NEW YORK -- For Michael Vick's sake, here's hoping he plays it straight with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this time around.
Vick made Goodell look silly once before when the commissioner trusted him, and he could make him look silly again. Goodell believes he won't, which is why he decided to make Vick eligible to return to the NFL for the Eagles' third regular-season game, a Sept. 27 date with Kansas City. But there's a risk here, and the risk is trusting someone who is low on the credibility scale.
Rewind the videotape to the days leading up to the 2007 NFL Draft when Goodell brought Vick to New York to question him about his offseason behavior, including reports that Vick was involved in dog fighting. Vick assured Goodell he was clean, the commissioner took him at his word and I think we all know how that worked out.
"He lied to me," Goodell told a roomful of reporters on Wednesday.
Yeah, well, he could lie to him again. Only this time Goodell thinks he won't because this time is different. And it's different because Vick had two years in prison and home confinement to think about what he did, what he sacrificed and why he didn't show any apparent signs of remorse.
Well, there's remorse now. At least Goodell said there is, and he better be right. Because he put himself out there with Vick, saying he trusts someone who once demonstrated he can't be trusted. I can't imagine that was easy for the commissioner, but Goodell seems convinced he's doing the right thing and that Vick is someone who understands what he did was wrong, won't repeat it and is genuinely sorry for his actions.
Of course, that's what Vick said. Now, he must demonstrate he means it.
"He recognizes he has to earn that opportunity back again," Goodell said, "and that's not going to be by telling me anything; it's going to be by demonstrating it. He repeated that again [Thursday] morning, and he has repeatedly [said]: 'I have to demonstrate to you and others that I recognize I have to make better judgments going forward.' I think he fully understands that, and he's prepared to do that."
You can only hope. Vick has an opportunity to play with one of the league's premier franchises, the Philadelphia Eagles, and an opportunity to redeem himself in front of millions of football fans and animal lovers. It's not so much his reputation as a professional athlete that's at stake here; it's his reputation as a young man whom persons like Goodell, Eagles coach Andy Reid and former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy -- all of whom have gone to bat for the guy -- can trust and believe in.
"He knows the requirements he's under," Goodell said. "I believe he is recognizing that these are life-management skills and not just skills for the next two or three years. There are skills he can use the remainder of his life, and that's the point that Tony is bringing to him -- that this is the way you conduct your life; this is the way you do things in life; this is the way you manage yourself as a young man, a father and a husband."
Let's be honest here: Vick plays this month because Goodell believes in him. This was the commissioner's call, and he decided Vick had changed from the guy who lied to him two years ago. It wasn't one conversation that did it. Goodell said he talks to Vick and others, including Dungy, weekly. It was more what Goodell described as a "step-by-step process," including conversations with Vick and others, that convinced him Michael Vick is ready to return to the NFL.
"We are looking for a success story here," he said. "We want him to be successful."
But be careful what you wish for. Vick conned the commissioner once. He could do it again. Roger Goodell has stuck his neck out for Michael Vick, just as Andy Reid, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and Dungy stuck theirs out last month. It's up to Vick to make them look good by making himself look good, and stay tuned. This story is just beginning to unfold.
"I'll share you with you in the initial hearing something I thought was indicative of where he was in accepting responsibility," Goodell said. "We were talking about his past experience and why he got involved in dog fighting, and he was quite genuine and open about the mistakes he made ... and how horrified he was he didn't stand up and try to stop it.
"One of his representatives tried to provide what I'll call, for lack of a better word, an excuse, and he [Vick] stepped right in and said, 'No, I'm responsible. I made the decision. I made a mistake. And I did not stop it.' He took that responsibility, and I think when you're willing to take responsibility, willing to admit a mistake and be accountable for it, that's a significant step moving [forward].
"He was very genuine in his remorse. ... He understood, and he recognizes he still has to prove himself every day. He's very realistic about the challenges ahead. He's very committed also. And I think he's anxious to play football, which is a good sign."