by Seth Eisenberg
Andy Reid, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, says personal experiences with his own sons’ struggles with the law helped him understand Michael Vick. Vick’s six touchdowns in Monday night’s 59-28 shellacking of Donovan McNabb’s Washington Redskins returned the Eagle’s coach and two of the league’s prominent quarterbacks to the national spotlight.
Ten days before his 34th birthday and hours after inking a $40 million contract with the Redskins, McNabb took on the Philadelphia team he joined in 1999, the same year Reid became head coach and changed the course of the franchise when he tagged McNabb as the second overall pick in the NFL draft.
While Philly fans were disappointed Reid went for McNabb instead of Heisman trophy running back Ricky Williams, the quarterback known for charm, antics, and leadership on and off the field went on to lead the Eagles to five NFC championship games and Philadelphia’s second ever Super Bowl appearance. In April, after a series of injuries and disappointments, the Eagles gave up on their star quarterback, trading him to Washington for a second round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Michael Vick had many years to prepare himself mentally and physically for Monday night’s record-breaking romp of the Redskins. While many may have counted the former Atlanta Falcon out of the game for good when a felony conviction related to animal cruelty charges led to a 23-month federal prison sentence in December 2007, Vick’s ability to beat the odds began long before he picked up a football.
Michael Vick couldn’t have felt much further from the spotlight of his stellar high school, college, and NFL career than he did on February 3, 2008 when the New York Giants took on the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. While McNabb was in Arizona enjoying the Super Bowl media blitz, Vick was 1,300 miles away, locked up in the U.S. penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. When the Giants came away with one of the biggest upsets in sports history with a 17-14 win over New England, Michael Vick surely took note that he could beat the odds again too.
Brenda Vick was just 16 when she became pregnant with Michael. Michael Boodie, his father and namesake, was just a year older. Michael was their second child. The couple married five years later and went on to have two more children, including Marcus Vick, who also went on to the NFL, playing briefly for Miami in 2006.
Vick grew up in Newport News, Virginia as a devastating wave of crime and poverty swept over the city. Many of the local youngsters of his generation went on to become drug dealers and gang members. The family survived through hard work, help from Brenda’s parents, and embracing sports as an escape from a cycle of despair that stole the potential of many of Michael’s peers. In 2001, Michael Vick said that when he was 10 or 11, he would go fishing even if the fish weren’t biting, to get away from the stress and violence of daily life in the struggling community projects. While the Vick family’s internal conflicts have been played out under a national spotlight, the decision of his teen parents to bring Michael into the world, their marriage and hard work during his earliest years, and the support of extended family gave the youngster a chance many of his peers never had.
Donovan McNabb’s parents also worked hard to give their two children a chance to fulfill their potential. While Donovan spent his early years growing up on Chicago’s notorious South Side, when he was eight his parents, Sam and Wilma McNabb, saved enough money to move the family to the suburb of Dolton. As the first black family on the block, the McNabbs were committed to overcoming a neighborhood welcome that included shattered windows and spray painted obscenities.
Donovan’s charming personality, intellect, and good humor quickly helped him make friends among the local youngsters while also leaving early coaches concerned he didn’t have the seriousness needed to become an athletic success.
Beyond gaining fame from her appearances with Sam in Campbell’s Soup commercials, Wilma McNabb serves as vice president of the NFL Mother’s Association and executive director of the Donovan McNabb Foundation. She also oversees Donovan’s endorsements as director of McNabb Unlimited.
While Vick clearly came out on top in Monday night’s NFL faceoff against McNabb and the Redskins, both men’s stories of overcoming odds through hard work, family, faith in themselves even during periods of struggle and turmoil, mentoring, second chances, and lifting themselves up out of difficult situations will likely be their most lasting legacy.
PAIRS Foundation’s free 2010 Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide includes practical skills and exercises to strengthen marriages, relationships with children, spouses and other family members. The guide is designed to help moms and dads build greater resiliency into their marriages and families to give their own children the best chance of fulfilling their potential. Check it out to learn how to give your children the chance to become superstars in their own lives.
Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.