BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Earlier in the week, Michael Vick celebrated his third anniversary as a Philadelphia Eagle. Most folks thought Philly would be a way station en route to another shot at starting in the NFL. The idea was for coach Andy Reid to get a project, and maybe eventually a draft pick or two back. In return, Vick would get a place where he could rebuild his body, mind and reputation.
It's incredible how much more this relationship has become.
"I can say that while coach has been in my presence, while I've been here, he's been a sort of father figure," Vick told NFL.com, as the Eagles went through their final day at Lehigh University. "(As) a father figure, you're mentoring someone, anyone you care about, you're gonna tell them the right things to do, the correct way to do things at the right time, and give them advice when they need it. And that person needs to be open and easy to talk to. That's a father figure.
"I can honestly say he's been the substitute for the man in my life that I don't have right now. It's great, because I really don't have too many people to lean on."
Vick and Reid are back in Philadelphia, both men returning with so much on the line in 2012. After the "Dream Team" Nightmare of 2011, the expectations and pressure to win are astronomical again.
But coach and quarterback are together on this one. Their relationship has evolved over the past three years, which is why Vick is comfortable saying what he did, and why Reid is comfortable accepting that role.
"I mean, I'm close with him. I understand that. It's obviously humbling, because he is a good kid," Reid said. "When you go through certain things with certain people in your life, you become very close to them. He knows I'll always be there for him, to help him out. That doesn't mean I'm not gonna coach him hard or do those things, but I'll always be there for him."
Vick's time between Atlanta and Philadelphia, most of it spent in jail, is well-documented. But it takes some digging to discover where the bond began to emerge between Reid and Vick, when the coach was offering the quarterback what seemed to be a pretty mediocre opportunity -- a place on the depth chart behind a decade-long starter (Donovan McNabb) and a high draft pick (Kevin Kolb) whom the team had spent two seasons developing.
Having had kids in prison, Reid told Vick that returning to normalcy would be a process. He said the quarterback would be in Philly strictly to get himself back in shape. That's it. Surprisingly enough, Vick kind of liked that. It was honest. It wasn't a pitch.
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"The one thing coach told me was I needed some time," Vick said. "He more than anybody convinced me that I needed time to get my legs back, and the reason I believed him ... I don't know. I really thought I could come back and play. But I knew the type of numbers that Donovan had. I knew every time a quarterback other than Donovan stepped on the field, he had success. So I was saying to myself, 'What better place to go, with a coach that I really admired from afar when I knew nothing about him?' "
Therein lies the foundation of the relationship between Vick and Reid: honesty. Reid didn't BS Vick, and that extended from the field to the locker room and away from the facility. Vick recalls an occasion three months ago when he was going through a difficult family situation.
"(Reid) just happened to call my phone, and when I picked up, I had tears coming out of my eyes -- I was crying," Vick said. "And by the end of the conversation, he had me dying laughing."
Vick grew close to Reid's family, too. Vick said Reid's son Garrett was with him and strength coach Barry Rubin in early February, working in the weight room while most players were away on their own time. That's part of the reason why Vick says he was "crushed" by the news of Garrett's passing earlier this month.
The other part is how Vick feels about Garrett's dad.
"He's helped me develop tremendously as a man," Vick said. "I've grown so much as an individual, just from talking to coach and learning his ways and how he thinks and how he goes about things. Sometimes when life can be so complicated, just sitting down and talking with him can make everything seem so easy to deal with. That's because he's smart, he's very attentive and he cares. And I really appreciate that. Coach has done some wonderful things for me."
That goes for the football side of things, too. Vick says that because the coach demands a lot out of him, he now demands more of himself. There will be times, as Vick describes them, when Reid's on the opposite end of the practice field, notices a small misstep and runs over to correct it. As a result, the idea that those eyes are always bearing down on him brings a heightened attention to detail.
That makes for a better quarterback.
"He is, only because he wants to be," Reid said. "He had some great coaches before. He came here and we cared a lot about him, but I think he spends more time on it now. It's him. I mean, he deserves the credit for that. He put himself in the mindset that he was gonna take care of business, and that's what he's done."
But talking to Reid, it's easy to see Vick's reasons for feeling so close to the coach aren't football-related.
"I care about him. I trust him," Reid said. "I'm always gonna be very honest with him. If I don't like what I see, I'm gonna let him know that. If I like what I see, I let him know that, too. Probably no different than how I'd do it with my kids."
So that brings us to this fall, with Reid trying to get back in the playoff win column for the first time in four years, and Vick doing his best to bring unity to a team that looked taped together at points last fall.
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Now 32, Vick has always felt like he owed Reid for spurring his renaissance. And with all that Reid's been through of late, Vick is as convinced as ever that the Lombardi Trophy would be one heck of a thank you.
"Man ... I think about it, because sometimes you can have jubilation in your thoughts, and what it would mean to you," Vick said. "If it was ever to come true, I couldn't explain what that moment would feel like. But I know it's something I want. I know it's something we want. I know it's something he wants and he deserves. I think the satisfaction coming out of it would be that we accomplished it all together.
"After all we've been through, the setbacks, if we can accomplish that, it'd be so gratifying."