PHILADELPHIA -- Superman. The Wildcat Originator. Michael Vick has the nicknames ready. All he needs is a chance to play.
After spending 18 months in federal prison and sitting out the first two games as the final league penalty for his role in a dogfighting ring, Vick is eligible to play in his first regular-season game in 33 months when the Philadelphia Eagles host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback was so excited Wednesday that he ran full speed in the morning walkthrough.
"I've been watching football from afar the last two years, and this is a dream come true to me," Vick said.
Vick's role is uncertain because the Eagles have a complicated situation at quarterback. Donovan McNabb didn't practice Wednesday because of a broken rib that forced him to miss last Sunday's 48-22 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
"One thing we do know is I'm going to be dressed up, so that's a great opportunity," Vick said. "This is Andy's team. He's a smart guy. He knows what to do, and when he comes up with the game plan, if it doesn't include me, I'm cool. But I will make sure that mentally I'm aware of what's going on and I'm ready in case something happens. You never know what can happen."
When he plays, Vick is expected to run Philadelphia's version of the Wildcat offense. The Eagles used that formation nine times against the Saints with three different players taking snaps. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and running back Brian Westbrook took turns handling the ball. Westbrook even threw an incomplete pass to Leonard Weaver at the goal line.
Vick is quite familiar with a nontraditional offensive style. During his six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, he was known more for his running ability than his passing skills. He holds several rushing records for QBs, including most yards in a season (1,039) and most career 100-yard games (eight).
On the mend
"I was the Wildcat originator, so it's not foreign territory to me," Vick said. "It's just about making the right decisions and just playing football. It's almost like backyard ball, but it's become quite immense in this league now. Everybody's doing it, so I'm excited about my role."
Considering everything that he has been through since he last played a meaningful game -- at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 31, 2006 -- Vick believes his career has been rejuvenated. He certainly doesn't take anything for granted anymore.
"My appreciation for the game has changed tremendously," Vick said. "I feel like I missed a lot of football. Me coming into a different system, a system I'm pretty familiar with but a lot of different concepts, I sit back and study harder, I try to watch more film and do all the things that are going to help me once I step out on the football field. I have different work habits now. I get up and I'm here by 7:15 in the morning and I'm working out."
Besides football, Vick has spent time talking to students in Philadelphia-area schools about the dangers of making bad decisions. He had his second speaking appearance Tuesday and talked to others who have been involved in dogfighting.
"It was very important just to have open dialogue and see where their mind was at and why they're into what they're into and why were they doing it," Vick said. "We just had open conversation and talked about the reasons behind why it goes on in our culture and how we can put a stop to that and try to help out in the community. I think a lot of people are starting to understand it's a pointless activity. There's no need for it. It's a dead-end street."
Vick's attitude and demeanor have dramatically changed since he last played in the NFL, but he plans on being the same player once he gets on the field. It just might take a while for Vick to be the same guy who used to make defenses look silly with his dazzling moves and powerful arm.
"I'm still going to be aggressive. Nothing is going to change about me on the field," Vick said. "I'm still going to be that same player, try to be dynamic in whatever way I can, not doing too much. I understand Superman may not be ready to return as of right now, but he will in the future."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press