NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - A judge yesterday approved Michael Vick's plan to repay creditors $20 million and emerge from bankruptcy, and the quarterback hustled out of court to prepare for his return to an NFL field later in the night with the Eagles.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Santoro said while Vick is "at the pinnacle of his profession," he has proved unable to manage his finances in the past and ordered him to retain a financial planner as a condition of approval. The reorganization was overwhelmingly approved in a ballot of creditors and by their representatives in court.

"Mr. Vick went from the height of wealth and celebrity to imprisonment, and back again . . . and he is to be commended for that," Santoro said.

After the hearing, Vick signed an autograph, heard a man yelling "Welcome back, Mike," and jumped into a waiting SUV. Then he caught a flight to Philadelphia, where he made his preseason debut with the Eagles against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field.

Vick, 29, was released from federal custody July 20 after serving 18 months of a 23-month sentence for his role in running a dogfighting ring.

"I'm happy it's over. I can move on with my life," said Vick, who was beaming as he left the courthouse. "I think my lawyers did a great job. I commend the judge. I commend the creditors' committee, everybody. We finally got it all together. I'm just happy we can move forward."

The plan approved by Santoro was supported by all but one creditor, which is owed $13,000. It hinges on Vick liquidating an estimated $9 million in assets, including houses, boats and high-end SUVs and future NFL earnings. He would not have to pay creditors during the first year with the Eagles. If successful, creditors would be paid in 6 years. *