- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | Michael Vick quickly settled in at his new home.

A little more than a month removed from his release from federal custody, the quarterback made his debut for the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night in a preseason game against Jacksonville.

As advertised, Vick appeared early in a variety of different formations before sitting out the second half of the Eagles’ sloppy 33-32 victory.

On the second play from scrimmage, Vick trotted onto the field and into the huddle with starting quarterback Donovan McNabb, prompting a standing ovation from the fans at Lincoln Financial Field.

“I didn’t think it would be that positive,” Vick said of the crowd’s reaction. “I was listening as I ran out there. … It was unbelievable the way I was embraced. It was an awesome feeling.”

With the crowd buzzing in anticipation, McNabb split wide right, and Vick dropped into shotgun formation with rookie running back LeSean McCoy flanked to his right. Vick took the snap, stutter-stepped left and then flipped a shovel pass to McCoy for 4 yards.

It was a simple play, but Vick ran it smoothly, particularly for a guy who spent the bulk of the last two years in a Leavenworth jumpsuit. All told, the 29-year-old was in on six plays, all in the first half, completing all four of his passes to three different players for 19 yards and gaining 1 yard on one rushing attempt.

“I never envisioned myself coming out in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform, so it was surreal, standing in the tunnel behind all those big guys with the wings on their helmets wearing green and white,” said Vick, who was released from prison May 20 after serving 18 months of a 23-month prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring. “It’s been a long journey for me, and I just want to do it right this time around. … I’m only about 70 percent right now. Once I get myself in tiptop shape, the sky’s the limit.”

Vick shared the field with McNabb three times, once lining up in the slot as a decoy. Three times he appeared without McNabb, completing passes out of the shotgun each time, including a 13-yard hookup with Hank Baskett on a curl route.

It was a modest first effort from Vick on a vanilla series of calls from Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, who obviously intends to save the bulk of his Vick package for the regular season.

But given the self-destructive efforts of McNabb and backup Kevin Kolb, Vick may be the most popular quarterback in Philadelphia at the moment.

McNabb, who was 21-for-36 passing for 244 yards and a touchdown, moved the team at will but also made two huge blunders, lackadaisically lofting a swing pass-turned-lateral near the Jacksonville goal line that was picked up and returned 92 yards for a touchdown and then giving the Jaguars a short field on a third-quarter interception by Gerald Alexander.

Kolb, meanwhile, was called for intentional grounding in the end zone on his first snap, giving Jacksonville a safety and a 29-20 lead with 1:04 left in the third quarter.

As for Vick, two things were obvious in watching the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback execute the mundane offense:

Though Vick had not played since Dec. 31, 2006, there was little evidence of rust. Vick is still the electric playmaker who awed college fans at Virginia Tech and then took his pass-and-dash game to the Atlanta Falcons for six seasons.

Second, Philadelphia fans and players are ready to embrace Vick. The unusually large preseason crowd roared each time Vick entered, and there were few if any dissenting voices.

Perhaps fearing verbal or physical retribution from the rabid fan base, no animal rights activists showed up outside the stadium before the game. There reportedly were a dozen folks at the nearest subway stop at Pattison Avenue and Broad Street, including a handful of Vick supporters from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Outside the stadium, the team reported a grand total of four protesters, including one dubiously dedicated anti-Vickster who left her post 90 minutes before kickoff to take her seat inside the stadium.

A tattoo-festooned, multiply pierced trio who identified themselves only as “concerned citizens” carried a banner reading “Murderers are not Role Models.”

Said one of the three women: “Endorsing someone like Michael Vick as a role model for Philadelphia’s youth is a travesty.”

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