The First Shall Be Last
Read today's Works even if you have a problem with certain other FanHouse material. It's about LeBron and race and sure to get some real howlers in the comments section. Okay, now that we've settled that ... time for some football!
I got back into basketball pretty organically. It just sort of happened one summer. Once it took over my life, it wasn't long before I wanted -- or saw that it made sense to be -- a generalist. Year-round sports, more material to mine, and the ability to hold my own in any basketball convo that, you know, veered off into another pastime. Comparisons are the devil, but if it weren't for parallels, life would have no movement to it. If I'm being totally honest, and tired, I'll have you know that the rush of fantasy sports had something to do with it, too. But I was lazy, uninspired, and it didn't stick. I don't think I got that every sport was special in its own way -- perhaps too special.
My brother, bless his soul, gives me shit for saying that I miss the NFL of eight years ago. He's a Steelers fan, which might be part of the problem, but really, I'm saying that I hate platoons and love dominant players with staying power. Even if the league is less that way than it used to be, still, that inclination shows that I never really got it to begin with.
That said, I've somehow started watching football again. I don't even know what I think about, or look for, on Sunday this season. I guess that's called learning, or humility. Who knows, maybe I will eventually form a coherent FD doctrine for the NFL -- if that's not an oxymoron. The reason this matters, though, is that it's more than a fraught narrative than Michael Vick is now the starter in Philly. Let's get this out of the way: Vick did a terrible, indefensible thing, even if you point out that he's hardly the Great Man of organized dog fighting. Talk about the banality of evil; I think that Vick's maturation as a football player is far more revealing than his so-called dark side. That's dull agency, further proof that people are at their worst when they work together mindlessly in groups, pressuring each other and softened up enough to be influenced by the world around them.
I am not sure what the implications of that theory are for sport in general, and any particular sport, so I'll leave it to someone else to go there.
Anyway, Vick was pure 2002. I used to base my travel schedule around nationally-televised games of his. His return last season, as wildcat wild card (is that redundant?), was totally 2002, at least as I remembered that time. That it was with the Eagles made the flashback personal to me, since I lived in Philly at that time. And, as such, I couldn't help but see a faint parallel with Allen Iverson -- who, coincidentally, was making his own abortive comeback with the Sixers as Vick's post-jail career began.
Allen Iverson never killed any dogs, spent time locked up that he actually deserved, or otherwise violated the public trust like Michael Vick has. AI probably would have enjoyed a far more quiet reputation if he had developed a taste for online roulette games or an online blackjack game. There's the crucial difference between the two. But at the dawn of the 21st century, these two products of VA's Tidewater area were the baddest thing going in their respective sports. Iverson's revolution was more cultural than basketballular, and Vick's dynamism on the field wasn't so explicitly linked to some sort of "hip-hop moment" in football. That's also probably why Vick had an easier time getting endorsements. Still, the two players were both positively enthralling and utterly maddening, rare talents with tools out the wazoo who, depending on how you saw it, pointed toward the future or just refused to embrace The Right Way. Oh, and in case you're a total moron, both signified race so loud you could hear it a mile away. Vick was the quintessential "black quarterback", and Iverson was, well, Iverson.
And Philly was, well, Philly. Race in Philly was, well, race in Philly. If you need a primer on that city's complicated relationship with the Answer; prepare to spend a day combing through old Inky columns. Vick was only peripherally related to this discussion, in the sense that McNabb was in the process of trying to change his game -- away from multi-dimensional threat that Vick took to a ludicrous extreme. When the Eagles beat the Falcons in the 2003 playoffs (after Atlanta's upset of Green Bay at Lambeau), it felt like a vindication of McNabb's development. Insert race and style as necessary here.
That Lambeau win was Vick's high watermark as a pro, the rough equivalent of the Sixers' 2001 victory over the Lakers in the Finals. He did it his way, and however fleetingly, bore truly grandiose results. Actually, that MVP year for Iverson was a lot like Vick's 2002, the season when, if he didn't "put it all together", at least he made believers of us all. Even if we knew we would crash sooner rather than later.
Now Vick is back, a changed player and one would guess, a changed man. In Philly, the same city that bickered over Iverson for a decade. The cultural baggage of it all is enough to make your nose fall off. Not to mention the sentimental lure of seeing Vick back in action, felony or no felony. What seems key to me, though, and why I started with my own passive return to the NFL, is that Vick's no longer the kind of boom-and-bust player who keeps passions high. But that makes him -- dare I say -- an inspirational figure instead of a looming outlaw. For the sake of his professional future, and his aging body, he's a combination of wiser and diminished. Come to think of it, he's living out Donavon McNabb all over again. Except, of course, with higher stakes, far more tension in the air, and a better white back-up for talk radio to clamor over.