Hot under the collar, Vick burns bright now

The biggest controversy surrounding the despised dog-killer now is not why he would do such evil things to animals but whether the darling quarterback should start on Sunday.

Michael Vick, the Eagles quarterback, has again become a hot commodity in the NFL.
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The outrage has faded. The sordid details of Michael Vick's murderous dog ring have become fuzzy. The biggest controversy surrounding him now is not why he would do such evil things to animals but whether he should start on Sunday. A despised dog-killer one day, a quarterback darling the next. A few dazzling runs, a couple of nice touchdown passes, and fans rush to the Philadelphia Eagles team store to buy his green No 7 jersey.

Granted, Vick always had a chance to be rehabilitated. A stint in prison, a dose of public humiliation, and the need to make money fast certainly gave him motivation. But who would have thought the new Michael Vick might be better than the old? No one, because rust and baggage usually cannot be shed as quickly as this. "It's a true testament that if you work hard, you keep your nose clean, good things can happen," Andy Reid, the Eagles coach, said.

Vick's improbable return to play quarterback in the NFL is not the feel-good story of the year because it is still hard to feel good about a man who did what he did. If anyone needs to be reminded of the methods Vick and his gang of toughs used to torture and kill dogs who did not fight well, a book entitled The Lost Dogs is coming out this month, detailing Vick's behaviour in gory detail. But he has served his time and paid his price.

He claims to be a reformed man. So far he has done nothing to indicate otherwise. Now, the same NFL owners and coaches who were too afraid of a fan backlash to take a chance on a Vick comeback have to be muttering to themselves. And some of the same fans who vowed they would never forgive Vick can now feel free to call for Reid to make him the starting quarterback in Philadelphia. That will not happen, at least not right away. The Eagles have much invested in Kevin Kolb, and Reid made it clear again this week that he is not going to promote Vick over him just because Kolb had a bad opening game against Green Bay before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.

The great thing for Vick is that he does not need to start another game this year to become a hot commodity. He already has shown in just a couple of games that he can still play (459 passing yards and three touchdowns and 140 rushing yards), and his US$5.2 million (Dh19.1m) contract is up at the end of the season. Indeed, two games into the season, several NFL teams already are desperate for a competent quarterback. The Vick on display in the first two weeks looks like he could make any of those teams better. Right away.

In Minnesota, the love affair with Brett Favre is cooling almost as rapidly as a Minneapolis autumn, and the Vikings have all but said they have no confidence in his understudies. Surely, Vick would be a safer bet for Carolina than giving the starting job to Jimmy Clausen, who was a second-round draft pick for a reason. And since Arizona fans cannot get Kurt Warner back, the next best thing might be to sign a quarterback with Vick's proven talents.

Perhaps as many as a dozen teams around the league would take Vick right now if they could. Instead, he will be lining up at a position other than quarterback in the Eagles' version of the "wildcat" offence when his team play Jacksonville this weekend. Reid feels like he has an abundance of riches behind centre with Vick and Kolb, who will be the starter as long as the Eagles can keep winning. That the conversation now revolves around how Vick plays on the field and not what he once did off the field is an indication of how far he has come since finishing his 18-month prison sentence barely more than a year ago.

Though a recent popularity survey showed him to be the most disliked athlete in the US, the negative response to his comeback has been muted. He will not get endorsement contracts with Nike; he will always be too radioactive for that. But he has defied the odds to become a legitimate option at quarterback in the NFL once again. * Associated Press