Michael Vick might become a pitchman this week. As funny as the Woodbury Nissan commercial was, the new venture would be a bit bigger.
After more than a month of online voting by gamers and football fans, Vick is in the finals against Peyton Hillis to see who will grace the cover of Madden NFL 12, EA Sports' most successful annual title and one of the highest-grossing franchises of all-time. Don't scoff. Video games aren't just for kids and AV Club geeks. According to the NPD Group, the industry took in about $15.5 billion last year - or about $5 billion more than Hollywood grossed for domestic movies.
If Vick wins, his face will find a home next to televisions and gaming consoles all around the world. (Adam Hanft, CEO of Hanft projects, a brand strategy firm, called it a "clever move" that's "good for Vick and good for EA.") ESPN will reveal the winner this Wednesday on SportsNation. Until then, you can vote for either Hillis or Vick on ESPN.com.
In advance of the announcement, Vick talked to Page 2 about being in the final, what it says about his still-recovering image, and why having his likeness on a video game trumps having it on the side of Lincoln Financial Field.
Question: Did you play Madden growing up?
Vick: Always played Madden growing up. Got it in '92 as an Xmas gift. Joe Montana for Sega Genesis wasn't too bad, but once they dropped Madden '93, it was like a revolution. It was totally different. Innovative. I'd compete with all my friends. And it had voice-overs. That game, it was the closest thing to a real game at the time.
I still play. I'm pretty good. For the most part, we play NBA2K because it's that time of the year, but I play a lot. I'm something like 17-0 online and 28-0 with my friends.
Q: Love that you play online. I have this image of you trash-talking teenagers through a headset. . . . When you play against other guys on the team, who gives you the best game?
Vick: DeSean Jackson will give you a game. He's competitive and pretty good.
Q: Jackson has his mug on the side of the Linc. You're trying to get yours back on the cover of Madden. Which is better?
Vick: The cover of Madden. It's global. And everybody plays it. It's a game that you look forward to playing every year.
Q: You've already been on the cover once - and you got hurt. Are you a superstitious guy? Do you believe in the Madden cover curse?
Vick: I am superstitious. I won't say what kind of superstitions I have, just know I have plenty of them. At the time I was very superstitious. And at the time, I got injured. I broke my leg before the season. But it was God's plan. It wasn't meant for me to be out on the football field that time. But I put my faith in a higher power now. Things that I may not want to happen, I put my faith in Him and live life.
Q: Aside from yourself, who would you put on the cover?
Vick: Aaron Rodgers. I'm a big fan of Aaron Rodgers. He's one of the best in the game. I didn't expect anything less from him in the playoff game. He knows what's going on. He's poised, smart. He has all the qualities that a QB needs.
Q: You crushed DeMarcus Ware, Andre Johnson, Patrick Willis, and Adrian Peterson. Now you're in the finals against Peyton Hillis. If you win, you'll be the first person to appear on the cover twice.
Vick: It's a great opportunity for me. The fans vote. It's feedback from the fans. You see what the fans see. The first time, I really wasn't too big on having the opportunity. I appreciated it, but this time around I think I will appreciate it so much more. I took a lot for granted early in my career. It was a great opportunity at the time, but now it will be so much more satisfying. To show it to my kids and say I was able to accomplish.
Q: What does it say about your image - how you're perceived now as opposed to how you were perceived a few years ago - that you've gotten so much online support from the fans?
Vick: First off, it happened with the Pro Bowl and receiving all the votes from fans. The people did all those votes and now I can reflect on it. I know how hard I've worked on it and it has to continue. I have a lot of people I don't want to let down, and that's my motivation.
Q: As you mentioned, Madden is a global phenomenon. But not everyone is on your side or wants you on the cover. Yahoo Sports predicted that you would hurt sales if you end up on the Madden cover. And the EA Sports president had to defend you when PETA and independent activists wrote letters that said you shouldn't be on the cover. Is that still difficult to deal with, and how do you respond to the detractors?
Vick: I haven't even heard about that. I really don't pay attention to what's being said by anyone, whether it's ridicule or whatever. I can't continue to respond to that. I appreciate EA sports standing tall and sticking up for me. I will continue to be positive. Let other people be negative. That's their view. They're entitled to their opinion. I won't try to change it.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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