It began with a concussion to the Philadelphia starter, and the Eagles trailing 13-3. He entered the game, and suddenly, a team that'd been lifeless for two quarters had a little jump in their step. The Eagles lost, but the electricity he created resonated regardless, prompting fans to call for him to be named the starter for the next game.
The starter was still hurt, of course. The highest profile concussion in the NFL at a time when sensitivity toward that particular injury is at an all-time high. So the fans got their wish.
And again, the backup played well in relief, scrambling all over the field, making plays with his arm and legs. And just his presence. With him in the game, the Eagles seem like a different, more dangerous team. So much so that even the coach, who'd staked his future on the starting quarterback just a few months earlier, had to give in and give the backup a shot, naming him Philadelphia's new starting quarterback. Then last week, he starred all over again, looking like one of the best players in football.
He is Michael Vick, and in case you haven't heard... He has a brother named Marcus.
Some have said that Michael can never live down the crimes he committed. Because some things, we just can't forget, they say. Only God Himself can redeem Michael Vick. Maybe even that's asking too much. Others, though, have seen something more profound. Something deeper. Something inspirational. Some have even used Michael Vick as a vessel for grand proclamations about American society, proselytizing about redemption, and America's great, resonant promise of opportunity for all—not just the ones we like. Others, it seems, are just happy to have him on their fantasy team. Should Vick continue to shine as the season unfolds, the magnitude of it all only figures to intensify. The spotlight exists for spectacles like this.
Indeed, churchgoers, cynics, and couch potatoes—the spectrum of opinion Michael Vick encompasses just about everyone, all with sharply polarized perspectives. But we're all forgetting something. That Michael Vick's just a football player? No, no. Michael Vick is a metaphor for all of us. His sins universal, his succession of Donovan McNabb elemental to understanding the elasticity of our affections in this country. Or something.
But guys, we're all forgetting about Marcus.
Marcus' story begins in 2003, when he committed to Virginia Tech, following in his brother's footsteps. But the Next Generation would wear Donovan McNabb's number five, not seven. Irony? You tell me.
In any case, in 2005, ESPN Magazine's Bruce Feldman wrote the headline, and the rest of us nodded in agreement. Or was it awe? "Forget what you think you know about Vick QBs. Marcus has a whole new game." As Feldman continued:
...the sparkle in his eye never fades. Asked to recount the worst thing someone has said about him this year, he explains into the camera how "they said I was a pedophile or something like that. When I hear those things, I'm thinking, hey, I'm about to take everything you just said about me and take it out on your team."
This is Vick 2.0.
Time and again, he surprised us. We expected a runner, we got a pocket passer. We expected Sugar, and we got Citrus. We expected marijuana, we got contributing to the delinquency of minors. And marijuana, too. All part of the myth of Marcus Vick.
He zigged when we expected him to zag. We wanted his brother to be Steve Young, we wanted Marcus to be his brother. But his brother was just Michael, and Marcus once pulled out a gun at a McDonalds because three 17 year-olds were arguing with a lady friend of his. Allegedly, of course.
Then, a few years later, he allegedly stomped on an opponent. The latest in a long line of disciplinary issues, it prompted an expulsion from Virginia Tech. A little while later, this was alleged, and then proven in court:
Marcus Vick pleaded guilty to drunken driving and other charges Monday. Vick, 24, the brother of former football player Michael Vick, also was convicted of eluding a police officer and driving on the wrong side of the road, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney’s spokeswoman Amanda Howie.
Sometimes, the metaphors write themselves: Driving drunk on the wrong side of the road, eluding authority. Allegedly America wasn't ready to understand The Next Generation.
That was Marcus Vick; too good to be true. A pocket passer that couldn't pass. A runner that couldn't outrun people. All instincts, but with terrible instincts. There's a reason that Unicorns only exist in our imaginations. David Foster Wallace once wrote the following of Roger Federer, but he just as easily could have been discussing Marcus:
Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.
The parallels to Marcus are jarring. And of his downfall, I'm reminded of another Wallace feature. From Consider the Lobster, he asks us a question about the morality of it all:
So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?
Were we boiling Marcus alive merely for the media's gustatory pleasure? Who can say for sure, except to lament that Marcus Vick was—for sure—our Lobster Unicorn. He only played one NFL game in his professional career.
When he retired from the spotlight, some called him a modern-day Moonlight Graham.
But just as Feldman wrote in 2005, "the sparkle in his eyes never fades." And don't look now America, but Marcus Vick has a second life. After all that's happened, he's still here. Out there somewhere in Hampton Roads, a prince enjoying the spoils of royalty. So what can we learn from his story?
Well, for one thing, if you're trying to be an NFL quarterback, smoking weed, driving drunk, flunking out of college... All bad ideas. Just about the only time you'll hear a player agree with a coach is when one of them says, "Marcus Vick is an IDIOT." It's terrible.
Having a job, obeying the law, not fornicating with minors, passing drug tests... These are the standards that we set for the people in this country. It's what I hate about America.
But that's Marcus Vick's story. Marcus Vick, the character?
He's probably off in Virginia somewhere, half-asleep on a leather couch that his brother bought. Because Michael got a second chance, and that means Marcus did, too. Another chance to live off the spoils of his brother. Another chance to squander his good fortune with spades of irresponsible, irredeemably stupid behavior.
Marcus Vick, Moonlight Graham, Lobster Unicorn. Whatever you want to call him, Marcus Vick never asked for anything. He inherited all this, and responded with sloth and incompetence. He's enjoyed the spoils of good fortune to their fullest. Don't ask questions, don't offer answers, never apologize. That's Marcus Vick's great lesson, and he's still teaching it. So long as Michael keeps winning, Marcus keeps grinning. Michael's collecting checks? Then Marcus is all set. Still hangin' out, unemployed, living without a care in the world. It's what I love about America.
Marcus Vick as the American Dream? Sometimes the metaphors write themselves.