FOR A LOT of people who have interviewed Michael Vick in the 2 years since he finished his federal prison term and began his return to the NFL, the central question is, "What kind of person is this?"
Charles Chandler thinks he knows. Chandler, 51, covered the Carolina Panthers and the NFL for the Charlotte Observer for 17 years before he left the daily newspaper grind last year. Now Chandler and co-author Brett Honeycutt have written "Michael Vick: Finally Free," due out July 27 and billed as the autobiography of the Eagles' quarterback, whose journey from superstardom to prison for dogfighting back to the Pro Bowl with the Birds last season is the sort of thing that doesn't happen every day, or every decade.
The hours Chandler spent with Vick, often on Tuesdays (the players' day off) during the Eagles' 2010 season, convinced Chandler that the self-absorbed star he'd encountered periodically during Vick's Atlanta Falcons career was not the man whose story he was trying to tell several years later.
"I think he's very different now," Chandler said yesterday. "There's a brightness about him. It's still Michael Dwayne Vick, he's still the person by that name, but I'm a big believer that people can change."
Chandler was wary when he was approached for the project, he said, but the involvement of former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy in shepherding Vick's return to the NFL allayed many of his fears.
"I don't think Tony Dungy just jumps in there and puts his name on just anybody," Chandler said.
Chandler said he found Vick "to be extremely candid" about the details of the lifestyle and the lies that landed him in prison, details Vick tends to omit in his frequent appearances before youth groups. Chandler said even though it is an authorized portrait, he didn't go in with the idea he was going to gloss over what Vick did, and Vick never asked that, he said.
"I tried to approach it like I always have," Chandler said. "I felt like I owed that to him, to the readers, and to society in general . . . There were a lot of not-pretty things he talked about without my prompting."
Chandler said Vick's involvement in dogfighting began very early in his childhood. It ceased for a while when Vick was a star quarterback in high school in Newport News, Va., and for Virginia Tech, but Vick "got reinvolved" as soon as his college career was over and he was preparing to become the first overall pick in the 2001 draft. By that time, Chandler said, Vick realized dogfighting was illegal, but he rationalized his way around that risk for an activity that gave Vick "another way to compete."
Chandler said Vick was "very hands-on" with the book project, suggesting revisions aimed not at sugarcoating but at making points clearer.
"In the end, he made it better," Chandler said.
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.