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Falcon and Showman

With electrifying talent and uncanny instincts, Vick could become best ever

November 24, 2002|Paul Attner | Sporting News

Sort through the gifts -- the 4.3 speed and the arm strong enough to drill it 60 yards pretty much without a wobble and the instincts of a scrambling running back that have you thinking "Barry Sanders" -- and they leave you gasping for context.

No quarterback in NFL history has been blessed with this assortment of talent. Nobody. So does this make Michael Vick the future of quarterbacking? That's certainly the conventional wisdom around the league: To combat the increasing speed of defenses, you'll need this kind of special athlete. But it's difficult to be the future in a crowd of one. "If you can find other Michael Vicks in the next 10 years, order me a couple," says Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. Maybe as Vick matures and becomes dominant, it will stimulate high school coaches to keep their best athlete at quarterback. Maybe.

But this much already is a given about Vick, whether he becomes the next answer among quarterbacks or not: Before he retires, he will be acknowledged as the most exciting, electric player -- not just quarterback -- we've ever seen. And not just because of his dazzling running skills; his arm will prove just as thrilling.

Seeing is believing. And he is something to see -- a bundle of hip feints and foot fakes and rapid bursts and passes from any angle that make you laugh and smile -- and demand more. In a sport where teams, not individuals, sell tickets, Vick is emerging as that rare guy you'd pay to see. Brett Favre's like that now, as was Sanders. And Deion Sanders in his prime -- what was more fun than the anticipation of one of his punt returns?

That's how it's becoming with Vick -- on virtually every offensive play. Much like Barry Sanders, he has that innate ability to be average on one snap and look like Superman the next, the marvel who can get you to spill your popcorn -- and keep you standing. He can turn a three-yard rush into an ESPN minute, a scramble into a run for the memory bank. He already leads the league in "wows," yet he remains eons away from a quarterback with a full portfolio.

John Dorsey, Green Bay's director of college scouting, remembers the strange feeling that permeated Lambeau Field during the Packers' season-opening victory over the Falcons in September. Vick completed his first 10 passes, kept rallying the Falcons and did everything but replace Bart Starr on the stadium's Ring of Fame.

"When the game was over, there was a collective sense of relief from every fan in the place," says Dorsey. "Every time he touched the ball, you held your breath. He left a mark on Lambeau I haven't seen an opposing quarterback leave in a long time."

The Falcons' ticket manager has the easiest job in Atlanta these days. He's usually begging folks to attend games -- until this season, the team had only three sellouts since its 1998 Super Bowl season -- but they'll fill the Georgia Dome for all eight dates this year with fans who want just a glimpse of Vick.

"I'm from Atlanta, and when I retire, I'm going to have my butt in the Georgia Dome watching him," says Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers, whose team blew substantial second-half leads when Vick, among other heroics, converted passes on third and 22, third and 23 and third and 24 into first downs. "It's nerve-wracking defending him. I just hope and pray we don't have to play him again before I retire."

And what's great is, Vick gets it. He embraces his role as entertainer. He doesn't just want to succeed; he wants you and him to have fun while he does it. Every week, he can't wait to jump on that stage and turn on the lights and start the party. Yet he isn't strutting after every success, or boasting about it later. He gets it here, too; with his legs, you don't need any bluster.

"It's fun," he says. "You come out every week, and you know people want to see you do things to excite them, and you want to do things that make them want to come back to see you again. I hurt myself by trying to make something happen every time, but I know I have a special gift. And I'm not going to waste it."

In his first season as a full-time starter, he has created an unprecedented sense of anticipation throughout the league. If he can accomplish what he is doing now -- driving the 6-3-1 Falcons toward an improbable playoff berth after a 1-3 start, setting them up for a win or tie with three fourth-quarter comebacks, all the while zipping off amazing plays as routinely as Roger Clemens records strikeouts -- how scintillating will it be when he learns how to dissect a two-deep zone mixed with a max blitz?

"I can be the best ever," he says. "That's what I want to be. I understand I've been blessed with rare abilities, so it is up to me to develop them to their fullest."

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