Already buying Vick

Reaction mixed, but jerseys are selling

Pastor Edgar Edwards examines a Michael Vick Eagles jersey at Modell's on Snyder Avenue. (Alyssa Cwanger / Staff Photographer)

HOLDING A NO. 7 green football jersey against his chest for the newest - and most notorious - Eagles player, Michael Vick, Baptist pastor Edgar Edwards said yesterday: "I believe in forgiveness."

While many Philadelphians were still reeling from the shock of an admitted dog-abuser returning to the rarefied air of multimillion-dollar sports superstars, Edwards asked his congregation at Little David Baptist Church on 6th Street near Snyder to pray for "God to bless Michael Vick as he restructures his life."

On Thursday, Vick, 31, reportedly signed a $1.6 million Eagles contract with a club option for a second year at up to $5.6 million - a dramatic plunge from being the highest-paid player in the NFL and one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he played for the Atlanta Falcons in 2001-2006.

Vick's two-year exile from the NFL came after he admitted bankrolling a pit-bull fighting operation, called Bad Newz Kennels, on his 15-acre property in rural Virginia, where canines deemed unfit were drowned, hanged, electrocuted and slammed to the ground.

He served 18 months of a 23-month federal conspiracy sentence for his role in the dogfighting operation and has vowed to redeem himself by working with Boys and Girls Clubs and speaking out against dogfighting.

"After committing an inhuman and horrific crime, it's time for Michael Vick to demonstrate he can change and be a force for good," said the American Humane Association in a statement. "We hope he becomes a positive role model for young people."

At Modell's Sporting Goods in the Snyder Plaza on Snyder Avenue near Front Street in South Philadelphia, Edwards was just one of the Eagles fans willing to give Vick a second chance.

"Before we even opened, four or five customers were lined up [Saturday] morning" to be the first to buy Vick's No. 7 jersey at $79.99, or $20 T-shirt," said salesman Raphael Castro, 20, who was surprised that the store was stocked overnight with Vick jerseys.

"We've had heavy selling of Vick's merchandise," said salesman T.J. Beck, 19.

With more than 300 jerseys and T-shirts on the racks, the store sold $1,200 worth of merchandise on Saturday and about $1,700 more by late yesterday afternoon, said Beck. On a normal game day, the store sells about $300 worth of Eagles' merchandise.

Said Beck: "He did what he did. He paid for it. He did his time. He showed true remorse, and he'll continue to pay for it through the media and the fans."

The prospect of Vick being part of so-called wildcat plays had the two young Modell salesman, who consider themselves die-hard Eagles fans, in ecstasy just imagining what could happen.

They were picturing what would happen if Vick or one of the Eagles' other potent offensive players - Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin - were the recipient of a direct snap and able to get into the flow of the play that much quicker.

Their heads spun.

The opposing teams "would never be able to figure out what's going to happen," said Beck, smiling.

"Just think, all those offensive options on one play," said Castro.

"Vick is going to give opposing teams' offensive coordinators a headache," he added.

Last year, less than half of the teams in the NFL used the wildcat play - a play that is unpredictable and out of the routine - but the Eagles used it less than a dozen times in the whole season.

Nevertheless, fans were delighted with the prospect of Vick playing for the Eagles.

"I'm happy they got him," said Jovany Shamwell, 25, who works in building restoration for insurance companies.

"I like Vick, but I'm coming to get [a jersey] for whom I'm rooting for," Shamwell added, holding up a Donavan McNabb jersey. "Maybe if [Vick] does good, I'll buy one [of his] in a year or two."

Asked if he would buy a Vick T-shirt, Kevin Niebling, 41, of Queen Village, replied: "Don't hold your breath."

"First of all, I'm not an Eagles fan. Second, I'm not too [fond] of him," he added.

Another customer, Raheem Khabeer, 73, of South Philly, called Vick the "best quarterback in the whole league on both sides."

"McNabb is an excellent player, but he's afraid of getting hit," said Khabeer, a longtime fan of ex-Eagle Terrell Owens, who briefly switched his allegiance to the Dallas Cowboys.

Khabeer predicted: "As soon as [McNabb] sits down and Vick comes in, people will go nuts. That stuff with the dogs, that'll mean nothing."