Vick returns to prison, lockout update, QB rumors and more
Michael Vick joined Tony Dungy on a spiritual mission into a Florida prison
Quarterback rumors, including where Carson Palmer and Marc Bulger may land
Quotes of the Week, Tweets of the Week and Ten Things I Think I Think
NEW ORLEANS -- Very interesting weekend. A multi-dateline weekend across the southeast. Started with some saber-rattling by player reps at their annual meeting in southwest Florida on Friday ... continued at Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant in Tampa that night with Michael Vick contemplating his first steps back into prison in 22 months ... then into south-central Florida at dawn Saturday with Vick and Tony Dungy leading a spiritual mission into a sprawling prison camp ... and finished at the kickoff of the NFL meetings in New Orleans on Sunday, with some good info on the quarterback market, a challenge to the players trade association and some controversy over the new kickoff rules to be voted on Tuesday.
Oh. And I have some news about a couple of guys riding to the rescue of Plaxico Burress.
And I think -- no, I know -- that Carson Palmer's serious about his intention to retire if the Bengals don't deal him.
And Andy Reid's got at least one team on the hook for Kevin Kolb.
What? You thought this was the offseason?
We'll start by me tailing The Michael Vick Experience as he tried to fire up inmates in Avon Park, Fla., on Saturday. That's by far the most interesting thing that happened in the NFL this weekend, and no one but about 700 cons were around to see it.
Can I put that on hold to tell you the most interesting two things I learned about Vick this weekend?
One: Did you know Vick, while imprisoned at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., had a "Longest Yard'' experience, quarterbacking one team of cons to a 42-14 win over another? The inmates kept badgering him to play, but he went more than a year without touching a football -- until September 2008, with eight months left on his sentence.
The inmates split into two seven-on-seven teams for a game of flag football. Vick offered to play quarterback for both teams, but that was turned down; a slew of guys wanted the chance to say they were on a team that beat Michael Vick. Alas, the Vick side won in a rout; he said he thought he threw maybe six or seven incompletions. "All my guys wanted to do was go deep,'' he said. I asked him if he was sacked at all. "Once,'' he said. To which Tony Dungy, listening in, said: "Sign that guy up.''
Two: Part of his prison sentence included a four-night, top-secret stay in solitary confinement in Atlanta about a month before his May 2009 release. In a weird crisscrossing of America, Vick had to be transported from Leavenworth to Richmond, Va., to bankruptcy court for a hearing. He was driven from prison in Kansas to the Oklahoma City airport, flown to an airport in Virginia. In two different prisons in Virginia, Vick spent a total of 11 days in solitary confinement, away from the general population.
And when the hearing was over, he said he was put on a prison transport bus, alone, shackled to the seat. The only other person on the bus was the driver. And for eight hours, he was driven in silence to a prison in Atlanta. Why? He needed to go somewhere with a nonstop flight to Oklahoma City, so marshals could deposit him on the plane and simply walk him off the plane in Oklahoma into a waiting vehicle for the drive back to Leavenworth. "It was pretty weird, being in Atlanta,'' he said. "We drove past a course where I used to golf, and past places I used to go all the time. And when I got there, they got me in and out without people seeing me or knowing I was there.''
Stunning. Matt Ryan's throwing balls to Falcon receivers a few miles up the road, and Vick's sitting in solitary, in the town he used to own. And no one knew.
Now to get started on my multi-dateline weekend ...
AVON PARK, Fla. -- I got a good view into Michael Vick's world over the weekend, visiting a Florida prison with Tony Dungy and another one of our NBC Football Night in America colleagues, Dan Patrick. (Dungy invited us to come along to see the prison ministry group he's become so involved with.) It was a good time to see Dungy and his friends at work, and to see how Vick is progressing in turning his life around. Can he really overcome the stigma of masterminding the dogfighting ring the way he did, causing him to spend 19 months of his life in prison?
The signs have been good. "I want to be an instrument of change,'' he told about 700 prisoners at the Avon Park Correctional Institute, 90 minutes south of Orlando. And he was terrific in his five hours here, signing autographs, talking to two large groups of prisoners and then talking to men in smaller groups informally. He also spoke to eight men in solitary confinement.
I can tell you from being in the solitary cellblock, with the tiny cells and the knowledge that these men will leave these cells for only three hours each week ... the depression was palpable. Vick, who had been in cells like these before, got right up to the bars, stuck his hand through them and tried to tell the men their lives aren't over.
So I saw him doing the right thing, and he's been doing the right thing in Philadelphia. Those who monitor Vick, including Dungy and commissioner Roger Goodell, think he's doing well.
I'll tell you what concerns me: the adulation and the nonstop attention. That contributed to Vick thinking before his conviction he could live by different rules than the rest of the planet, and the adulation hasn't stopped. He was swarmed in the morning by men desperately happy to see him. In the evening, when he went with Dungy and the former coach's wife, Lauren, to a fundraising banquet for the Abe Brown Ministries, one of Dungy's favorite causes, a constant procession of people to Vick's seat in the crowd made it hard for him to eat -- and he finally gave up trying to do that.
At the end of the night, Dungy and Vick had to disappoint scores of people by not signing or posing for photos with every last one. "This is not just today,'' Vick said. "It's every day.''
The people were nice, to be sure, and well-meaning. But we saw what happened to Vick when the daily treatment of him like Michael Jordan in the public was combined with having money. And if he keeps playing football like he played in his reborn 2010 season, he's going to have money again, even after he takes care of his debts from bankruptcy court. Lots of money.
He appears to be on his way to changing his life. But time will tell if the change can stick. I just know if I were being told every day how wonderful I am -- not once, but 300 times -- my wife telling me to take the recycling out might fall on deaf ears.
Driving back from dinner Friday night, Dungy, looking to make a slight adjustment, came to an intersection with a U-turn prohibition. He took a left into a parking lot, turned around, and got back on the street going the right way.
"That's the kind of thing I used to just say, 'I don't see a cop, I'm doing the U-turn,' '' Vick said. "That happens now, I'm wrong, I get picked up, and I'm on the front page. It's not a big deal, but if I do it, it is. I understand. That's OK. To alleviate any chance of a problem, I've always got to do the right thing now. But it's a good thing. I've got to hold myself accountable in everything I do.''
Back to Avon Park. Vick brought his message to about 700 prisoners, to loud applause. "I can tell them the theoretical,'' Dungy said on the ride to Avon Park. "Mike can tell them what it's really like, and how to use this time in their life to prepare for the world again.''
When Vick arrived, he looked at the gleaming wire and the sprawling white-bricked complex of cellblocks. "Don't look like Leavenworth,'' he said. "It's nicer.''
Most of the men wanted to talk to him about football, and he did a lot of that. But when Dungy got him on stage in the courtyard, following some rousing spiritual songs by the volunteers from Tampa, he was intent on delivering a message, with Vick's help. Dungy has been doing this for 15 years, going to prisons several times a year. It started by following the lead of the late Abe Brown, a high school football coach in Tampa who saw the crushing cycle of imprisonment badly affecting men from Tampa Bay.
In the crowd at Avon Park, Dungy was surprised -- but not shocked, because nothing shocks him about crime anymore -- to see one of his son Eric's classmates from Plant High in the crowd. "When I started to come to prisons [with Abe Brown],'' said Dungy, "I was so surprised. I thought it'd be all these older guys. But they're so young, most of them. They made one mistake, in many cases, and it can ruin their lives. We try to come here and just give them hope that their lives aren't over, that they can take control of their lives and rebound.''
Vick had been a little tight Friday night. "I'm nervous about going,'' he said, "but this time, I get to leave at the end of the day.'' When Vick strode into the courtyard to meet the men, he wore AVON PARK VISITORS BADGE 307; the inmates wore their prison IDs clipped to the front of their prison-issued blue uniforms. In the informal chatting and signing, much of the talk was football. "You gonna learn to slide now?'' one 25ish inmate asked.
"No. No,'' Vick said. "Not how I play. In 20 years, I'll look back at my career and say, 'I never learned to slide.' ''
"Need you on the Giants!'' another inmate shouted.
"Nope,'' he said. "Eli's team.''
When Dungy faced the prisoners Saturday morning, he used his guest from Philadelphia as a beacon.
"I have a lot of friends in the National Football League,'' Dungy said from a podium, with the flags of Florida and the United States bookending him. "And a lot of them have done great things. But I don't have a friend that I'm more proud of than Michael Vick.''
Vick liked the trip more than he thought he would. "It was therapeutic for me,'' he said. "I got so much out of it.''
Dungy's fond of saying you never know how many people you're going to influence on trips like this, and if it's only one, you've had a worthwhile day. You never know which one. One day, that would be a fan letter Vick would like to get.
(More of my trip with Dungy and Vick can be read in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.)