VERY LATE last night, Donovan McNabb declared that the Eagles' stunning signing of Michael Vick was, "no different, really, than bringing T.O. here."
Because, you know, that turned out so well.
The Eagles, controversy-free lately, rejoined the circus last night. The big top opens at 11 a.m. today at NovaCare, when Vick is introduced at a news conference.
McNabb and Eagles coach Andy Reid were very clear on their reasons for taking on the responsibility of sponsoring Vick's return to the NFL after 18 months in prison and nearly 3 full years away from football, following his conviction in an ugly dogfighting scandal.
Both McNabb and Reid spoke evocatively of the importance of forgiveness, of second chances. They were less clear on exactly what Vick is going to do to make this worth the bother to a team that now might be pushing past pickets to get to practice; the gist seemed to be some sort of prospective "Wildcat" role for Vick, to which McNabb indicated he was willing to cede a few plays here and there, in hopes one of them would be a big gainer.
"This is America," Reid proclaimed. "We do make mistakes." The 29-year-old former Pro Bowl quarterback deserves "a chance to prove he's doing the right things," Reid added.
In the middle of the second quarter of last night's preseason-opening, 27-25 loss to New England, with some team officials even apparently unaware of the most momentous development of an eventful preseason, word leaked out via ESPN.com that the Eagles had signed Vick. The ESPN.com report said a 2-year contract; Eagles president Joe Banner, confirming the signing to the Daily News, said 1 year plus a club option for a second. Fox Sports said Vick will make $1.6 million this season and as much as $5.6 million in the option year.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said Vick will be eligible to play in the final two preseason games, so his Eagles' debut could be Thursday, Aug. 27 at the Linc against Jacksonville. Goodell has said he then will rule on a regular-season suspension, which could be anywhere from nothing to 5 weeks.
This morning's press conference is scheduled to be attended by Vick, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who has served as an adviser, and representatives of the Humane Society. Vick's first practice with the Eagles is expected to be tomorrow, Reid said.
"Everybody we talked to said the same thing," Banner told the Daily News, "that [Vick] was remorseful and had gone through an incredible transformation, that he was basically good at heart. We heard this over and over again from people who felt he deserved a second chance."
Banner said the team and Vick agreed to terms about 48 hours before the news broke.
During his postgame news conference, Reid repeatedly referenced the drug-related troubles of two of his sons. Reid said he spoke with Dungy and has spoken with Vick a number of times. Owner Jeffrey Lurie also met with Vick, Reid said.
Vick and McNabb have been friendly since Vick was a high school player in Virginia and McNabb was the Syracuse quarterback who hosted Vick on a recruiting trip.
"I wanted to make sure I know where he is at and I feel like he is in a good place," Reid said. "I'm very excited, on the other side of that, to have a good football player. You're talking one of the top quarterbacks in the league when he was playing. He's familiar with our offense, having run it the last few years with Atlanta before he was incarcerated."
The Eagles obviously have a starting quarterback, McNabb. Vick isn't coming here to take over the offense - "There won't be a quarterback controversy," Reid said. He indicated the signing had nothing to do with the knee injury of backup QB Kevin Kolb, who is believed to be ready to return in a few days.
"I'm the quarterback of this team," McNabb said, before allowing that in a 70-play game, he might be willing to sit or function as a receiver for five plays or so. (Hey, maybe No. 5 can play tight end!)
Reid said Vick's first concern will be getting back in football shape after his time away.
Asked if there might be ways to use Vick other than at quarterback, Reid said, "He's a quarterback. That's what he is. He's a versatile quarterback. I haven't had a chance to put that all together, but I have some ideas."
McNabb also stressed that adding Vick provides the Eagles with another offensive weapon opponents have to stop.
Former Eagles linebacker and current WIP host Ike Reese played with Vick in Atlanta in 2005 and 2006. Reese said he thought most players, here and elsewhere, would support the move more than the public.
"I think most people in this locker room will be OK with it," Reese said.
Reese agreed that this would not have happened without McNabb's support.
"Donovan is very secure in his position," Reese said. "There's only two or three quarterbacks in the league, really, who could threaten Donovan's position. Donovan, like the rest of us, only wants to get him back in the circle [of players], let him show he's remorseful, give him the opportunity to play that he almost threw away a few years ago."
Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown said: "I'm just glad someone gave him an opportunity to reunite with the league and the union and be able to perform, because he's a heck of an athlete."
Asked about the potential for distraction, Brown said: "It doesn't matter, we're used to attention. That doesn't do anything. Everybody has a job to do. Worry about your own job and do it well."
In his postgame press conference, McNabb stressed that "nobody is perfect."
"He's served his time," McNabb said. "He's gotten up in public and expressed his remorse. He's moving on. He's trying to get his life back. There are lot of people who have done worse and been able to move on with their lives. Let's give him that opportunity."
CBS' "60 Minutes" will air an interview with Vick Sunday at 7 p.m. In excerpts provided to reporters, James Brown says to Vick: "And the operation, Michael, that you pleaded guilty to bankrolling, to being a part of, engaged in barbarous treatment of the animals - beating them, shooting them, electrocuting them, drowning them - horrific things, Michael - what about the dogs? What about the dogs?"
Vick's response: "It's wrong, man . . . I feel, you know, some tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should have took the initiative to stop it all . . . I didn't - I didn't step up. I wasn't a leader."
James Brown: "So for the cynics who will say, 'You know what? I don't know. Michael Vick might be more concerned about the fact that his career was hurt than dogs were hurt.' ''
Vick: "I mean, football don't even matter."
Rumors began to filter in early yesterday afternoon that the Eagles had entered the Vick picture. A reporter in another city, who had been following the matter closely because he thought his team might sign Vick, called a Daily News reporter to say a source he had been checking in with, with knowledge of Vick's situation, had told him Vick was close to signing with the Eagles.
Subsequently, a public relations and political consultant named Brian Kirwin, connected to the Virginia Beach area where Vick is from, posted on a blog called bearingdrift.com that he was hearing Vick would sign in Philadelphia. (Kirwin, coincidentally, is from Philadelphia and is a Father Judge grad, he said.)
"Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams are all reportedly looking at it, but a reliable source tells me that the Philadelphia Eagles, on the heels of the day-to-day knee injury to backup QB Kevin Kolb, are looking to sign Vick, and it will happen quickly," Kirwin wrote.
Later in his post, Kirwin added: "I contacted the Eagles' front office, and they said rumors about Vick and the Eagles, 'are false.' ''
Before last night's game, the Daily News e-mailed Banner about the speculation; Banner did not respond at that time. A team spokesman said he knew nothing of any plans to add Vick.
As Vick's return to the NFL neared, Reid several times addressed the Vick situation and the Eagles. On July 28 at Lehigh, Reid said: "No. 1, I think he's a good kid. Right now we have a good situation at quarterback so that's not the direction I'm looking. I'm glad Tony Dungy is involved, no finer person around than Tony Dungy. And Michael, the times I've talked to him, he's a good kid, so I think that combination there will help Michael and probably increase his marketability there."
In retrospect, the money quote was the next one, when Reid was asked if Vick deserved a second chance:
"Sure. I'm big on second chances at this phase in my life," Reid said.
Now it is up to Vick.
"I think our fans will understand," Reid said last night.
But he added that he understood those who will be less forgiving.
"I understand how that works," Reid said. "I think there will be enough of them that will [understand]. It's up to Michael to provide that change has taken place.''
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.