The kid is so good he makes his mother cry. She cries in her van on the way to the store. She cries behind the wheel of the school bus she drives for a living. She cries at home watching his games on TV. She cries in the stadium watching him play in person.
"Dear Lord, I just want to thank you," she says whenever the tears start to fall. "Yes, Lord, thank you. Thank you, Lord."
She prays because in her mind God has created something unique in a world too ordinary, and that is her son, Michael Vick, the All-America quarterback for Virginia Tech, and maybe, if you believe what football people are saying, the most exciting player at his position the college game has ever seen. "Michael makes me happy, that's why I cry," says Brenda Boddie, 37, as yet another sob seems on the verge of being unleashed. "I hate to brag, but everything he does is so positive and just so good. I'm shocked myself, watching him run and throw that ball. Every day I thank God for the blessings He's given my son."
Poor God. Imagine all the Saturday afternoons in the fall and all the prayers from football mothers pleading for victory. Surely they all want to win, moms with sons on both sides of the ball. The game winds down; the score hangs in the balance. "Dear Lord," comes the inevitable chorus, "please let it be us." Then comes that one small voice from Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, in southwest Virginia, home of the Hokies. ("Where do they come up with these names?" God must wonder.) The voice is most persuasive for the weight of its sincerity. While others beg for a particular result, this one is filled only with gratitude. No demands, no requests. "Dear Lord, I just want to thank you," the voice says, as Vick takes the snap and drops back, looking for an open receiver. "Yes, Lord, thank you. Thank you, Lord."
Put yourself in God's place: Which team would you have win?
Last season, as a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, Vick led the Hokies to an undefeated regular season and into the national championship game, the Nokia Sugar Bowl, against Florida State. Despite a performance that left the Seminoles awestruck ("He was unbelievable," said Florida State linebacker Brian Allen), Vick couldn't beat the Seminoles single-handedly, and Virginia Tech lost to a superior team 46-29. Florida State receiver Peter Warrick was named the game's MVP, but that night Vick, a refreshingly modest, soft-spoken lad from Newport News, Va., took his place in the consciousness of a nation obsessed with underdog heroes.
Against the country's best defense Vick accounted for 323 of his team's 503 yards of total offense. He threw for 225 yards, completing 15 of 29 passes, one for a touchdown, and he ran for 145 yards on 23 carries, although eight sacks wiped another 48 yards from his rushing total. However impressive, what these numbers fail to reveal is the dazzling manner in which Vick carried the Hokies. Whether uncorking deep spirals or mesmerizing would-be tacklers as he dodged a powerful rush, Vick showed the kind of pure magic that in a few hours creates a legend. A third-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy, tying Georgia Tech's Clint Castleberry (1942) and Georgia's Herschel Walker (1980) for the highest finish by a freshman, Vick's performance in New Orleans announced him as the front-runner for the award this year.
"We can't believe him around here sometimes," says Virginia Tech senior safety Nick Sorensen. "He has strength, quickness, speed and the strongest arm you'll ever see. What the kid doesn't have, I don't know. It's all so effortless for him. Go watch a tape of one of our games, and watch him on a long run. Put it in slow motion. The guy's not running; he's floating. Michael Vick is just a sick athlete. It's crazy."
At 6'1", 214 pounds, Vick is what coaches once liked to call a "specimen," although these days the term of choice seems to be "freak," as in freak of nature. He's a freak because he's so gifted he makes you forget the great players who have starred at his position. He's such a freak that in June a major league baseball team, the Colorado Rockies, picked him in the 30th round of the amateur draft, even though Vick, now 20, hasn't played the game since he was 14. "I talked to a guy with the Rockies and I was like, 'Man, what made you decide to draft me?' " says Vick, who plans to forgo the baseball opportunity. "He said, 'You have a great arm and we think you can pitch. But we also think you can play centerfield.' I wasn't sure whether to tell him that I couldn't hit for anything."
But who in baseball should care about anything as fundamental as hitting when a player can run and throw as well as Vick can? Vick says he's never tested his arm for distance, but in practice he's thrown a football 70 yards without any trouble. In games he's hurled passes as deep as 80 yards. That's with a few steps to get some momentum behind the ball, right? "No, that's just stepping and throwing it," Vick says.