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Michael Vick's rehabilitation now almost complete

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick flexes his muscle while leaving Ford Field after beating the Detroit Lions 35-32 in an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick flexes his muscle while leaving Ford Field after beating the Detroit Lions 35-32 in an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
By Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist / September 21, 2010

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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

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