PHILADELPHIA -- When they flashed his helmeted head on the scoreboard Sunday, the response from the crowd of infamously fickle Philadelphia Eagles fans was not difficult to decipher: Quarterback Michael Vick remains in good standing.
Yes, he remains in better standing than Santa Claus. And yes, he also evidently remains in better standing than former quarterback Donovan McNabb, who received a mixed reaction upon his introduction to the same crowd of 30,000 moments later.
On the day of the Eagles' first padded practice -- and the first chance for fans to deliver their state of the union -- they cheered Vick. They cheered him loudly, in a fashion that, at the very least, proves this diehard contingent wants him to succeed.
"I'm still shooting for the stars," Vick said, expressing precisely the type of sentiment that endears him to Eagles faithful.
Of course, the reaction means little (really, nothing) to a quarterback competition that will be determined solely by new head coach Chip Kelly. Nobody has more freedom to go against the grain than a first-year head coach, and Kelly will do just that, should he determine second-year quarterback Nick Foles or rookie Matt Barkley to be the better answer.
This isn't to say Foles and Barkley lack popularity in Philadelphia, especially since the fans there would be happy to embrace either, should they clearly emerge as the leader in the quarterback race. It is instead to say that Vick, after all these years, remains one incredibly fascinating force.
Within his own media market, Vick is questioned often, as he was last month when he told reporters he wanted Kelly to name a starting quarterback before the start of training camp. And nationally, at least when it comes to the casual fan, he has yet to shake the stigma that followed him through a 23-month prison sentence on dog-fighting charges.
However, within this Eagles fan base, one that is as opinionated as any, Vick's standing somehow remains far better than you might expect for a quarterback who, as the team's starter the past three seasons, threw 30 interceptions, fumbled 32 times and failed to play a full 16-game campaign.
Why is that, you ask? Well, that's an answer you might be better suited to find simply by exploring the comments from Eagles fans posted below this story. But perhaps it's because, with the arrival of Kelly's read-option offense, there's reason to believe Vick might finally be on the cusp of finding his ideal situation.
"I'm thankful my body feels great," Vick said. "I'm thankful I still have the God-given ability. Still running the same way. Still moving the same way. I'm thankful that a lot of key components are coming together."
The key components, of course, are the combination of speed and scheme. Speed that Vick apparently proved he still possesses when he beat Eagles running back LeSean McCoy -- eight years Vick's junior -- in a 40-yard foot race in May. And a scheme that promises to utilize that speed while also putting the quarterback in a position to avoid excessive hits.
It's the very reason Vick decided to re-work his contract and hang around the Eagles for another season.
"I came back to play for Coach Kelly," said Vick, noting he added four pounds of muscle this offseason as part of a quest to stay healthy. "That was it. I'd heard a lot about him, I'd watched Oregon, and I just felt like this was the best opportunity for me, and I chose it. Regardless of what the fate may be, I'm still going to compete, I'm still going to try to be the best quarterback I can be, and I'm still learning every day. I feel like I've got a lot left in my tank."
To this point in training camp, just three practices deep as of Sunday night, there's no telling who will win the quarterback job. Vick and Foles have split repetitions with the first-team offense down the middle (just under 50 reps each), while Barkley is getting his own chance with the third-team offense. Vick has looked just fine, showing nothing overly flashy -- but also nothing to suggest he has become a shell of his former self. Foles, meanwhile, has looked perfectly willing to give Vick a run, but he also has yet to do anything to suggest he's a clear favorite.
In other words, this seems to be a genuine competition. In other words, Vick's strange and captivating career arc continues to leave us wondering what will come next for the controversial quarterback. During some of his most doubted hours, Vick has shown incredible resilience. In the face of this competition, will he continue to do the same?
Kelly said he plans to wait until the week before the team's regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins on Sept. 9 before naming a starting quarterback. Will it be Vick? That is, no doubt, the most pressing question facing the Eagles during this training camp -- and one that many in the fan base apparently wouldn't mind seeing answered affirmatively.
"From now on, until my career's over, until I stop playing the game of football, I'm going to compete every day," Vick said. "I love that part about football. I love the competition aspect. I love the game that I play, and I think that supersedes everything."