|How close was Tomlin to bringing Vick to Pittsburgh? (US Presswire)|
In July 2009, shortly after Michael Vick wrapped up a 21-month prison stint for his involvement in dog fighting, there were reports that the Steelers were one of the teams interested in the quarterback's services. At the time, there were general discussions about where Vick might fit after a two-year absence; was he capable of still playing quarterback? Would he better off moving to a wildcat specialist? Might it even make sense to transition to another position like, say, wide receiver? (Sound familiar?)
Vick eventually ended up with the Eagles, signing a two-year deal to serve as Donovan McNabb's backup. He appeared in 12 games that season but started just once. By 2010, Philly had duped the Redskins into taking McNabb, and after Vick replaced an injured Kevin Kolb in Week 1, coach Andy Reid officially made Vick his No. 1 quarterback.
"This is about Michael Vick and his accelerated play," Reid said at the time. "He's sitting there as possibly the hottest quarterback in the National Football League at this time and deserves an opportunity to play."
But if it had been up to coach Mike Tomlin, Vick might have ended up with the Steelers. Both grew up in Newport News, Va., and Tomlin was was familiar with Vick's exploits when they faced off twice a year in the NFC South; the former was a defensive backs coach for the Bucs, the latter the Falcons' franchise quarterback.
In August 2009, while Vick was still looking for work, Tomlin spoke in generalities about the possibility.
"If people are capable of helping us win, we're going to have a level of interest in those guys," the Steelers coach said. "I'm never going to discuss free agents individually. I don't think that's appropriate. I think that that conversation could be endless. If I start commenting on Michael Vick, then I'll be commenting on Plaxico Burress and everybody else that turns up on the (waiver) wire. We do our due diligence on guys that have a professional skill level and of course (Vick) is one of them."
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, there were several obstacles that kept Vick out of Pittsburgh.
"The main reason was the Rooneys were dead set against it," Bouchette wrote Wednesday. "They had no desire to bring on a felon, just out of prison, and all the negative reaction his signing would bring, both internally and externally. Plus, the Steelers were reigning Super Bowl champs. Who needed that headache?
"Tomlin was willing to look past that, but there was another impediment he said ultimately convinced him not to pursue it -- Ben Roethlisberger."
A week before the 2009 training camp opened, Roethlisberger was accused in a lawsuit of raping a hotel employee in Lake Tahoe, Nev. (The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court.)
“Given some of the things that my quarterback was going through," Tomlin told NBC's Bob Costas later that year, per the Post-Gazette story, "I didn't think it was the appropriate time to add another quarterback to the mix."
There was also this from then-Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians: "I'm not a wildcat guy ... and (former Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon) would get broken in half. ... The only wildcat runner in this league is a 240-pound running back named Ronnie Brown."
So everybody moved on. Vick had his renaissance in Philly and the Steelers made another trip to the Super Bowl after the 2010 season thanks in large part to their franchise quarterback.
Now Pittsburgh will set its sights on doing something it hasn't yet managed: beating a Vick-led team.
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