American football quarterback
for the Atlanta Falcons
; formerly a two-year starter (1999-2000) at Virginia Tech
Vick grew up in Newport News, Virginia, part of the talent-rich Hampton Roads area of Virginia. (HR's honor roll of NFL stars to come out of HR includes players like Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly and Plaxico Burress.) Vick played 3 of his 4 high school seasons (after post-freshman year redistricting) under the tutelage of Warwick High School's long-time coach Tommy Reamon. Vick was somewhat overshadowed in his HS career by Hampton (later North Carolina) QB Ronald Curry, who had a similar athletic style of play, and had the advantage of a virtual all-star selection of teammates. (Hampton coach Mike Smith is notorious for recruiting star players to move into his district.) Vick accepted the scholarship offered by VT coach Frank Beamer, and redshirted during the 1998 season while learning the playbook and working out under VT strength-and-conditioning guru Mike Gentry.
As a redshirt college freshman in the 1999 season, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and led the Virginia Tech Hokies to the national championship game, the (4 January 2000) Sugar Bowl. Although doubters remained before the game (most of whom hadn't watched him play), his performance in this game opened their eyes, leading Tech back to a third-quarter lead despite special teams breakdowns and a somewhat struggling defense. Although he was preceded in the running quarterback mold by players like Donovan McNabb, Randall Cunningham, and his childhood idol Steve Young, his combination of both running and passing skills led the media to trumpet him as the beginning of a new era at the QB position.
He was on the cover of nearly every college football magazine heading into the 2000 season. Unfortunately, a gang-tackle in the Pittsburgh game on 28 October left him with a sprained left ankle and essentially ended his Heisman hopes; he made only a brief, ineffective appearance in the 4 November Miami game and completely missed Central Florida on 11 November. Vick came back and had his best game of the year against arch-rival Virginia 25 November (in what would be his last game in Lane Stadium), then capped off the season with an MVP performance in the 2001 Gator Bowl against Clemson.
A week after the Gator Bowl, worried about potential further college injuries impacting his pro career, and feeling that his skills were stagnating in the relatively simple VT offense, Vick announced his intention to enter the 2001 NFL draft. The Atlanta Falcons traded several players plus their first-round pick to the San Diego Chargers for the #1 overall selection, which they used to select Vick.
Vick spent the 2001 season as a backup to Chris Chandler, learning the speed of the pro game and occasionally coming in as a change of pace versus Chandler's slow-footed, pocket-passer style. After the season, Falcons coach Dan Reeves decided to bet the house on Vick's readiness after assessing his performance in a couple of late-season starts, and released Chandler.
Some ridiculed Reeves for his confidence, but Vick seemed to view this as another challenge. Vick started 15 of 16 regular-season games in 2002, leading the Falcons to a 9-6-1 record. (The game he missed, a 17-10 win over the New York Jets, was due to an injury suffered against the vicious Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.) Until the Falcons went on a 1-3 slide to close the season, Vick was under serious consideration for MVP honors; he was generally recognized as the only player any better than mediocre on Atlanta's offense. Vick then led the Falcons to a win on the frozen tundra of Green Bay's Lambeau Field in the wild-card round of the playoffs; the Falcons became the first opposing team ever to win a playoff game at Lambeau. (Vick had shrugged off pregame questions about Green Bay's cold weather by remarking that he played his college ball at Virginia Tech, where it hardly ever got above freezing in the winter.) The Falcons then lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC divisional round.