PHILADELPHIA - Just more than two years after being released from prison, out of work, mired in bankruptcy and facing an uncertain future, Michael Vick is again on top of the world.
Vick, who served 19 months at federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., on felony dogfighting charges before joining the Philadelphia Eagles as a third-string quarterback two years ago, signed one of the richest contracts in NFL history on Tuesday.
Vick's six-year, US$100 million deal makes him the third-highest-paid player in the NFL, behind only Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
"It's a lot of money, how ever you look at it," Vick said. "Obviously, it's going to create a lot of demands. I know what comes along with it, and I know how to handle it. But it's not even about the money. It's about the changes that have been made in my life. Kids have an opportunity to see that you should never count yourself out.
"But at the same time, don't put yourself in a position where you've got to make a miraculous comeback. That's not what it's about."
Vick, twice a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons before he went to prison, said there were times while he was in prison he wondered if he would ever get back what he once had.
"Sometimes as a man, you fear what you can't see," Vick said at a press conference at the Eagles practice facility. "Nobody can predict the future. You don't know what's going to happen. Tomorrow's not promised. The only thing you can do is live your life, hope for the best, continue to have faith, believe in yourself.
"The thing for me was believing in the people who were there for me in my time of need. ... You never know what's going to happen. Expect the worst and hope for the best, and that's what I did.
"God was on my side, and I'm here today."
Vick, 31, became the Eagles' backup quarterback when they traded Donovan McNabb to the Vikings after the 2009 season, and he became the starter last September after replacing an injured Kevin Kolb.
He was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 after winning eight of 11 starts, throwing a career-high 21 touchdown passes and rushing for nine more. The Eagles retained his rights by signing him to a one-year, $16 million franchise tag, but his new contract runs through 2016.
"This is a great story all the way through," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "This is really what America's all about. Second chance and Mike took full advantage of that. And then when he was given a second chance to start in the National Football League, he took full advantage of that and turned it into this."
Vick became the first player in NFL history to sign more than one $100 million contract in his career. On Dec. 23, 2004, with the Falcons on their way to the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the Eagles, Vick signed a 10-year deal worth $130 million. But he played only 32 games under that deal before legal problems derailed his career.
"I've learned ... don't take anything for granted," Vick said. "I did that at one point when I had the big contract in Atlanta, and I think that will definitely help me now in understanding what's most important and how to move forward in my life."
Vick said his legal problems and lengthy prison stay will always drive him to excel, no matter how much money he's earning.
"It's always something that's going to be a part of me," he said. "It's the reason why I work so hard each and every day. It's the reason I come to work dedicated to become the best that I can be. Nothing's going to come easy in life, and I've learned a lot of lessons, some the hard way, and I think just the things that I've been through have helped mould me into the person I am and what (is in) my future and that's continuing to do things the right way."
Vick spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons in prison, backed up Donovan McNabb and Kolb in 2009 and then began last year on the bench. But after Kolb suffered a concussion on opening day, Vick replaced him and within two weeks, Reid had named Vick his permanent starter. The Eagles traded Kolb to the Cardinals last month, eliminating any doubt Vick was their quarterback of the future.
A week from Sunday in St. Louis, Vick will make his first opening-day start in five years.
"(I) go back in time and think about how hard it's been over the last two years," he said. "But (despite) the sacrifices I had to make and what I had to give up, it's been all worth it."
And now, the hard part. Vick and his new-look teammates will soon embark on a journey that could ultimately result in the franchise's and the city's first Super Bowl title.
The Eagles won the 1960 NFL championship, but have been to just two Super Bowls since, losing both.
"The common goal is to bring that ring back to the city of Philadelphia. That's why we play," he said. "That's what we're all working for. As a competitor, I don't feel my career will be complete without that."