- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

The best thing about this Super Bowl is that Michael Vick won’t be in it. Seriously, you’d think Michael put the Vick in victory the way people gush about him. The cover of last week’s Sporting News kind of said it all. It had a picture of him, ball tucked under his arm, leaping over a fallen St. Louis Ram.

“THE NEXT HURDLE,” the headline read. “Michael Vick leads the Falcons into Philly.”

THE NEXT HURDLE. That’s the problem I have with Vick — and with the way many perceive him. I mean, when exactly did quarterbacking turn into the decathlon? Funny, but I don’t remember Renaldo Nehemiah leading the 49ers to any titles; Joe Montana, I’m pretty sure, did that. Renaldo was just somebody who was told, occasionally, to “go long.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous appreciation for Vick’s talents. I voted for him for the Heisman Trophy when he was at Virginia Tech and consider him one of the most exciting athletes in the hemisphere. (In fact, I’d probably rank him No. 2, right behind Super Dave Osbourne.) I just don’t think, at this point, that he’s all that great a quarterback — and I wonder whether his admirers are doing him any favors by telling him he is.

Ever since Vick broke into the league, people have talked about him “reinventing” the quarterback position. But the only way somebody is going to reinvent the quarterback position is if they reinvent the game itself. The QB is, first and foremost, a passer, a deliverer of the football. This has nothing to do with running a 4.3 40 or leaping tall buildings in a single bound. It’s an act that requires vision, precision and — since large, malevolent men are often bearing down on you — no small amount of guts. But you don’t have to be Bruce Jenner.

Some quarterbacks who couldn’t outrun a fire hydrant — Norm Van Brocklin comes to mind — were great, great players. They were great because they could throw the ball. The last four quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl, I’ll just point out, are Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, Tom Brady (twice) and Brad Johnson. Would anybody describe one of them as a dangerous runner? If a quarterback has some elusiveness, can duck a few sacks, that’s swell. That’s a bonus. But the most important thing is, can he hit a moving target at 20 paces?

Sometimes Vick can, and sometimes he can’t. In four of his 17 games this season he failed to complete 50 percent of his passes, and in two others he connected on exactly 50 percent. That’s too many off days for a supposedly elite quarterback, especially when you’ve got Daunte Culpepper (69.2) and Peyton Manning (67.6) completing close to 70 percent for the entire season.

Of course, Vick’s fans will tell you, “Throw out the statistics. Michael’s unique, a freak of nature. All that matters is that he wins.”

Throw out the statistics? All of them? How about his league-leading 16 fumbles (seven of which were recovered by the opposition)? Can we include that in the discussion, or are his fumbles unique, too?

It’s true Vick’s passing stats don’t give you a complete picture of him. After all, he rushed for over 900 yards this season and likely would have broken the record for a quarterback if he hadn’t sat out a game and a half near the end of the regular season. Defensive coordinators get the shakes when they look at tapes of No. 7 skittering around because they realize he has the speed and niftiness to nullify even the most well-conceived scheme. But they also know if you can keep him in the pocket, play with discipline and tackle surely when he takes off on one of his forays, you can beat him. The Eagles showed that in the 2002 playoffs and again Sunday.

Randall Cunningham, the Michael Vick of his era, never got to the Super Bowl because, among other things, he never developed into a first-rate passer. (The same could be said of Bobby Douglass, the Michael Vick of the ‘70s, though Bobby ran more like John Riggins.) Indeed, I can’t think of a single quarterback in NFL history who was a better runner than thrower and accomplished much of anything.

Vick right now is a better runner than thrower. And what we’re going to find out in the next few years is whether he’s content with that, content with being a novelty, a curiosity, a CD-ROM superstar instead of a championship quarterback.

If all you really care about, Michael, is making the “SportsCenter” Top 10 or selling the most jerseys, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if you want to be famous for something other than making hearts flutter, you need to take off the track shoes, get out on the practice field and see whether you can become more than just a passing passer.

Donovan McNabb did it — and look where he is now. McNabb’s rushing total dropped to a career-low 220 yards this season … while his completion percentage soared to a career-high 64. It can be done. That is, if you’re not hung up on “reinventing” the quarterback position.

Vick ain’t a kid anymore. Next season will be his fifth. But in many respects, he’s still the same player he was when he came into the league. He’s still a Highlight Reel Hero, the kind of guy who can nail the quadruple axel but still hasn’t mastered the figure eight.

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