A leader has the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.
- Arnold Glasow
When the Eagles lost to the Bears last month, sirens came this close to wailing.
But Michael Vick - yes, the Vick who was once led astray - doused the flame that was DeSean Jackson before he burst into a fire.
The scene was the postgame locker room, and the mercurial receiver had just been called out by head coach Andy Reid. Jackson sat at his stall, head buried in his hands. He groused to Vick, standing 10 feet away, about their failure to connect in the game, about his frustrations, about being singled out, about nearly everything.
It was a potentially combustible moment, with the media there to chronicle it.
But Vick simply listened as he dressed, and when he spoke he never raised his voice. Eventually, the quarterback walked toward his receiver, leaned in, and whispered something in his ear.
Asked later if Jackson was OK, Vick responded, "I'll get the young guy together."
The next day, as more details about the Jackson-Reid altercation swirled about, Vick stood in the middle of the team's practice facility locker room - because his stall could not contain a media throng - and faced the firing squad.
He answered question after question about his first real loss as the Eagles' starting quarterback and about his postgame conversation with Jackson without inflaming the situation or his receiver. It was a virtuoso performance.
Jackson, meanwhile, declined to talk. Vick said he was just sticking up for the receiver he likes to call "Little Bro."
"That's being real," Vick said last week. "I want to let him know that I have his back and I never tell him anything wrong, never tell him anything to hurt him. I got his best interests at heart, just like any other player."
In perhaps this most unexpected of seasons, Vick has become the unquestioned leader of the Eagles. Soft-spoken and quiet, Vick is the leader by example - the follow-me, "I'm about to score and you guys can help if you want to" type leader, as Eagles tackle Winston Justice said.
But he's also become much more vocal than he was in Atlanta. Whether it's giving a short pregame speech or an in-the-huddle pep talk or using the media to get his message across, Vick has strapped the Eagles to his back and led.
"Mike is preparing like a leader. He's practicing like a leader. He's acting like a leader. He's speaking like a leader," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "And all of that cumulatively has made him become an excellent leader for this football team."
Of course, it's easier to lead when you're winning. The true test will come in moments of adversity, and the biggest could come this Sunday at the Meadowlands, when the Eagles face the New York Giants for a showdown between NFC East leaders.
Walk the talk
Vick has a clipping hanging in his locker that reads, "Walk the Talk." It may be too easy to attach his fall from grace and the 18 months he served in prison for running a dogfighting operation to his improved leadership skills, but the Eagles say there is a correlation.
"He's been through a lot, and the main thing that he's done is that he's admitted the problem that he had," Reid said. "And he paid for it. And he doesn't have anything to hide. He is who he is. And so, that's what you're getting."
Vick said being a leader came naturally at a young age. With his father, Michael Boddie, often required to travel for work, eldest son Michael felt as if he was in control of the family - an older sister, two younger siblings, and even his mother, Brenda.
"My mom will even tell you now - when I was younger I acted as if I was in control of her, as far as things I wanted her to do, I wanted for her," Vick said. "She'll tell you I always thought I was the grandfather of the family. And that's just the role I take on with these guys."
By position, Vick is expected to lead, but he didn't say much during his six seasons with the Falcons. He's still not the rah-rah type.
"He's not what you expect from a quarterback," receiver Chad Hall said. "He'll say something 30 seconds to a minute long before the game and everything he says is real detailed. And he rarely gets fired up. I've seen him get fired up once or twice if someone doesn't do what they're supposed to do."
With skill-position players who average about 24 years of age, the 30-year-old Vick's laid-back attitude works well. Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, 22, for example, said he did not need constant chatter out of his quarterback.
"Obviously, every once in a while you need to hear it," Maclin said. "But at the same time, people can talk all they want, but eventually you got to show up or shut up. And Vick's showed up every game this season."
But when he speaks up, the troops listen, especially in the huddle.
"There are certain plays that we'll call and he knows the keys to that play being successful," guard Todd Herremans said. "So he'll come into the huddle, 'All right, guys, you got to get the hands down on this one for me,' or, 'All right, guys, a little bit more time on this one than last time,' or, 'We need to get yards off this run here, drive them off the ball.' "
Ultimately, Vick inspires by his sheer resolve. As Mornhinweg said, he just oozes determination. And there is no better example of that than when Vick is extending a play by either shedding tackles or avoiding them.
"I know if I give him a little bit more time than usual, he's either going to find somebody or take off running," tackle Jason Peters said. "That's what really motivates you, when you know the quarterback - if you block your guy for four or five seconds - even if nobody's open, he's going to make a play."
If Vick commands attention on the few occasions he strays from script, he could use a megaphone the rest of the time.
"I played with Drew Bledsoe," Peters said. "I think Drew was the best of all the quarterbacks I played with, as far as demanding attention in the huddle. Mike's more calm, laid back, and when the time comes he demands your attention. He's not very loud."
When the blitz of media gathers around Vick's locker during his Wednesday interview session, it's almost impossible to hear him unless you're directly in front. His predecessor, Donovan McNabb, held his normally scheduled news conference from a podium in the NovaCare Complex auditorium, and gave out few interviews in the locker room.
Vick, who hardly turns down locker room requests from reporters, said he has been more accessible with the media in Philadelphia than he was in Atlanta.
"I didn't like it in the beginning," Vick said of his first dealings with the media in Atlanta. "But as time went on I got used to it because I understood that it was just something that came along with playing the position."
There used to be times when Vick would come off as too boastful. That came from utter confidence. But he's learned to tone down his immodesty, even if it creeps out occasionally.
Like, for instance, when he was asked about his 91-yard touchdown pass to Jackson - "I threw it in the perfect spot," he said - last week against the Cowboys. But in that same news conference, he also delicately managed to criticize Jackson and yet compliment him at the same time when he was asked about the receiver's penalty-drawing Nestea plunge in the end zone at the end of the score.
"You really have to watch what you say because some people can be sensitive to certain subjects or certain topics or things you may say verbally about them," said Vick, who called the celebration unnecessary. "So I just try to say it the correct way and sometimes use constructive criticism or positive criticism, not trying to always be politically correct."
When asked about Vick's disapproval, however, Jackson said, "That's his own opinion. He's his own man. I'm my own man."
So, with three games remaining and the playoffs still in doubt, it remains to be seen if the quarterback can once again soothe his fiery receiver.