Phoenix Like, Michael Vick Rises from the Ashes
After witnessing Michael Vick’s spectacular performance against the Washington Redskins many fans and commentators appear to be caught off guard, stunned really. But I was not surprised by Vick’s supernatural feats because I have been listening to my son sing his praises ever since they were both college students in Virginia. Although they were at different schools Samori saw all of Mike’s games. From the very first he said that Michael Vick was going to expand the limits of what people have heretofore seen in quarterback play. Although I thought his assessment extravagant, and perhaps a bit inflated, Samori was a serious student of the game and had been writing about it since he was nine, when he began doing radio commentaries about sports on WBAI FM, in New York; so I knew he knew what he was talking about.
I decided to check Vick out when he was still at Virginia Tech, and right away I could see that he was special. He lit up the college ranks – in fact he would later say “college football was easy” – and the way he played I have no doubt that major college football was a breeze for an athlete with his prodigious talents. He was not as much of a shock to me as it was to many others, because when I was growing up in Florida where football was a civic religion, all the schools were segregated so naturally blacks played quarterback on all the high school and college teams in schools that catered to black schools. And they were all great athletes; it was not unusual for quarterbacks to be the best athletes on the team …just like Vick. But the question everybody was asking when he was raising hell at Virginia Tech was whether he could transfer his game to the pros? That remained to be seen. I wondered if he would even be given a fair chance to earn a spot on an NFL roster, because pro-football was notorious for taking black quarterbacks with their athletic gifts and assigning them to different positions.
At around six feet one and two hundred pounds, with 4.2 speed in the forty yard dash Michael Vick was a perfect prospect for defensive back, running back, or wide receiver. And had he come along twenty years earlier that’s where he would have played, because the prevailing mythology about playing quarterback was that black athletes didn’t have the intellect to master the complex playbooks in the NFL, or to read the complicated defenses and make the quick decisions a quarterback must make to win in the league. In this, as in myriad other ways that I have written about elsewhere on this blog, football is a reflection of the national character; and nowhere is some of the worst aspects of that character revealed than on the gridiron.
In the master narrative of American civilization white men were born to command and conquer because they were the superior male. Former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkington was once quoted as saying “blonde blue eyed guys make the best quarterbacks.” Unlike Adolph Hitler – who also thought blond blue eyed guys were superior – Fran is a blondie with ice blue eyes. By that standard of conventional wisdom Mike doesn’t have a chance….oh well. Young black people and females of all colors should heed the lesson this teaches. The white male pretension to natural superior over other homo Sapiens is just that: a pretense!
When the first football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers at the turn of the twentieth century it was considered a elite sport for gentleman. In fact, for many years to follow the game was confined to the Ivy League. It was a game the ideal game for the conquering Anglo-Saxon, a race that ruled most of the world and by virtue of this fact had established it’s superiority at the art of war, master of science and technology, and innovators in the industrial arts. Football was a demonstration of those values expressed as sport – which unlike war and business was a game where one could lose with grace so long as one competed to the best of one’s ability.
That all changed years later, after football had become a mass spectator sport and a big business; market imperatives led to a perversion of its original ideals. The game finally became a burlesque on the classical ideal of sport itself, and the devil in that detail was Vince Lombardi! A man whose exploits is now being celebrated in a play running on Broadway. From what I can tell from the buzz surrounding the play it appeals to some of the deeply held American values embodied in the movie “Patton.” Both are portraits of iron willed men who were dedicated to winning at any cost. The difference is that one was a Army General and the other a football coach. Hence while Lombardi’s axiom “winning is the only thing” is appropriate for war…it neutralizes sport as a builder of character by applying the rules of war.
As a result of this development the ultimate objective of playing football in the socialization of young men has become to condition their hearts and minds to be tough and competitive, preparing them for the battles to come in real life – often on battlefields around the world…mostly the Third World. As the symbolic “Field General” the quarterback commands great respect in the society beyond the football stadium, especially if the team is successful. It was an image that an openly racist caste society could not allow a male from the “untouchable” caste to posses. This explains, I believe, the ongoing hostility toward Michael Vick over the dog fighting incident. In my view, the punishment was far too severe.
At most he should have gotten a fine of about 20 grand, and a year of community service lecturing against dog fighting. That’s far more than the Georgia Governor received, and there is testimony abroad that he too once engaged in dog fighting! I have nothing but contempt for all the self-righteous suburban dog lovers who are so bent out of shape about the death of mutts that they turn out to picket Vick, or attack him in cyberspace, but they don’t have shit to say when a bonafide war criminal like Dirty Dick Cheney shows up in their neighborhood, and their silence is deafening when racist white cops gun down innocent unarmed black or Hispanic men. I regard such people as frauds…racist hypocrites who whine about “inhumane” treatment of dogs while condoning inhuman treatment of humans…because they are of a different color or culture! In any case, they can like it or lump it, but Magnificent Mike is here to stay.
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As of this writing Michael Vick is the consensus choice as the best quarterback in the NFL, and a leading candidate for MVP of the league. When the Eagles traded their future Hall Of Fame quarterback, Donovan McNabb, Vick fans rejoiced because we thought he was going to get another chance to quarterback an NFL team. But no dice…the Eagles named Kevin Kolb, who is a good quarterback in the conventional sense of a drop back pocket passer, but he is a stiff when compared to Vick. Last year Vick was third on the depth chart; this year he started out as the backup to Kolb, but I never doubted that he would be the starter before the year was out if Kolb didn’t win consistently. And Philly’s offensive line didn’t appear to be good enough pass blockers to really keep a slow footed quarterback like Kolb out of harm’s way! And so it has come to pass. Kolb got hurt, Vick got the nod and history is in the making every time Vick touches the ball. Only Tom Brady has moved up the ladder from third place in more dramatic fashion – winning multiple Super Bowls.
Yet, from the look of things as I write Vick may begin his Super Bowl legacy this season. Every week he seems to get better. His performance on Monday Night Football, which is broadcast everywhere and millions watched, was the greatest single game performance by an NFL quarterback ever! He ripped the Washington Redskins defense to shreds and struck fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators around the league who are tasked with devising a strategy that can stop this versatile threat. the problem they face is that Vick’s superb speed and rifle arm poses what is proving to be insurmountable obstacles.
For instance, when he jumps out of the pocket and begins to scramble about he can extend the play beyond the ability of defensive backs to cover his fleet footed receivers. I see no hope of success against him unless Vick gets hurt and knocked out of the game, and I believe that will be the objective of many defensive players to do just that! The alternative is that they will have to face him the entire game and that’s a horrendous prospect. He has yet to lose a game in which he has played the entire time.
Consider what happened to the Red Skins last Monday night. On the first play from scrimmage Michael Vick threw an 88 yard touchdown; the ball traveled 65 yards in the air and hit the receiver dead on the numbers. The pass was so accurate that the receiver was able to run backward into the end zone while laughing at his badly humiliated defender laying on the ground. As it turned that play was a preview of coming attractions. By game’s end he had thrown for four touchdowns and ran for two. The Eagles trounced the Redskins 59 to 21, and had they really tried they would have scored over 60 points; which I was hoping they would do! I don’t believe in showing mercy in professional football.
On top of this and other stellar performances, there is the fact that Vick has yet to turn the ball over through interceptions or fumbles!! He is second only to former Philly quarterback Randall Cunningham in the number of games without an interception in NFL history. Right now Michael Vick looks a lot more like a chocolate Super Man than your average NFL quarterback. And before the season is over I expect him to be the highest paid QB in the league. Which is par for the course because Vick is playing on a level above everybody else.
My son Samori – who has become one of the best sports reporters in New York since his college days in Virginia, and walks around with a “I told you so” smirk on his face – says “competing against Vick quickly becomes a game of pick your poison: either way you die.” When it comes to quarterbacks: Michael Vick is simply the best!
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Harlem, New York
November 17, 2010
* Samori Benjamin can be heard on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City, Monday through Thursday on Wake-up call.
His reports are then archived for ninety days.
His writings and extended interviews with athletes and managers can be accessed at:wbaisports.org