HERE IN PHILLY, we think we know everything about Michael Vick.
We know the big stuff: The hardscrabble youth in Newport News, Va. The breakout stardom at Virginia Tech. The 2001 draft, in which he became the first African-American quarterback to be taken first overall. The sold-out games in Atlanta. The $130 million contract with the Falcons - the biggest in NFL history.
We know the horrible stuff: The five years as a full-blown dogfighter. The 54 dogs rescued from his Bad Newz Kennels. The indictment saying he savagely killed eight dogs. The suspicion he killed more. The media frenzy. The protests. The 19 months behind bars. The house arrest. The financial troubles.
We know the surprising stuff: The move to Philly to take a backup job. "The Michael Vick Project" on BET. Taking over the starting job. The stunning performances. The records: first player in NFL history with at least 300 yards passing, 50 yards rushing, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a game; most points scored in a quarter. We know about the Comeback Player of the Year Award, about the adulation: the proliferation of No. 7 jerseys all over Philadelphia; the new Nike endorsement - the first time the company has brought back an athlete it previously dropped.
This is the stuff we know about Michael Vick. It makes some of us proud of him. It makes some of us pissed. And it makes a lot of . . . confused.
But there's something we might not know, something that comes out when you talk to the everyday people who've encountered Vick. Maybe this something will clear things up, focusing a picture of a man previously defined only by extremes. Here goes: When it comes to the day-to-day, Mike Vick is a nice guy - a really nice guy.
Last October, Temple student Kyle Glover, 24, went to the Columbus Boulevard Best Buy to get a PlayStation 3. When he got there, Glover, who goes by K.G., noticed a commotion. At the center of the commotion: Michael Vick. Shoppers had encircled the Eagle, taking cellphone photos, requesting autographs.
For a minute, K.G. joined the crowd. He wanted to get a photo for his mom, whom he described as a "crazy Eagles fan." But it seemed like too much trouble.
"I'm not one of those type of guys who wanna keep bothering people," said K.G.
Turns out, they met anyway, because Vick ended up standing behind Glover in the checkout line. The two started talking, first about Madden, the popular video game, then about the cost of the PS3. Vick said he was an Xbox fan, and didn't even play the brand-new PS3 he had at home. Would K.G. wanna take it off his hands for 200 bucks? He'd throw in games and controllers, too.
No one would ever accuse Michael Vick of being a savvy businessman. (Case in point: The latest apparent conflict between exclusive contracts he signed for competing sports supplements.) But K.G. wasn't thinking about the transaction as much as he was thinking about just getting to be around Vick.
"I was like, I love my Eagles, and you're like one of my favorite football players, and it's for real," he recalled. He followed the quarterback into the parking lot, then to Vick's high-rise condo building on North Columbus Boulevard.
K.G. waited in the building's lobby. One of Vick's buddies brought the game down to him. K.G. took it home, plugged it in, and . . .
It didn't work. "I'm thinking, he sold me a broke PlayStation," said K.G. "But then, I'm like, he's a millionaire. He's not gonna jerk me."
He drove back to Vick's building and left him a note. Not 10 minutes later, his phone rang. It was Vick, apologizing. Turns out K.G.'s old TV wasn't compatible with the game system. A couple of days later, the player and the fan undid the swap. Vick told K.G. to keep the games. Then he did something else: He scored K.G. tickets to that week's home game.
From then on, whenever K.G. wanted to see the Birds at home, he called Vick. He and his friends sat in the players' section. He took his mom to the Falcons game. He got seats for, yes, Dallas. "It was like a dream, man," he said. "The majority of people in the NFL wouldn't have did that. . . . It was just crazy 'cause I was a regular guy."
K.G.'s isn't the only "I met Michael Vick and he's nice" story around. Turns out Vick has a reputation: for being kind to parking valets, gym attendants, store clerks, concierges . . . and pretty much everyone he meets; for helping out in his daughter's kindergarten class; for retweeting his followers' posts.
In June, a high-school football coach from New York messaged Vick's fiancee, Kijafa Frink, on Facebook. He told Frink he had a student who looked up to Vick but had been in trouble. He asked if, somehow, Vick would reach out to this kid. Frink passed along the message. Vick invited the boy and his coach to the glam opening of Frink's South Street jewelry shop, PNKelephant. At the event, Vick took the student under his wing. By the end of the night, the kid went home with photos, autographs . . . and Michael Vick's phone number.
This is just the day-to-day. Vick has bought uniforms and equipment for the football team of the Boys and Girls Club of Newport News. He's spoken to kids at Germantown High School, Boys Latin Charter, Juniata Park Academy, Neuva Esperanza, Imhotep Institute Charter, Hunting Park Rec Center, Roberto Clemente Middle School, Del-Val Charter. That these appearances go far to showcase his goodwill almost seems beside the point. He likes hanging out with these kids.
It's not just kids. His publicist, Chris Shigas, recently took steps to protect his client from himself - telling Vick he had to stop signing autographs in airports. "There's no place to hide in airports," Shigas explained. "He could get swamped."
But does it matter? Does it say something about Vick that will actually change our opinion of him? And maybe the better question: Why does he do it? Is it selfish or sincere?
All we know is that, according to the conditions of his probation, he doesn't have to do any community service, and no law can mandate that you have to be nice to strangers.
"You gotta be good to people," is all he would recently say on the matter.
But you can almost hear the retort from his detractors: Good to people, sure.
What about dogs?
"If I could turn back time, I would," he's said, again and again, along with, "I'm sorry for what I did to the animals."
Sorry, your mom might say, doesn't cut it. At least not for loads of animal lovers who won't forget the horrific things he did to those dogs. "Can the sorry ever sound genuine, ever?" asked Sue Cosby, chief executive of the PSPCA. According to the Humane Society, Vick has delivered his anti-dogfighting, stay-out-of-trouble message to at least 10,000 at-risk kids. And yet, even though he's tried to explain the contradictory idea that despite his savagery toward dogs, that deep down, he respects dogs, even loves them, some people - a lot of people - don't buy it, and never will.
"There's a good portion, a sizable portion of the world that has real questions if Michael Vick is truly quote-unquote rehabilitated, or if what he's doing is more tied to his motivation for restoring his career," said Cosby. "I don't know if anyone other than a psychologist could determine that. And even then, you don't know what's in his heart."
His heart. Isn't that what we'd all like to know? What he really feels, if he's really changed?
Last week, Vick made his first lobbying trip to Capitol Hill. He was there to support new federal-level punishments for spectators at an animal fight and for adults who bring children to an animal fight.
He'd been invited to the Hill before. Four years ago, he was schedule to lobby Congress for increased funding for after-school programs. He never showed. He didn't show the next morning either - and that was for a congressional breakfast where he was going to receive an honor for his foundation's work. The next day, April 25, 2007, Vick's house, the site of Bad Newz Kennels, was raided by police.
You know the rest of the story.
But last Wednesday, a suit-and-tied Vick went back to Washington. His showed up on time for his first event of the day, a news conference with Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., the chairman of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, the co-sponsor of the legislation.
There, before news cameras, Vick wasn't a regular guy. He was a celebrity, but he was also a sinner. And, for what must have been the thousandth time, he apologized, and tried to explain where he'd been, and where he was trying to go. "During my time in prison, I told myself I wanted to be part of the solution, and not the problem," he said. "Today, I'm here to . . . help address the problem and break the cycle."