"Last year I would go out at night and hang out in the clubs because I wasn't playing, which was the wrong attitude," Vick says. Before leaving for training camp this summer, he recalls his mother, Brenda Boddie, telling him, "Look, I know you're 22 years old. Can you control yourself for 16 weeks? Can you be focused for that long, because after that you're free to do whatever you want to do." Vick laughs at the recollection and adds, "She's right, but it's easier said than done. We've got all these fine women running around Atlanta. I might have to sneak out once in a while."
Whatever Vick's doing, it's working. He opened the season by completing his first 10 passes and taking the favored Packers to overtime at Lambeau Field before losing, and his growth curve seems to have risen sharply with each passing month. His numbers after 11 weeks are impressive—a 90.4 passer rating, with nine touchdown passes and only two interceptions—and his teammates are wowed by his leadership. Vick has been stunningly effective in two-minute drills, setting up the last-second field goal that won the Falcons' first meeting with the Saints and completing the wild comeback against the Steelers. "The guy isn't flustered by anything," says veteran wideout Shawn Jefferson. "I've seen John Elway in crunch time, and Mike's got the same poise. There's an eerie calm that comes over our huddle." Reeves, who coached Elway in Denver, believes Vick has a chance to reach Elway's rarefied level. "Like John, Mike is blessed with great talent and still works his butt off," Reeves says. "If he's bothering defenses now, just wait until a year or two from now, when he puts it all together. I don't even know how far he can go."
On a chilly night in mid-November, Vick's Ford Expedition is headed up I-85. He and four-month-old Mike Jr., who's visiting from Newport News, Va., are in the back; longtime buddy Charles (C.J.) Reamon is at the wheel. When Reamon turns onto Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Vick exclaims, "Jimmy Carter—that's my dawg!" He goes on to explain that when the former president visited the Falcons' locker room after their victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 22, he said, "I enjoyed watching you play, Michael. You're unbelievable."
Vick is used to the acclaim. Around Atlanta, when he goes out in Buckhead or shops at the Lenox Mall, he gets approached by fans and celebrities (rappers, actors, athletes), most of whom tell him, "You're changing the game."
He does not dispute this, but Vick is also trying to get better every day, using his explosiveness to win games while he learns the lessons that all young quarterbacks must. He can't wait for another crack at the NFC South-leading Buccaneers on Dec. 8 in Tampa. "They got me last time," he says, "but I've got a little something for them this time. This will be my biggest game of the year. I'm sure of it."
His long-term goals are not modest. He wants to emulate Jordan, and he can envision a day when the phrase be like Mike includes a certain football superstar. "I want to get to the top, make a ton of money and become a businessman," Vick says as the SUV stops in his driveway. With his left arm he picks up Mike Jr.; in his right hand he holds a tube of Chap Stick, which he presses to his ever-ready lips.
"I love this little man so much," Vick says, smiling. "He's the person I pick up all those first downs on third-and-25 for, the one I take all those hits for."
His lips moist and pink, Vick slips the Chap Stick back into his pocket. Meanwhile, all around the NFL, ashen-faced defenders are trying to figure out how to counter his magic.