PHILADELPHIA — If not for a limousine ride in Tokyo in 2005, Michael Vick probably would not be back in the NFL today.
It was there, a few days before an exhibition game between Atlanta and Indianapolis, that the quarterback, then with the Falcons, had a chance meeting with Tony Dungy, then coach of the Colts. Neither man could have dreamed their paths now would be so intertwined.
Vick, a disgraced NFL superstar who spent 18 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting operation, is trying to resurrect his career. He was introduced Friday as the newest member of the Philadelphia Eagles, flanked by Dungy and head coach Andy Reid.
"I was wrong for what I did," Vick said in a standing-room-only news conference at the team's headquarters. "Everything that happened at that point in time in my life was wrong and unnecessary. And, for the life of me to this day, I can't understand why I was involved in such a pointless activity, and why I risked so much at the pinnacle of my career."
Dungy, who ministers to inmates, vouched for Vick's character and spoke to about a dozen NFL coaches, urging them to give him a second chance. The field of interested parties dwindled to three teams -- Dungy declined to name the other two -- and a deal was struck with the Eagles, who will pay Vick $1.6 million this season with a team option for another year at $5.2 million.
"I'm proud of the Philadelphia Eagles," said Dungy, who retired from coaching in January. "I know they didn't do this as a charity measure. They feel like Mike is going to help their football team and be a weapon for them. But they also stepped out to give a man a second chance, and I think that's important."
Not everyone agrees.
News of Vick's signing continued to ricochet Friday, with people sharply divided over whether he should be allowed to return. The front page of Friday's Philadelphia Daily News featured a large picture of Vick next to the headline "HIDE YOUR DOGS."
And it isn't yet clear how Eagles fans, considered among the most rabid in the NFL, will deal with Vick's return to football.
The No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft, Vick saw his career implode in August 2007 after admitting that he had financed an illegal dogfighting operation at his property in Virginia and participated in the killing of dogs. He launched the operation the year he was drafted.
Vick was sentenced to 23 months and served 20, the last two in home confinement.
The inhumanity of Vick's actions did not escape NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who called it "cruel and reprehensible" when he suspended the quarterback indefinitely.
Although protests were expected Friday in Philadelphia, at midday there were only four people in front of the team's headquarters holding hand-painted signs that read "No ♥ in Philly" and "Hide your beagle, Vick's an Eagle."
Meanwhile, according to Sports Business Daily, the price and number of tickets purchased on the online ticket site StubHub for the Eagles' Dec. 6 game at Atlanta against Vick's former team have tripled since he was signed.
Vick, 29, was known for his derring-do on the field, running and passing with abandon. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Vick in 2006 became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
But he has not played since and was cut loose by sponsors, including Rawlings, Upper Deck and Reebok.
The Eagles have not disclosed how they plan to use Vick except to say that Donovan McNabb will remain their starting quarterback.
"It's a surreal feeling right now," Vick said of his NFL return. "I couldn't have envisioned it two years ago. I was optimistic that it would happen one day, but I knew it was going to be a long process."
Part of that process was to work with the Humane Society to raise awareness about animal cruelty, something Vick has pledged to continue to do.
For Dungy, the exhibition game in Japan turned into an opportunity missed.
"We talked about getting together back in the States and going fishing," Dungy said. "We called a couple times and could never quite pull it off. So when the whole dogfighting thing came out, I just thought, 'Man, if we'd have had that 10-hour fishing trip, maybe it would have come up. Maybe I could have talked to him.' I really felt bad that it didn't work out. I was kind of looking for a way to reach out and talk to him."
That opportunity came this year when Vick's lawyer contacted Dungy and arranged for him to meet with Vick in prison. Dungy and Vick talked for three hours, and thoughts of a comeback began.
Perhaps no one could have brought this about other than Dungy, 53, a soft-spoken religious man who preaches fairness and faith and was widely admired by his NFL players and colleagues.
That faith was tested in December 2005 after the apparent suicide of his son, James, 18. But he continued coaching, and in 2007 Dungy became the first black coach to win a Super Bowl when his Colts beat the Bears. He retired as the winningest coach in Colts history.