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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NFL MVP Debate: Similar and Contrasting backgrounds of Brady and Vick

The MVP race in the NFL has turned into a two-man race. Tom Brady has been nothing short of great leading the New England Patriots to a league best 12-2 mark while posting a 109.9 QB rating. The much maligned Michael Vick has been revitalized by coach Andy Reid and has set the league on fire leading the Philadelphia Eagles to first place in the NFC east with a record of 10-4 while posting a career high 103.6 rating himself. Brady was suppose to be in the discussion but most would have called you crazy if you said Vick would be here at this junction of the season. For those reasons, it intrigued me to delve deeper in the subject of these unlikely superstars. Both men have faced some tough circumstances but have overcome them to become the two of the best at the hardest position in sports.




From the outside looking in, the two leading MVP candidates in the NFL are very contrasting figures. Tom Brady is the all-American good boy with his good looks and fiery personality. He is married to supermodel Giselle Bunchen. He seems to live a charmed life that’s much in-tuned with mainstream America. He is a regular on magazines such as GQ and a T.V. darling with the likes of TMZ and every other media outlet following his every move. As for Vick, we all know his story. He was the QB who was supposed to revolutionize the way the position was played when he was drafted out of Virginia Tech. He was a beloved superstar but not in the way Brady was. Urban America loved Vick as much as mainstream America loves Brady. Vick was featured in music videos with star such as T.I and was the toast of Atlanta as their starting QB. Vick will always bear the stain on the dog killing scandal that has engulfed his life. It’s something he can never go back and change. The only thing he is able to do is to continue to play at a high, a la Kobe Bryant and the alleged rape case he faced. Vick has paid his debt that was placed on him by the court of law. He has risen above his mistakes and now showing that he still has the abilities and focus now to take the QB position to another level.



However, there are more surprisingly contrasts between these two QBs. Vick grew up in the Ridley Circle Homes, a housing project in the east of Newport News, Virginia. Vick was surrounded by negative influences like drugs, gangs and drive-by shootings. His mother worked two jobs to support him and her three other children. His father also worked as a sandblaster on the shipyards of Virginia. He was able to escape the endeavors of his everyday life with football. Vick made a name for himself as a freshman in High School as he threw for 400 in a game. He would end up going to Warwick High School after Homer L. Ferguson High School closed, and would star for the school. He passed for 1,668 yards with 10 touchdowns and ran for another 1,048 and 18 scores on the ground. Vick had offer letters from every major school in America that year, but choose to attend Virginia Tech because of its proximity of its location to his family. Under the tutelage of Frank Beamer, Vick flourished. He scored three touchdowns in his first game in the first two quarters. Vick would go to lead the Hokies to an 11-0 record and to the national championship game. Virginia Tech would lose to Florida State but Vick was spectacular as he led his team back from a 21-point deficit. Vick would go to lead the NCAA in passing efficiency and broke the freshmen record at 180.4. Although he was widely considered the best player in college football that year, he would place third in the coveted Heisman trophy voting, even though that was the highest a freshmen had ever placed at that time. After one of the most successful freshmen seasons in NCAA history, Vick came into his sophomore year with raised expectations. He would lead the Hokies to another sparkling record of 11-1 with the lone loss coming in a game that he didn’t play with an injury. In his final game at Tech, Vick received MVP honors in the Toyota Gator bowl as he led the Hokies to victory. Vick’s buzz could not be ignored and with his family still stuck in Newport News, Vick made the decision to jump to the NFL and was selected number 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons.



Tom Brady was born San Mateo, California, a suburb of San Francisco. Brady and his father regularly attended 49ers games when he was a child and Brady began to emulate his idol Joe Montana. Brady would star at Junipero Serra High School and went on to have 219 completions for 3,514 yards and 33 touchdowns. The famous work ethic that Brady is praised for now showed at an early age as Brady reportedly would work out in the school gym three times a day. Although he wasn’t as highly sought and recruited as Vick, Brady was able to land a scholarship at the University of Michigan. He also was drafted in the 18th round of the 1995 Major Leagues by the Montreal Expos. In his first two years, Brady was relegated to backup as Michigan featured Brian Grease as the starter. Brady grew frustrated with his lack of success as a freshmen and sophomore but got his chance to start his junior year. He had to beat out Drew Henson for the starting job but Brady made the most out of his opportunity. The Wolverines would win 20 of 25 with Brady as the Starter. He would set Michigan records for most pass attempts and completions in a season with 214. Brady capped off his career by throwing for 369 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Alabama in the Orange bowl. Brady would enter the draft as he after thought though and was picked with 199th pick by the New England Patriots.



As for the NFL careers of Brady and Vick, neither went as expected. Both men would get there first starts in 2001. Vick, as the anointed savior and number 1 pick of a fledging franchise that was the Atlanta Falcons would have to try and live up to the expectations to all that hype. Brady on the other hand had to fight just to make New England’s roster as he was fourth on the depth chart. He would do well enough in the preseason to merit a roster spot, albeit it as the third QB. Vick starred in Atlanta his rookie year as he broke multiple records including most rushing yards in a game by a QB with 173 versus Minnesota. Vick would lead the Falcons to an upset victory over Green Bay in 2003 for his first playoff victory.



Brady got his chance after a vicious hit that left incumbent Drew Bledsoe on the IR. Brady wouldn’t show his promise until his fifth game. He would lead the Pats on a fourth quarter comeback past the San Diego Chargers. Trailing 26-16, Brady would take command and lead the Pats on two scoring drive to force overtime. The Pats ended up winning 11 of 14 that year and Brady was firmly entrenched as the starter.



From 2001 to 2007 Vick and Brady would combine for 7 pro bowl appearances. Brady won his first title with the Pats in 2001(And won the MVP award becoming the youngest to win the award) and would go on to win three of the next four championships for the Pats. Vick didn’t have that kind of success but he was still a top 10 QB during his stint for the Atlanta Falcons. In 2004, Vick was named to his second Pro Bowl after completing 181 passes for 2,313 yards with 14 touchdowns. He ran for 902 yards and that put him at third all-time by NFL QBs.



Everything changed for Vick in August 2007. After the Pit Bull ring investigation by authorities, Vick was charged with sponsoring a dog-fighting operation by a federal grand jury and was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison. He has had the world against him since the moment the bombshell of this case was dropped against him. Some people called for to be sentenced to life in prison or to be banned from the NFL altogether.



Brady on the other hand was enjoyed his best season ever in 2007. With the newly acquired Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady would go on to throw for 50 passes (An NFL record) and lead New England to an undefeated record only to lose in the Super Bowl as heavy favorites to the underdog NY Giants. Brady and the Pats came into the 2008 year with great expectations following there record breaking year in 2007, but those plans would be cut short by when Brady suffered a season ending knee injury in the season opener against Kansas City. Brady stated that at the time was the most difficult thing he had faced since becoming a pro. Backup Matt Cassel played well and led the team to an 11-5 mark but they would miss the playoffs. Some critics pointed to Cassel’s success and said that Brady’s was a part of a system that could make most QBs succeed. Brady scoffed at that notion. Other critics said that Brady should be traded before his contract was due up and be replaced by Cassel, which sounds like ludicrous nowadays.



Both men finally got back onto the field at the start of the 2009 season. After completing his jail sentence, Vick was mentored by Tony Dungy and in August of 2009 Vick would sign a one-year deal with Philadelphia. Vick wouldn’t play much in his first year as he was mostly used in wildcat formations. The bigger battle was off-field where citizens in the city of Philadelphia didn’t initially embrace Vick. Through it all though Vick stand tall and took the criticism aimed at him. Vick would get an early shot at redemption against his former team the Falcons in week 13. He would run for a touchdown and pass for another in his homecoming. Vick would receive the Ed Block Courage Award as voted by teammates. The award honors players who “exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.



Tom Brady picked up right where he left off in 2007 as he threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. Brady would finish the 2009 regular season with 4,398 yards passing and 28 touchdowns for a 96.2 rating as he won the 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.



That’s brings us full circle to now the 2010 year. Vick wasn’t even supposed to be starting for the Eagles as Donovan McNabb was traded to Washington and the keys of the franchise were given to Kevin Kolb. Kolb however would be concussed in the season opener by Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers. Vick was inserted and the rest has been history. Vick now combines his uncanny athletic ability with a cerebral approach in the pocket. He is the best of both worlds as he proved against the Giants. He can beat you with his legs as he for 130 yards on them and his arm as he threw for another 242 yards. From the fan point of view, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him because he could provide an electrifying moment at any time.



Brady has been just as good and probably safe to say better than Vick this year but not by much. Brady has total command of his offense and its not too much a defense can do to fool him. The Pats retooled by letting Moss go and opening up their offense to feature a lot of underneath passes to their tight ends and short speedy receivers. Brady has been nearly flawless in his pass 6 games as he hasn’t thrown an interception now in 292 straight passes. This year may not be his best statistical year but I would argue anyone that this may be his best overall year in terms of his leadership and charisma that have come to define his team.



Sometimes the bad things in your life can turn out to be the blessing that you have needed to correct an issue your life. Michael Vick prison sentence is an example of this. He might have never understood or to a degree cared about the opportunity that had been given to him. He always had his athletic ability but to succeed at QB in this league you have to study and prepare like no other and now that he does, the difference is evident.



Brady is also an example of this. He started off playing behind Brian Grease at Michigan and made the most of his turn when his number was called. He wasn’t a top draft pick, instead going 199th to the Patriots who initially were to use that pick on Tim Rattay. He fought his way onto the roster and had to have a freak injury to Drew Bledsoe just to get his chance to start. He suffered a horrific knee injury and disparaging comments but yet again fought his way back onto the field.



Both of these men are equally deserving of the NFL’s highest regular season honor. Both men have had to overcome their personal obstacles to obtain their success. As much as they two differ, the more they are the same. One may have grown up in the projects of a crime infested neighborhood in Newport News, while the other grew up in one of the more luxurious suburbs in San Francisco, but both men posses a rare trait found in most people today called resiliency. The more you try and knock either of these guys out the more they bounce up. Either could have given up at multiple times in their life but neither has. Now one of these two men will be your 2010 NFL MVP.

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