Flights of fantasy: Reconciling the Vick-cation fund

Play misty for me

I’d say that rooting for Mike Vick became a heck of a lot easier when I figured out he had the ability to help me fund a vacation to Cozumel in March.

I still can’t say I like him. The dog-killing seems like the sort of thing that you should just know is wrong to begin with, regardless of your background, without the need to be rehabilitated.

But my opinion of Vick’s character means nothing when it comes to a winning fantasy team.

From my very first fantasy baseball team back in 2000, I would attempt to assemble as many obvious steroid users as possible. I’ve won leagues for years basing teams around guys like Sheffield, Palmeiro, Clemens and Bonds. As I told a football co-owner a few years back when he maddeningly refused to draft Brandon Marshall because of character concerns, you don’t have to go to lunch with these guys.

The-LeagueMy main football team is one I co-own in a 14-team keeper league called the JFL that resembles “The League” on FX. The draft is a gala event every year at the commissioner’s house, with his parents providing baked ziti and hamburgers.

The JFL consists mostly of high school friends from Long Island and has been in existence for 15 years; I’ve been involved for 9. My partner and I had previously made two championship games but hadn’t won, defeated by Larry Johnson in 2005 and DeAngelo Williams in 2008.

Prior to last season, my co-owner coerced me into an elaborate and horrible trade in which we dealt Chris Johnson for the right to keep Tom Brady, Andre Johnson and Matt Forte. Though we were able to keep an extra player beyond the normal two, Johnson proceeded to run for 2,000 yards, Brady was rusty and Forte was slow. We finished with a 5-8 record.

There was a lot of tension between my partner and I over this failure, and I researched tirelessly for this past year’s draft, making a Dan Gilbert-esque vow that we’d win a title before the guy who astutely snatched CJ2K from us. We ended up with a solid team for a 14-team league — Mendenhall, Andre, Bradshaw, Witten, Colston.

I also bought into the Kevin Kolb hype. And when Kolb was knocked out with a concussion one half into the season, we raced to the waiver wire to claim Vick, who someone had dropped a few days prior for the immortal Charlie Whitehurst.

Vick was magnificent from the moment he stepped on the field, and we knew that if he kept the job and stayed mostly upright, we finally had a championship team on our hands.

Even my girlfriend watched some Eagles games with me, choosing to overlook the fact that she’s a dog owner and a Giants fan to root for what she called our “Vick-cation fund.”

While CJ2K became merely a very good but mortal running back, Vick was the most incredible fantasy force in the history of our league, essentially a very good quarterback and a solid running back rolled into one roster spot. His heroics included a night game against the Redskins we entered behind by 40 points. Vick merely set a league record with 50.

Powered mainly by Vick, we went 11-2 in the regular season. And despite the least opportune time to have his worst game, Vick limped through the title game and did just enough against the Vikings, giving us a two-point win, the coveted JFL championship and $1,300, half of which goes into the Vick-cation fund.

I’ve had people half-seriously suggest I should donate some/all to the ASPCA. I do give annually to certain causes, but the way I figure, atoning for the dog fights is on Vick, not me.

*****

This whole time, I was fascinated by how a transcendent performance by an athlete never fails to affect people’s perception of him. If Tiger Woods hadn’t lost his ability to win anything, wouldn’t we all be trumpeting his recovery from cocktail waitress addiction? Jemele Hill would wear out 15 keyboards talking about his “redemption.”

And, I mean, Kobe’s doing well after a rough stretch there. Watch how much respect LeBron takes back after he wins it all this June.

The dog fights are still always in the back of my mind, as is the fact that Vick’s contrition since being sprung is straight-up self-preservation. He cost himself $100 million; he may earn it all back just by playing to our need for a good comeback tale, if that’s what he’s doing.

But man, I have to say, I like watching Vick.

Is there anyone even close to as interesting in the NFL? Part of the reason I was unable to keep up with the weekly football exploration I had been doing for the past two years is that I didn’t find the sport nearly cool enough — except for Vick (and Tom Brady, to a degree).

Sort of like Mike Tyson, ever since Vick got back out of prison, he has seemed like an apparition, as we’ve had to reconcile our memories of what he was, with the supposedly repentant criminal going up and down the field against the Giants.

After all, Vick has always captivated us. More than anyone since Bo Jackson, he resembled a living video game character — Randall Cunningham in the original Tecmo Super Bowl, perhaps? Despite his own admission that he had coasted on his talent in Atlanta, completely enabled by the fawning Atlanta management, he had so much raw physical beauty.

We love natural talent like this — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Ken Griffey. You sort of feel like you were on it from the start — you saw them play in high school, or had their rookie card.

When Vick crashed and burned, the same people who had adored him railed against him with the particular fury of a sycophant robbed of one of its favorite vicarious toys. There was nobody like Vick — in a variety of ways — and besides the dog killing, how could he be so selfish as to squander his incredible physical gifts?

And yet even out of sight, he was never out of mind. When I was in Atlanta last January, after Vick had spent a full year on the bench, every other call was from someone still holding a flame for their deposed hero, even though Matt Ryan is more than a capable replacement.

I still think what Vick did was despicable, and yet have to give pause to things like hunting being mostly socially acceptable, if not totally savory. My father shot a deer with a pistol recently when he couldn’t get to his crossbow quick enough. I’d say it makes me only a partial hypocrite; I’m okay with his grisly hobby, but I’d disown him if he did what Vick did.

When Vick plays the Packers this weekend, I actually feel compelled to root for him, primarily because he inadvertently did so much to enhance my football season, and because he’s straight up the most fun thing about the sport.

I couldn’t care less about Vick’s heartwarming redemption tale, I’ll never condone what he did and I’ll never totally trust him.

But I look forward to watching him do his thing against the Pack this weekend.

And to raising a glass in his honor on the beach in two months.

Esoteric

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