- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Michael Vick is the talk of everything.

Whether it’s Whoopi Goldberg and the women on “The View” or Chris Berman and the former jocks on ESPN, everyone has an opinion about Vick these days. The star quarterback’s remarkable comeback story has captured the world’s attention and transcended sports.

In a week where he’s preparing for his biggest game in several years _ the Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) visit the New York Giants (9-4) on Sunday with first place in the NFC East at stake _ the media focus has been on Vick’s desire to own a dog and his first endorsement deal since his release from prison.

But as he has all year, Vick just takes everything in stride.

“I can’t control what people talk about,” Vick told The Associated Press on Thursday, “but I can make sure I do all the right things.”

By all accounts, from teammates to coaches to those around him on a daily basis, Vick has been doing just that. He has worked hard to rejuvenate his image, and he’s winning more and more people over along the way.

He’s gone from being reviled to beloved in Philadelphia, and outside the city, too. Vick leads fan voting for the Pro Bowl, a sign that many people have forgiven him for the dogfighting operation that sent him to prison for 18 months.

Now Vick has landed an endorsement with Woodbury Nissan, a car dealership in nearby N.J. In the television commercial, Vick’s lighter side comes through. He’s shown “signing” a contract with the dealership, diagramming plays for the staff, and tossing keys so hard to a salesman that he bruises the dealer’s hand.

Tom McMenamin, executive manager of the dealership, began his relationship with Vick last year after he signed a two-year contract with the Eagles. But it wasn’t until last week that Vick shot the commercial.

“I knew how much of a mentor Vick was, so I thought if he could rebound and rehab from this thing, people are still going to look up to him,” McMenamin said from his office. “We wanted to establish a relationship with Mike first. We went golfing, had dinner, just hung out and got to know each other. I realized this guy is the guy I think he is. He’s humble, he’s a real genuine human being. I thought he would do well for the store.”

While some _ particularly animal rights activists _ are still anti-Vick, McMenamin said the feedback has been “phenomenal” so far.

“Loyal customers love it,” McMenamin said. “They’re glad we gave him a second chance because he did his time, he paid his debt to society, he’s educating youth on avoiding dogfighting and telling them animal cruelty is not right. But then, you have the activists and they do have a problem with it, so we get calls from them.”

Vick is no stranger to endorsements. When he was a megastar with the Atlanta Falcons, advertisers used Vick to sell video games, sneakers and more. The car commercial could be the start of more deals, an opportunity many assumed Vick would never get after jail.

“I think I did pretty good,” he said of his acting. “That’s not what I do, but I can do it if I want to. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Earlier this week, Vick stirred debate when he again expressed his wish to own a dog. Vick is barred from owning a dog for a year and a half, but he’s consistently said since his release from prison that he genuinely cares for animals and would like to have one as a pet some day.

“I’m not a psychopath. I’m not crazy. I’m a human being,” Vick told The AP. “What happened in my past and what I did in the culture I grew up in doesn’t shape and mold me as the person I am now. I said it before, that I wish I can own a dog and I’ll continue to say it. I’m not allowed to, but I’m just saying I wish I could because my kids ask me every day. It’s more so for them than for me.”

In a sports-crazed town, Vick has become the man around here. Cliff Lee and the Phillies stole the spotlight for a couple days this week, but the attention has shifted back to Vick as the Eagles get ready for the showdown against the Giants.

Vick is the main reason the Eagles are a strong contender to reach the Super Bowl. He’s playing better now than he did back in his days with the Falcons when he went to three Pro Bowls. Vick has thrown for 2,513 yards, 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s also run for 483 yards and seven scores. His passer rating of 104.3 is second only to New England’s Tom Brady.

Vick led the Eagles to a 27-17 win over New York on Nov. 21. He knows the importance of beating the Giants again because the loser will likely have to settle for fighting for a wild-card berth and playing on the road in the playoffs.

“We all know the magnitude of the game. We know it’s a big one,” Vick said. “Where else would you want to be? What other position would you want to be in? We’re playing against a good team, so we’re going to have to be at our best. We’re going to need each and every day this week, as far as our preparation and getting ready to play a good football game. Come Sunday, it’s going to have to be lights out on both sides.”

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