BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Andy Reid has employed the same talking points for more than a decade. You know them well. They're like lyrics from a song you can't forget.
One of Reid's favorite phrases, ratty and worn from years of use, is that he needs to put his players in better positions. As far as Michael Vick is concerned, Reid, Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner failed miserably on that front. They set Vick up to fail. The good-citizen bar was set too high above his head for him to clear.
On Monday, shortly before he reported to training camp, Vick was cleared by the NFL to play football. Vick reportedly met with commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the shooting that occurred outside the quarterback's Virginia Beach birthday bash in the early hours of June 25. The league was apparently satisfied with what Vick disclosed.
But this isn't really about football. It never has been. It wasn't when the Eagles signed Vick. It wasn't when Reid tried to pound Vick's square quarterbacking skills into the team's round offensive system. It wasn't when the team elevated Vick to the backup quarterback role after trading the face of the franchise over the last decade - a man who, it should be noted, never went to federal prison. Then again, Donovan McNabb had trouble with the short passing game. No one's perfect.
The Eagles' relationship with Vick - seen as unseemly by some, tricky by all - was supposed to be about more than football (a good thing considering his pigskin contribution was almost nonexistent last year). The standards for Vick were supposed to be higher, more significant - not because that's what you wanted, but because that's how the Eagles said it would be.
They set the expectations. They positioned him as an "agent for social change." They assured us he'd be a "role model." And they promised, if he failed to comport himself properly, that it wouldn't take "very long to make that change."
The Eagles haven't made a change. Vick is in camp and it appears he'll be in town for the season. This despite the fact that - one more time and with feeling - he threw a party he acknowledged he never should have held, a gathering where one of the attendees took home a bullet wound as a party favor.
No one thinks Vick pulled the trigger - not the Virginia Beach police or the prosecutor, not the NFL or the Eagles. But it's clear Vick made a dreadful decision in Virginia Beach. He acknowledged that on Monday and told reporters he's "on thin ice." Wasn't he on thin ice before? Considering how things heated up after his 30th birthday celebration, that ice surely must have melted by now.
Vick said he doesn't know who allegedly shot Quanis Phillips - a former member of his dogfighting cabal - but revealed he learned of the attack "15 or 20 minutes" after it happened. News travels fast. When asked who told him about the shooting, Vick said: "It doesn't matter." It does matter, of course, if that person is a witness. I asked Vick if the person who told him Phillips had been shot saw the crime go down. Either Vick didn't hear me or he didn't want to address it because he didn't answer.
It was fitting. That's sort of how the Eagles have handled the Vick situation - by not answering certain questions. Recently, Banner told The Inquirer "everything that came out of the police investigation and everything we learned from our own calls and inquiries was completely consistent with the story I was initially told, much of which is very different from what was and still has been reported."
Banner then refused to explain what the team had learned about the incident. That seems silly since the Eagles promised Vick wouldn't be a "disruption." As far as "disruptions" go, bang, bang is pretty high on the list. If the team has information explaining why Vick hasn't violated the organization's self-imposed "zero tolerance" policy, why wouldn't the Eagles share and suppress the negative fallout?
We still don't know, for example, what was said between Vick and Phillips, how long they interacted at the party or what may have led to the early-morning shooting. Reid was asked about that Monday but said he wouldn't "get into it." Reid was also pressed on whether Vick has fulfilled the "role model" clause in his "agent for social change" contract.
"Well obviously until this incident came up, I thought he did just a phenomenal job with trying to right himself in the situation he was in," Reid said. "The people here who do know Michael know Michael is a very nice person. You just have to make sure that you don't put yourself in a bad situation."
Until this incident came up? If he was trying to tell a joke, Reid should be commended for the expert deadpan delivery. He seemed serious, though.
The incident did come up, and Vick did put himself in a bad situation. Reid just sort of talked around that, as though it's all hypothetical and not reality. Maybe he thought it was clever misdirection, but not answering the role model question actually revealed quite a bit.
But, hey, the first day of training camp wasn't all ducking and dodging. Now we know Vick is a "very nice person."