New Eagles quarterback Michael Vick returned to the NFL with his introductory press conference at a jam-packed NovaCare Complex auditorium, meeting with the local and national media.
"I'm glad to have an opportunity at a second chance and I won't disappoint," said Vick, wearing a pinstriped suit and flanked by coach Andy Reid and adviser Tony Dungy.
Outside the gates, there were about 50 people, many protesting but others supporting Vick. One man has a put bull, wearing a No. 7 Falcons jersey.
Vick struck several themes, in which he expressed contrition, and called being in position to return to the NFL "a surreal feeling."
* "It was a point in my life before I was even convicted or before the allegations even came out that I knew it was wrong and I felt it was wrong," Vick said. "Just when I was trying to turn the corner, it was too late. Everything happens for a reason. There's a reason I was sent to Kansas, a reason I was convicted. I was conscious of that fact. To this day, I have to deal with that shame and embarrassment."
* "We all used the excuse that it was part of our culture. I don't think that is an excuse. I was abiding by that rule at the time. When I went to prison, I had plenty of time to think about what I did. Saw people's reaction … Now I understand people care about their animals, their health, their welfare, the protections of their animals. Now I do."
* "I was wrong for what I did. Everything that happened at that point in time was wrong. I can't understand why I was involved to this day … I was a naive to a lot of things. If I can help more animals than I can hurt then I have contributed and I have done my part."
* "I now know playing in the NFL is a privilege and not a right. I want to do whatever is necessary and be the best ambassador to the NFL and in the community."
Vick also said he would contribute to the community and make a "conscious effort" to continue his work with the Humane Society.
"My actions will speak louder than my words, to be proactive, involved in community. People will see that in due time. I have been working with the Humane Society, working with certain inner cities and communities to make sure we attack the problem."
Owner Jeffrey Lurie, an acknowledged dog lover, had some harsh comments for Vick's actions, calling them horrific and not meeting the basic standards of human decency. Lurie made a 14-minute opening statement, detailing his feelings.
"His legend, he will be successful if he can diminish the level of animal cruelty and that's it," Lurie said. "If he is not proactive, he will not be on the team, because that is part of the agreement."
Lurie also tried to look forward. He described a lot of soul searching and a long meeting with he and Vick. Lurie said it was the first he had been so involved in the process of signing a player.
"My hope as we go forward is Michael will prove his value in society," Lurie said. "Whether he becomes a good football player again, it's possible. He's got an opportunity to become a good member of society. That's the goal here."
Vick, who has not played in an NFL game since December 2006, is expected to practice with the Eagles for the first time tomorrow. He is eligible to play in the third preseason game against Jacksonville. His regular season debut is still up in the air, pending review by comissioner Roger Goodell. It could come as late as Week 6.
"I've been away from game for two years. Have to crawl before I can walk," Vick said. "I can't imagine trying to be a starter for a football team. As much God-given ability as I have, I don't think I could do it. I think I could, but wouldn't want to risk it. I need time to get my feet wet ... I thought this was a perfect scenario, a perfect situation to learn from Donovan [McNabb] … I want to get with Coach Reid and Donovan and become a complete quarterback."
Vick said he has tested his physical skills, although it will take time to get acclimated.
"I am ready to go," Vick said. "I stayed in shape, did all the things to keep up my physical physique. It was hard when I was away, but last two months, I have done the things to maintain my weight, my build, my speed. I think I have tested the waters and I feel great."
Vick was asked about the reaction he expected from the fans.
"Hopefully, it's positive … Fans expect a lot of the players. We have to put on a great performances, put on a how and ultimate winning games. Sometimes they're good to you, sometimes they're not so good. That is part of the game, that is part of this business."
Reid struck on the theme of second chances, as he did after last night's game.
"The majority of the public wants Michael to do well," Reid said.
As for joining the Eagles, Dungy expressed that Vick was in the right place. He said he would be available to help Vick and the Eagles in whatever way he was asked.
"I am really happy that things turned out this way," Dungy said. "I am proud of the Philadelphia Eagles. I know they didn't do this as a charity measure … They also stepped out to give a man a second chance and I think that is important. I think this is going to work out great. I didn't think he could be with a better organization … Have a great support system here in place for him."
Asked why he landed with the Eagles, Vick said: "I know everyone is thinking why Philadelphia. It's a flagship organization, great tradition, great staff, a winning team. They have a great team in place and want to be a part of that … I want to give the team every opportunity to win a Super Bowl. I'm considering this my first year, just trying to fit in wherever I can and get acclimated and do whatever I can to help this team succeed and reach the Super Bowl."
Vick's former team, the Atlanta Falcons, issued a brief statement: "Michael is going to a first-class organization and will receive tremendous support from Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, Team President Joe Banner, Head Coach Andy Reid and Quarterback Donovan McNabb. Michael has been given a good opportunity to restart his career in the NFL, and we wish him well."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released this statement: "I have said several times in recent weeks that I want Michael to be one of the NFL's success stories as an individual and as a football player. I believe he can accomplish both goals with the Eagles organization which has done an outstanding job in the community and on the field these last 15 years under the direction of owner Jeffrey Lurie. I know the Eagles will provide strong support but, ultimately, Michael's success is up to him and the decisions he makes."