Michael Vick’s rehabilitation now almost complete

The outrage has faded, and the sordid details of Michael Vick’s

murderous dog ring have become fuzzy. The biggest controversy

surrounding him now is not why he would do such evil things to

animals, but whether he should start on Sunday.

Despised dog killer one day, a quarterback darling the next. A

few dazzling runs, a couple of nice touchdown passes, and there’s a

rush to the team store to buy his green No. 7 jersey.

Granted, there was always a chance Vick could be rehabilitated.

A stint in prison, a dose of public humiliation, and the need to

make money fast certainly gave him motivation.

But who would have thought the new Michael Vick might even be

better than the old? No one, because rust and baggage isn’t usually

shed as quickly as this.

No one, that is, except Michael Vick.

”It’s a true testament that if you work hard, you keep your

nose clean, good things can happen,” Philadelphia Eagles coach

Andy Reid said.

Vick’s improbable return to play quarterback in the NFL isn’t

exactly the feel-good story of the year because it’s still hard to

feel good about a man who did the kind of things he did. If anyone

needs to be reminded of the methods Vick and his gang of toughs

used to torture and kill dogs who didn’t fight well, there’s a new

book out this month called ”The Lost Dogs” that describes them in

gory detail.

But he’s served his time and paid his price. He claims to be a

reformed man, and so far he’s done nothing to indicate

otherwise.

The same NFL owners who were too scared of a backlash from fans

to take a chance on his comeback have to be muttering to

themselves. The same coaches who said he would never fit into their

plans have to be rethinking those plans.

And some of the same fans who vowed they would never forgive

Vick can now feel free to call talk shows and urge Reid to make him

the starting quarterback.

That’s not going to happen, at least right away. Philadelphia

has a lot invested in Kevin Kolb, and Reid made it clear again

Monday that he’s not going to dump him just because he had a bad

opening game against Green Bay before being knocked out of the game

with a concussion.

The great thing for Vick, though, is that he doesn’t need to

start another game this year to become a hot commodity. He’s

already shown he can still play, his $5.2 million contract is up at

the end of the year, and there will be a lot more teams looking

seriously at the prospect of acquiring him.

Indeed, two games into the season, some of those teams are

already growing desperate for a quarterback. Assuming Vick’s

performance against the Lions wasn’t an aberration, he could make

any of them better right away.

In Minnesota, the love affair with Brett Favre is cooling almost

as rapidly as a Minneapolis winter, and the Vikings have already

all but said they have no confidence in his backups. The thought of

Vick in the same backfield as Adrian Peterson is enticing and, best

of all, Brad Childress won’t have to beg him to come to training

camp.

Surely Vick would be a safer bet for Carolina than giving the

starting job to Jimmy Clausen, who was a second round pick for a

reason. And since Arizona fans can’t get Kurt Warner back, the next

best thing might be to sign a quarterback with Vick’s proven

talents.

There are probably a dozen teams around the league who would

take Vick right now if they could. Instead, he will be lining up at

a position other than quarterback in the Eagles’ version of the

wildcat offense when his team takes on Jacksonville this week.

Reid feels like he has an abundance of riches behind center with

Vick and Kolb, who will be the starter as long as the Eagles can

keep winning.

”There are a lot of teams that don’t have good quarterbacks,

ones that they feel like they can win with, and I feel like we can

with both of those guys,” he said.

That the conversation now revolves around how Vick plays on the

field and not what he once did off the field is an indication of

how far he has come since finishing out his 18-month prison

sentence barely more than a year ago. Though a recent ”Q Score”

survey showed him to be the most disliked athlete in the country,

the negative response to his comeback has been largely muted.

No, he won’t be hawking shampoo or making Nike commercials. Vick

will always be too radioactive for that.

But he has defied the odds to become a legitimate quarterback in

the NFL once again.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org