by Robert Ferringo - 07/26/2005
When I moved to Atlanta from New York last summer I knew that I had four things working against my Southern assimilation:
- I graduated high school.
- I didn't vote for Bush.
- I'm a Mets fan who loathes the Braves.
- I think Mike Vick is overrated.
The first to three on that list I've managed to resolve with the yokels. It's my feelings about Michael Vick that have made me an outsider in sports bars throughout Hotlanta.
I do want to get something out in the open: I don't hate Michael Vick. I have nothing against the man. He doesn't come off as arrogant, brash or rude. I respect that. I too get excited whenever he gets out of the pocket, and I too am wowed at his freakish playmaking ability.
However, when I hear people talking about Vick as the best quarterback in the NFL - better than Manning, Brady, Favre, Culpepper and/or McNabb - it truly baffles me. I understand that it's just someone's opinion, but it's like someone telling me that Vin Diesel is a good actor. There's just something bothersome about that mode of thinking that I can't let go.
Well, I'm here to set the record straight. These are the most consistent and reoccurring arguments I hear in favor of the Greatness of Vick, along with my rebuttal.
1) "I ain't never seen none like him." Does the name Randall Cunningham ring a bell? He was 79-52-1 as a starter in his 17-year career -- mostly with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the eight years where he appeared in more than 10 games (119 games/108 starts), Cunningham completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,070 yards 22 TDs and 12 INTs. He was amazing. He rushed for 942 yards in 1990. He once had a 91-yard punt. He used to leap over defenders - literally - and had a highlight reel just as impressive as Vick's.
(I'll never forget a play he made from his own end zone in Buffalo in 1990. Bruce Smith was bearing down on Randall's blindside, but Cunningham somehow sensed the pressure, ducked under Smith - who went sailing over his back clutching air - popped up and heaved a bomb to midfield. Fred Barnett pried it away from two falling Buffalo Bills DBs and waltzed in for a 98-yard touchdown. Amazing.)
2) "His numbers ain't that bad." Vick was the 21st-rated passer in the NFL last year (78.1). That put him behind such dynamos as Brian Griese (97.5), Kurt Warner (86.5) and Billy Volek (87.1). Vick completed just 56.4 percent of his passes, managed just 2,313 yards, and had a paltry 14 touchdowns to go with 12 interceptions.
The average for the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL last year was 303 completions in 460 attempts (65.9 percentage) for 3,789 yards, 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. And even if you throw out Manning as an anomaly, the averages are still 293 of 450 (65.1%), 3,589, 26 and 12.
Basically, Vick is half as good as these guys.
3) "He dun make a lot of plays scramblin' around and stuff." Vick does make a lot of plays - for the defense. Last year he was sacked 46 times, threw 12 INTs and fumbled 16 times. That means that every game Vick was good for three sacks and two fumbles or interceptions. I know his line was terrible, but that doesn't totally excuse some bad decisions he makes.
Also, guys like Culpepper, McNabb, Steve McNair and Jeff Garcia have been outstanding scramblers during their careers. They all make a lot of plays moving around the pocket or tucking it in and running. But they also still throw for 4,000 yards and complete 60 percent of their passes.
4) "He ain't got nuttin' to work wit." Vick has a Pro Bowl tight end (Alge Crumpler), one of the best receiving backs in the league (Warrick Dunn), a good running game and two No. 1 picks at wide receiver. That's more than a lot of guys have.
Also, you can't say that his receivers are any worse than what McNabb had to work with in the pre-Owens days. McNabb averaged 3,026 yards, 20 TDs and 10 INTs during his first four years as a starter.
5) "Dang! He almost rushed for 1,000 yards last year!" He's not a running back. And even if you add his 902 rushing yards to his passing total, his 3,215 total yards is still only 15th among quarterbacks last year. That's consistent with where the Atlanta offense ranked for scoring - a very average 16th at 21.2 points per game.
Vick has to run a lot because his line is shaky. He does gain 7.5 yards per rush, which is impressive, but he's also exposing himself to more hits. Vick made it through last year unscathed, but in 2003 he broke his leg in a preseason game and doomed Atlanta's season. If he gets injured he hurts the team's chances of winning.
6) "They ain't near as good without him." Atlanta went from 5-11 in 2003 to 11-5 in 2004. Everyone attributed that to Vick's return, but it's not that simple. Atlanta had a new coach staff and a fresh system. They led the league in rushing, had the best special teams in the NFL, and the defense (after a switch from a pathetic 3-4 to a stout 4-3) improved from dead last in 2003 to a respectable ninth in 2004. They were successful because they ran the ball and played good defense, not just because Vick was back.
Vick's record as a starter is 25-15-1 since 2001. Atlanta's record without him is 9-18. That's meaningful, but it's also oversimplifying the matter. He obviously has an effect not only on the performance of the team, but also on its psyche. But that doesn't make him different from any other starting quarterback. He might be very valuable to his team, but that doesn't make him the best player in the league.
Finally, I have to mention Ron Mexico. (If you don't know the story, a former girlfriend of Vick's alleged that the quarterback gave her herpes and filed a lawsuit against him. The story leaked onto the Internet, and it came out Ron Mexico was allegedly the name that Vick used at a clinic where he was tested for STDs.) All I'm going to say is that it's absolutely absurd that ESPN and the rest of the major sports news outlets didn't cover this story, even if it was to debunk it.
Kenny Rogers knocks a camera out of a guy's hand and it's all over the news for weeks. A couple summers ago Allen Iverson was accused of locking his girlfriend out of their apartment in just a towel and it was all over the news for a week. Vick is involved in something like this and there is no mention of it on major sports websites or network news programs. Why is that? Do you think it has anything to do with the five nationally televised games the Atlanta Falcons have this year - four of which are on Disney-owned stations (three on ABC and one on ESPN)? Do you think that it has to do with the fact that Vick is the new poster boy for the league, and that they're trying to protect his image?
Is that why the Michael Vick herpes case didn't get more press? Of course it is. And for the same reasons - marketing and money - ESPN and other sports media outlets will continue to hype a very average NFL player. Don't buy into it. Don't assume that Atlanta will be good this year just because they have Vick, and don't go betting the rent that they're going back to the NFC Championship Game.
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