On December 10, 2007 Vick was sentenced to serve 23 months in Leavenworth Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas
- On July 20, 2009 Vick was released from prison
After this series of career crippling events, Vick’s redemption began on the football field in his comeback season:
- After his release from prison, Vick was mentored by legendary coach Tony Dungy
- Almost all NFL teams passed on signing Vick, until Donovan McNabb gave then Eagles head coach, Andy Reid, the idea of adding Vick to the roster
- Vick signed a one-year contract with the Eagles worth $1.6 million in August 2009
- Vick was named the Eagles starting QB in 2010 after Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion and that decision gave Vick just what he needed to prove he could still perform at an elite level
- He lead the Eagles to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth, which included the now historic “Monday Night Massacre,” where Vick torched the Redskins on ESPN’s Monday Night Football for 333 passing yards, four touchdowns, 80 rushing yards, and two rushing touchdowns. This also included an 88-yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson on the first play of the game. The Eagles won 59-28. Vick’s jersey from this game hangs in the NFL Hall of Fame, as he was the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards, rush for more than 50 yards, throw four TD passes, and rush for two TDs in a single game
- Vick finished the 2010 season with 3,000+ passing yards, 676 rushing yards, and 30 total touchdowns (21 passing, 9 rushing)
- Vick was named to his 4th Pro Bowl in 2010 and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year
- On August 29, 2011 Vick signed a 6-year, $100 million contract with the Eagles, where he had nearly $40M guaranteed
- Andy Reid departed and Chip Kelly took over the Eagles in 2013 and that, combined with multiple injuries, signaled the end of Vick’s tenure in Philadelphia
- Vick bounced around the league from 2014 to his eventual retirement in 2017. He played briefly for the Jets and the Steelers during that time
- On June 12, 2017 Vick retired from the NFL
His retirement from the NFL marked the end of his highly publicized life. If you bring his name up some people will still hate him for his crimes and some will support him for his heroics on the field and his amends he made to society after being released from prison.
What is not as well known about Vick’s post-incarceration life is that he is now one of the most prominent animal rights activists in the entire country. For those who say it’s just a “publicity stunt” it’s hard to ignore just how sincere he is whenever he appears to show his support for animals and how sustained his activism is, both from a financial and personal standpoint.
Vick has appeared with lawmakers to support certain animal right’s bills, such as PA House Bill 1516, named the “pets in cars bill” which gives police officers in Pennsylvania the authority to rescue dogs and cats from cars due to unsafe temperatures.
In 2014, Vick publicly backed the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which makes it a federal crime to attend an organized animal fight. President Obama eventually signed that into law in February 2014.
And just two years ago, Vick delivered a speech at Liberty University, where he spoke passionately about his faith and how that has influenced his ongoing quest for animal welfare and self-improvement. He also continues to raise money and awareness via multiple partnerships with charities and organizations that support the animal rights movement.
To go along with the constant self-improvement, Vick joined FOX Sports in 2017 as a NFL Studio analyst and that same year, was honored by the Falcons in a glowing retirement ceremony. Also, in 2019, he was chosen to serve as an NFL Pro Bowl Legends Captain.
To come full circle, Vick was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in the fall of 2017. His #7 is retired by the school and sits with other legends, including Frank Beamer and Bud Foster, above North Endzone. He can still be spotted every now and then on the sideline during Virginia Tech home football games and occasionally will appear during breaks in the game to hype the crowd up.
Although controversy may follow him everywhere he goes, Vick will always embody the Hokie spirit. He achieved great success at the highest level of his profession, fell to great depths that nearly ruined is life, but he never quit and redeemed himself and his reputation. That is the Hokie spirit he embodies: never quit; always improve yourself, and; contribute to the benefit of your community.