When the Eagles' 2009 season ended with back-to-back losses to the Cowboys, Michael Vick never thought he'd be standing in front of his locker nearly a year later, getting ready to play Dallas as the Eagles' starting quarterback, fielding questions about taking over the overall voting lead for the Pro Bowl.

"I thought I was going to get traded," when the Eagles exited the playoffs in the first round, Vick said yesterday. Vick said he also thought the team might not pick up his $1.5 million option payment in March.

Even after management picked up the option and didn't trade him, Vick prepared for this season as Kevin Kolb's backup, a very long way from 729,838 online votes in the tabulation the NFL announced yesterday, ahead of Peyton Manning's 691,146. Vick recalled thinking it was going to be a long season for him, after a taste of success in Game 2, before Andy Reid's surprise announcement that Vick would become the starter, 2 days later.

"I went from starting one game [at Detroit] and thinking I'm going back to the sidelines to, 'now you take the reins,' " Vick said.

Vick has completed 63.4 percent of his passes, with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions, for a 105.7 passer rating. He said the voting is "a credit to everything I've tried to accomplish, on and off the field," since returning to the NFL last season after going to prison for running a dogfighting ring. "Just working as hard as I can to change things around, be a part of the solution, not the problem. I've changed my life. It goes to show anybody can do it.

"It was an unfortunate situation. Things happened, I wish I could go back and change it all. I wish I could take it all back but I can't. The only thing I can do is just move forward."

Online voting continues through Dec. 20 with the Pro Bowl team selected by a combination of voting by the fans, the players and the coach. Behind Vick and Colts QB Manning are New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (623,074), Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (591,598) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (547,340).

David Akers leads among kickers with 131,631 votes.

Urban Legend

Eagles rookie wideout Riley Cooper went back to Florida during the little break the Birds had after beating the Texans last Thursday. Cooper said yesterday he never heard a whisper about Gators coach Urban Meyer retiring.

"I'm definitely real surprised," Cooper said. "I know it's for a good reason. He loves his family. That's real important to him, as it should be. He's doing the right thing."

Cooper, who grew up in Clearwater, said he didn't "even want to think about anybody coaching the University of Florida other than Urban Meyer," who announced yesterday he was retiring to spend more time with his family.

Cooper said Meyer was probably the top reason he signed with the Gators.

"Just the type of guy he was-he was real straightforward with me, a straight shooter, and I like that. That's the type of person I am," Cooper said.


Defensive end Trent Cole said he was fined $25,000 after the Texans game - $20,000 for a knees-high hit on QB Matt Schaub, an assessment Cole plans to appeal, and $5,000 for rolling up his jersey sleeves . . . Rookie defensive end Brandon Graham was asked what teammates have told him about the Cowboys. "That they're going to be cheap-shotting," Graham said. "They play to the whistle, so you've got to be ready. They're aggressive. They try to be overly aggressive most of the game. You see people getting pushed into the pile until the whistle, all the way, even when they know they're defenseless" . . . Right tackle Winston Justice (knee) did not practice yesterday, but Justice said he hopes to practice today, and plans to play against Dallas. *