A commercial debuted in 2004 near the peak of Michael Vick's popularity. Vick was 24 then, and his never-before-seen combination of speed and passing prowess made the Atlanta Falcons quarterback the game's most dynamic player.
Nike created a commercial imagining the "Michael Vick Experience," a 60-second spot in which a child goes on a ride at an amusement park that simulates a Vick run. This was Vick's signature play - eluding and outsprinting defenders. It made Michael Vick Michael Vick.
The Michael Vick Experience is different now. Vick is 32 and in his third season as the Eagles' starting quarterback. The criticism he has endured this season has focused on his 13 turnovers, which have contributed to the Eagles' entering Sunday's game against the Falcons with a 3-3 record.
Vick is not the same quarterback who starred for the Falcons a decade ago. He is a better passer, which could be attributed to superior skill-position players and an offense that focuses on passing. But Vick is not the running threat that he once was, a notion backed up by looking at his numbers and simply watching him play.
"When I first came into the league, I had a lot of design runs, up until 2006. That's when I ran for 1,000 yards," Vick said. "It's pretty much a different scheme we're running now, which allows me to throw the ball downfield more. So as I thought about it the last couple of days, why am I not running the ball as much, it's because runs [were] designed."
Vick's rushing yards through his first six games are the fewest of his first six games in any season he's been a starting quarterback. He has 205 yards on 41 carries this season. That's the same number of carries that Vick recorded in his first six starts in 2002, but he ran for 367 yards that season.
So is Vick getting to be Vick? What's true is that Vick's game, his playbook, and his surroundings have changed.
"We just don't design as many runs," Vick said. "And the thing is, you keep the quarterback healthy. And that's pretty much it. But however it comes, I just try to use my instincts now."
'Nightmare' to play against
John Lynch, a former Pro Bowl safety, chased Vick twice a year when Lynch played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, Lynch is a Fox29 analyst who meets with Vick before announcing Eagles games. In 2010, when Vick replaced Kevin Kolb and dazzled the NFL, Lynch asked Vick, "What changed?"
"My instincts, when I used to see green grass, was to just run," Vick told Lynch. "Now, it's to look downfield. Because people are so used to me that we suck the people in that I can throw."
Something started to change the better Vick threw. Defenses realized that the play that killed them was not Vick's running for 30 yards, but Vick's throwing over the defense for the home run. So while Vick became a better passer, the element of the game that seemed to make him so special in the first place became less of a factor.
"You can't take away a great asset that a player like Mike has," said Lynch, who will analyze Sunday's game for Fox. "Now, when I watch a defense's approach, they aren't so quick to come up. Because they think he's going to throw the football."
Lynch said that if Vick runs effectively, it can open the passing game. The players who back away start to creep closer whenever Vick scrambles.
Lynch also worked the Eagles' season opener against the Cleveland Browns and noted that Vick overthought what he was doing early in the season. Lynch praised how Vick played in an Oct. 14 loss to the Detroit Lions, when he ran for 59 yards and threw for 311.
The Falcons are 6-0 and played Carolina's Cam Newton and Washington's Robert Griffin III, two of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. Newton totaled 86 rushing yards, while Griffin suffered a concussion on a run and was knocked out of the game. Injury is another concern when Vick runs. The potential for big plays is there, but so is the potential for big hits.
Lynch remembered Vick as a "nightmare" to play against, and said the Bucs devised their entire game plan to stopping his running. But if Vick escaped the pressure, it was up to Lynch to chase him. That was a nightmare experience for the former safety, although the Bucs won a Super Bowl during that era and the Falcons never did.
"That gives us fits," Lynch said. "But we all know, and it's proven to win, you have to be able to throw the ball to be successful. You can still use the run, still utilize it, but utilize it when all else fails."
Few players know what it's like to play with Vick better than Brian Finneran, a Villanova product and former Eagle who spent 11 years with the Falcons. He was Vick's go-to receiver in Atlanta. He watches Vick in Philadelphia, and it's not an easy answer which Vick is more effective.
"I think early in his career when we played in Atlanta, he was literally a dual threat, so you had to have someone spying him every time he dropped back," said Finneran, who has a sports-talk radio show in Atlanta. "He was probably more dangerous, that guy who had planned runs, just to increase the amount of times he had the ball in his hands. But as your career goes on, you have to adjust."
Vick has an offensive line that provides little time for him, and he has endured enough injuries during the last three seasons that he must avoid the trainer's table. Vick is also not as dangerous a runner as he was at 25. (Asked about the last one, Vick concurred, but said he would train differently if he knew he had more designed runs.)
Coach Andy Reid still believes that Vick can be a Pro Bowl quarterback, and mentioned reducing turnovers and creative ways the coaches can use him. When Mornhinweg was asked if he wants Vick to run more, Mornhinweg said that it depends on the situation.
"Some games, he'll be running more and moving and throwing than other games," Mornhinweg said. "It does depend on scheme just a little bit. Are they spying him or are they mush-rushing him? Does he have lanes to move in? You'll see some games are different than other games."
Finneran said Vick would be most effective if he played like Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger by taking advantage of defensive breakdowns but also looking downfield. Extending plays is the critical component, as is maximizing open space when it becomes available.
Vick is skilled at eluding pass- rushers and buying time, although the more time he stays in the pocket, the better the chance of getting hit or taking a negative play. The designed runs he used in Atlanta might not be the most effective strategy, though, because the Michael Vick Experience is different in 2012.
"I can take off and run every play if I wanted to, but I choose not to do that," Vick said. "It's unfair to the guys that I play with, to the hard work that they put in, the effort in getting downfield and working to get open. So I've got to give those guys a chance, and that's important."