MICHAEL VICK, Andy Reid and Tony Dungy had exited the stage, and the owner of the Eagles was sitting up there, alone. And when Jeffrey Lurie spoke, you never heard a better example of eloquent ambivalence.

The day before, it was within Lurie's power to tell them "no" - Vick, Reid, Dungy, all of them - but he told them "yes." He agreed to sign Vick to a contract. He divided a football city. Now Lurie was trying to explain why.

He did an imperfect job of that. But he did an impeccable job of revealing just how hard this decision was for him, how they really had to drag him to the point of agreeing to sign Vick, how he was hopeful, but also skeptical. As he said, "When you're asked to approve something that you completely find despicable and anathema, it takes a lot of soul-searching."

Thursday night, it seemed clear that if Reid had not seen the personal value of second chances as a result of the problems of his sons, this signing might very well not have happened. Yesterday, it seemed just as clear that if Lurie had not long held the belief that a pro sports franchise has an obligation to be an agent for social change, this signing might not have taken place.

I do not condemn it, because I believe Vick is entitled to a second chance. I do not condemn it, because I believe he does have an opportunity to do good off the field and to become a difficult weapon for opponents to defend against on the field.

But, more than anything, I am fascinated by this confluence of experiences, Reid's experiences and Lurie's experiences. It is, in its way, a perfect storm of personalities - and it is the only way this could have happened.

"I don't think I saw this as an opportunity or a position of being a crusader," Lurie said at one point, but it is hard to avoid that conclusion. If football considerations were the ultimate driving force - and they have to be, don't they? - the societal considerations were clearly a part of the impetus.

As Lurie acknowledged, "The question became somewhat, for me, 'Could this man I don't know, Michael Vick, become an agent for change?' Could one be counterintuitive here on my part, take away the hatred for this kind of behavior, and say, 'Going forward, can this human being, Michael Vick, like some that deserve a second chance, could he become a positive force in our community, Philadelphia, nationally?' Could that be, or is this just a method to reinvigorate a career and not really have both the remorse and the commitment?"

At a time when emotions around the city have rarely been more conflicted, the man was never more eloquent. Lurie's condemnation of Vick's criminal history involving dogfighting was as withering as it was extensive. " . . . [H]orrific behavior," is what he called it at one point.

"I don't even have words to describe the cruelty, the torture, the complete disregard for any definition of common decency. I don't have the words."

His skepticism about Vick's sincerity was real, too. Lurie was at his most compelling when he described his attempt to search beyond Vick's words, saying, "I needed to see a lot of self-hatred in order to approve this."

The emotions appeared genuine and heartfelt. None of us has ever heard Lurie speak so effectively, not in his 15 years of owning the team. But the real question still hangs there. Why?

Lurie's journey from opposition to openness on the subject of Vick - an obviously difficult journey for someone who has had two dogs die in recent years, and who currently has two other dogs, one of which was rescued from abuse - is poignant. But the next step, from openness to action, remains less clear.

This is as close as he came to explaining: "I'm very respectful of the talent on the field and also the character of the players we have. If I thought for one instance that this player would be disruptive or unable to be a good teammate and not become a role model, then there's no way I would have allowed this to happen. If it becomes at all apparent that we are wrong, it won't take very long to make that change.

"I've often said that we are full pedal to the metal, and when coach Reid said this man can give us a dimension that we don't have, and add another weapon to our offense in unpredictable ways, in partnership with the players that we have and the quarterback we have, then again, a soul-searching, tough decision, but something that we think can improve the team and, at the same time, create social change."

Lurie seemed pained by the experience, though still unsure. In that, he has never been more like his paying customers. *

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