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Michael Vick orders NFL rookies not to count on second chances

AURORA, Ohio -- There was a day spent behind the walls of Leavenworth federal prison that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick will never forget.

April 26, 2008. His mother's 45th birthday. The anniversary of his grandmother's death.

And then there was this: It was the day the Atlanta Falcons would draft quarterback Matt Ryan to replace him.

"I remember it vividly," Vick told a roomful of rookies at the NFL's Rookie Symposium on Monday. "Can you imagine what that was like? My heart is in football. I love football. I love the game. It's what I was born to do."

But then, on an April day during which he was already emotionally gassed, he watched as the NFL left him behind because of his severe transgressions.

Vick's seminar was entitled "Are You Bigger Than the Game?" Vick's story served as a resounding answer to that question.

Vick spoke candidly to his newest group of peers Monday, constantly reminding them that he received a rare second chance to revive a career that could have just as easily disappeared as a result of the dog-fighting scandal that led to a 23-month jail sentence. And so his message was clear: Do it right the first time.

"I'm a firm believer in God, and I believe in karma," said Vick, who will turn 32 on Tuesday and get married Saturday. "If you do so much, if you cross so many people, if you don't appreciate what God gave you and the position that you're in, he'll take that away from you. And he took it away from me.

"As I sat in a prison cell, I understood why I was in there. That's bad. You don't want to end up that way. True story: I could see it all coming. I could see it happening. I thought about it. I asked myself, 'Should I stop doing what I was doing?' And I didn't stop. That's having no discipline."

Vick talked about a past that lacked the type of effort and dedication to football that the sport deserved -- something he now recognizes when he thinks back to his early years in Atlanta, when every week, he'd hop on a flight to spend his Tuesday off day in his hometown of Newport News, Va., rather than stay at the Falcons' facility to prepare for an upcoming game.

"The game is going to go along, with or without you," Vick said. "You control your destiny. You dictate how long you're going to play in the league. It's all up to you. It's about commitment, dedication, preparation.

"I flew home every week when I should have been in the film room getting better," he said.

During his discussion, which was moderated by former player and current sports analyst Ross Tucker, Vick warned against having too many "yes" people, which can lead to an inflated ego that will tell a player he can do no wrong. Vick said former NFL coach Tony Dungy and current Eagles coach Andy Reid (whom Vick called one of his "best friends") now serve as proper influences for him.

"Sometimes you think you know it all," Vick said. "You've got a lot of learning to do, a lot of life to live, people you're going to come in contact with. You've got to make a decision: Should I trust this person or that person? It's going to be difficult. You've got to lean on certain people. Find that one person. One or two people who can steer you in that right direction."

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While Vick joked that it's still OK to have "a couple" of "yes men" around, he took on a very serious tone when discussing the lessons he learned in prison regarding the people he had trusted in the past, both professionally and socially. First, he said, you've got to be strong enough to say no to friends who don't have your best interests at heart. That's something Vick learned the hard way.

"Everybody makes their own decisions," Vick said. "Your friend can't make you do something you really don't want to do if you're strong enough to say no.

"The best thing for me to do was going to prison, being able to separate myself. I wasn't strong enough to get away from them. I wasn't strong enough to say, 'We're not going this direction. I ain't living like this no more. We can't condone this type of activity.' I wasn't strong enough. I needed the legal system to say, 'You all can't be around each other anymore.' That's the situation I created."

And the lesson he learned professionally while in prison? You'd also better fully trust and understand the people who are advising you on financial decisions and handling your money. That's something else he learned the hard way. And while he now takes full responsibility for the dog-fighting situation, he still clearly places the blame on others for his post-prison bankruptcy.

"Trust yourself," Vick said. "Everyone in here can count, right? Raise your hand if you can count. Shoot, I can count. Count your own money. You make it. You don't need an accountant and all that -- that dog and pony show. That's just extra. An extra invoice that you're going to get.

"Get a couple people you're going to trust -- that you're going to get to know. There are people out there that you can trust. My situation? I had a couple of judgments against me. People who were holding my money while I was in prison weren't paying my debts. And I had money to pay it."

So what happens if these rookies should get into some trouble at some point, as Vick did? Oh, he had advice for that possibility, as well.

It was very clear and very simple: Be honest with Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"I got that chance to do it again, thanks to Roger Goodell," Vick said. "Fellas, don't get it twisted. This man is the real deal. He don't play. If he asks you a question, answer with honesty. Tell him the truth. If you get into some trouble, be honest, truthful, forthright. Don't play with this man. He'll love you to death, but the minute you cross him, he'll be all the way turned up."

As Vick drove his point home, he continued to emphasize that his path is one not to follow. Yes, he is currently on track for NFL success. Yes, many in the room gave him a standing ovation when he entered. But as Vick said, it is not always a league of second chances.

And that's why, he said, everyone needs to listen to him very closely.

"Once this is over, it's over," Vick said. "I've seen a lot of dudes come and go. I'm blessed God gave me the talent to still be here. But don't take this for granted. I could be gone tomorrow. You've got one hell of an opportunity.

"Enjoy the ride. Congratulations."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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