FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Giving props to rap superstar Jay-Z, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick describes his life today as a gift and a curse.
"You're always under the microscope," Vick said Monday. "People are always watching you."
Jay-Z's 2002 album, The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse, debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. Vick summons crossover appeal, too, but the superstar who led the Falcons to the second round of the NFC playoffs 14 months ago also understands the compromises that accompany celebrity.
Looking back over the last year, Vick knows nothing could have stopped the doom awaiting his team once he fractured his right fibula in a preseason game. Vick does wish, however, that he'd spent more time around teammates in the offseason and participated in more workouts. The Falcons held their first 2004 session Monday.
"This is the most important thing, trying to show my commitment more than I did last year," Vick said. "I spent a lot of time at home and a lot of time traveling, and I want to get a good grip on this offense."
Returning to football also allows Vick to take his mind off last month, when his name was associated with two embarrassing reports.
Though he wasn't involved in either incident, Vick learned Feb. 12 that police in Newport News, Va., arrested two men who fled a truck co-registered to the quarterback.
The driver, Harry Snead Jr., attended Warwick High during Vick's tenure as the school's star quarterback.
Less than a week later, Vick heard that his 19-year-old brother, Marcus Vick, was one of three Virginia Tech football players arrested in Blacksburg for serving alcohol to minors. Marcus Vick also was charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl.
"I told him you're responsible for your own actions, and the only thing you can do now is try to make up for the wrongs you've done, and ... prove that everything will be all right," Michael Vick said. "I think he understands that."
Though his visible life has setbacks, Vick acknowledges that the good far outweighs the bad. He is the proud father a 20-month-old son. He has luxurious homes and has earned millions from his football contract and various endorsement deals. with Nike, EA Sports, Powerade and Nabisco.
The 23-year-old star will share some of his experiences with children ages 8-18 in June when he debuts the Michael Vick Camp at State University of West Georgia in Carrollton.
"You always want to lend them a helping hand, but you always want to keep an open ear as well," Vick said. "You never know what you can learn from a kid. Its going to be fun and a great experience on both ends."
The 2003 season provided Vick with some tough lessons, too. The broken leg cost him 12 starts, a stretch that saw the Falcons go 2-10. Before owner Arthur Blank fired head coach Dan Reeves in December, Vick heard talk that he could have returned to the field sooner, but he still insists otherwise.
"It was something nobody but me had to deal with," Vick said. "It drove me crazy, and it drove me to come back."
New head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp have energized Vick. Mora, the former defensive coordinator in San Francisco, and Knapp, who ran the 49ers' offense, give Vick reason to believe Atlanta can return to the playoffs this year. Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young told Vick the best is yet to come.
"(Young) said Greg was one of the best coaches he ever had," Vick said. "Hopefully, I can be successful in this offense and get a Super Bowl ring. That's the ultimate goal."
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