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Jason Cole: You say it was a mental challenge last year. But you also knew along the way that some people on the coaching staff during the season wanted to play rookie quarterback Nick Foles. You knew that and just dealt with it quietly. I imagine that the 22-year-old Michael Vick wouldn’t have handled that the same way.
Michael Vick (shaking his head and laughing): Man, you would have never heard the end of me (back then). I mean, I would have been, “I don’t care, it don’t make me no difference, do what you want to do, I’m the best.” I would have handled the media the exact opposite of what I did last year. I think when you understand the nature of the business … it’s hard to fight it because you know that’s somebody’s (wanting somebody else to play) and that’s what they want. At some point, you gotta play or be almost perfect in order not to suffer those consequences, consequences that you don’t want. But it creates a different type of pressure, it doesn’t allow you to go out and just play freely. Hey, that’s part of the business, that’s part of the sport. You gotta be able to handle it and I think I handled it well.
Cole: If you could go back in time and look at 20-year-old Michael Vick …
Vick: Yeah, I know that Michael Vick. It’s ingrained. I lived it.
Cole: What would you tell him?
Vick: Michael Vick has spoken publicly about his conviction and prison time tied to dogfighting. (Getty)You need to spend more time with your family. You need to spend more time working on the gifts that you’ve been given and opportunities that you’ve been given. If you work as hard as you worked when you was in college, then maybe you could turn things around for the football team that you’re currently playing for. Do things different and things may be a little easier. The fact that I took so much for granted because I had so many outside distractions, that didn’t allow me to maximize my potential. Now, I’m 32 trying to maximize my potential. I don’t feel it’s too late, but still, I gotta fight that. …
Cole: I heard this story one time that when you were 15 or 16 years old, there were guys in your neighborhood who wanted to hurt you.
Vick: Yeah, when I was young it was so much violence going on in our neighborhood. There were guys that were envious, but I’ve had people in my life since I was younger who seen the potential in me and they always protected me. They always made sure that I didn’t go to the corner where the dope was being sold and stand on the corner with my other friends who may have had some dope in their pocket. … They kind of protected me until I got out of the city of Newport News (Va.), which is a rough city. But I love my roots and where I’m from. …
Cole: A lot of guys are told to separate themselves from people in their past when they get to the NFL. That’s really convenient to say, but it’s a whole other thing to do when those people have looked out for you and protected you to that extent.
Vick: Yeah, I think the people who have looked out for you, I think that’s when they have to be more conscious of your situation and understand the value and the time that they spent trying to protect you, knowing that that has to continue on. Now, their wants and needs, if you choose to help them to take care of that, that’s on you. But they have still to be conscious of the fact that now you’re a pro. They helped you get into a situation where you’re where you want to be. They still have to understand that they can’t overstep certain boundaries because you have a boss to answer to, just like they should have a boss to answer to. It goes hand in hand, but they have to be cognizant of the fact that it can only go so far.
Cole: So it’s a really tough thing to do.
Vick: It is tough, and you get a lot of kids who grew up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods who happened to make it out and have some talent and become professionals who just had people around them who they cared about. I think that’s normal. It’s natural to grow up with those types of people. But, like I say, it has to be a separation there where they allow you to go out and be the person you set out to be or the player you set out to be. Any other distractions become a distraction.
[More: Andy Reid gets rid of his Eagles stuff with one big garage sale]
Cole: Did that become harder for you?
Vick: No, because people around me understood. It was more so me inviting them into the arenas that I wanted to be in or wanted to partake in or the situations that we were involved in when we were young. Now the older guys who were a bit more mature, they understood. … I had one of my best friends telling me the entire time that I needed to change, and I never did. He told me that I could go to prison for the things that I was condoning and I blew him off in 2003. This is one of the guys who helped raise me into a young man. He was one of the older guys, eight or nine years older.
Cole: He looked at you and he told you that?
Vick: Yeah, he told me. He always told me the truth. He cared about me genuinely enough. Even to this day, we have a great relationship and he told me. I tell people about it all the time. I’ll be like, “He told me that I was going to go to prison one day.” I laughed at him. I laughed at him.