Michael Vick was electrifying on the football field. He was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL draft. In only his second year in the NFL, he led the Falcons to the playoffs. In the 2003 season the Falcons made it to the NFC Championship Game and although they lost, his star was on the rise.
In many ways his life off the field was inversely proportionate to his life on it. While he was winning games and putting up huge numbers at the highest level in his sport, his chronic bad decisions and questionable circle of friends would eventually lead him to a world of trouble that ended with a 23-month sentence in prison and being ordered to pay $1 million in restitution. He was suspended indefinitely by the National Football League.
Having served his debt to society, the then 28-year-old Vick set out on a new path. He was reinstated to play in the NFL and signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. After a year backing up Donovan McNabb, Vick was named the starter in Philadelphia and was named Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press and Sporting News. He worked with animal welfare charities, and even partnered with the Humane Society to help bring an end to dogfighting.
He settled down in more ways than one; he dedicated himself to his family and what was left of his NFL career, becoming a positive veteran presence on several teams. In 2012 Vick married his longtime girlfriend Kijafa Frink and in 2017 he retired from professional football. Today Michael Vick continues his work with animal welfare charities and when he isn’t working as an analyst on Fox’s award-winning NFL Kickoff show, he’s smoking cigars and playing golf. We caught up with him at Crandon Golf Course in Miami
When did you start working on Fox’s NFL Kickoff?
I started in 2017. It’s funny, because a lot of people don’t know I’m on Fox. Just being an analyst is super cool. It’s very time consuming, as you know, and we have to put a lot of work into it. However, we have fun with it.
I’m looking forward to another season. I’m always excited about the start of it. I love the game. I like watching it as a passionate fan. Wholeheartedly I can pull a lot out of it when I analyze it. So I wake up on Sundays as if I’m still playing.
I think quarterbacks have an advantage over most analysts when commenting on games. What makes you different than the majority of analysts that we see out there?
As a quarterback you have to prepare – all throughout training camp, mini camps, and definitely during a normal week of practice. We have to process a lot of information on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. We have to learn each and every position, including all the moves teams like to make whether calculated or uncalculated. Throughout all my years, I’ve gathered so much information that when I see someone make a mistake, I know why it’s wrong. It’s such a cool experience to be able to shed light on things that I see and then draw back on my experiences that I personally had in order to be the best analyst that I can be. From there you just let your personality shine and by speaking the truth, I think that’s what people admire.
We all know the distractions that you dealt with, and we know you’ve addressed them. You did hard time in addition to all the other different things you had to do. What else do you do nowadays to sort of atone for those mistakes? Is that something you still feel responsible for?
Absolutely, responsibility is very important. Taking onus for one’s actions and specifically being more compassionate towards animal welfare is the message I try to educate kids with. In my case I grew up in an environment where it did not exist, we didn’t care. We didn’t look at it as right or wrong. Unfortunately we didn’t grow up with those types of morals and values. I grew up in poverty-stricken areas in Virginia, and that’s not an excuse. However, we need more people that come out of these areas and lead us. Educators. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish now.
How hard is that?
What you’re trying to accomplish is that kids are doing the right things when the doors are closed and Mom’s not looking. What type of character comes out within you? That’s the key. I was raised in a hostile environment. There are a lot of things that I wish I would have never done. I made mistakes, but now I know. My kids on the other hand live a different life. I see kids now growing up in different environments, and even in the same type of environment as I did, but have more critical thinking skills nowadays. I think they are taught better, and they have better mentors. Moms and dads in the household who don’t let them go out and just roam the streets. In my case I was nine years old and would be 20 blocks away from home. Not to say that my mom didn’t care – it wasn’t her fault. I was just curious and was far away from any type of supervision. So I’ve seen a lot of things, and now I’m thankful that my kids don’t have to go through what I did. Now I try to fight as hard as I can in terms of animal welfare. I recently met with the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, VA. I’m coordinating to help them out with renovations there. I do it because I love the museum. I’m there all the time with my kids. We go and visit all of the exhibits and I want to help them out. It’s a great place. I’m going to help them rebuild. They have various types of classes and curricula for kids of all ages. Kids go on field trips and learn about animal welfare and what it takes to raise animals – all really cool stuff. That’s what I enjoy doing. I’m into making change and being an instrument of change and nobody has to coach me on doing that, you know, it’s my life and I could do it myself.
What about the cigar world? Who introduced you to cigars?
Yeah, Ray Lewis is my cigar mentor. [chuckles] Ray and I have gotten close over the last couple of years. And obviously he’s a Rocky Patel guy. So he’s always educating me on cigars, and we’ll go hang out and just smoke. How do you tell Ray no? For the most part though, I like my cigars mild. Sometimes sweet, even the flavored sweet ones. But those can be a bit too much sometimes and it’s too sweet.
Yeah man I love a good cigar, especially with a glass of wine. Usually when I’m just hanging out with the guys. I’m always intrigued by new and different brands and I’m always trying to educate myself.
So you stay on the mild side of the street, so mostly Connecticut shade wrappers?
Yeah I’ll always go for a lighter shade. And I don’t care what it is. It could be a Cuban or whatever. It could even be the best cigar on the market, but it better be light. And if it’s light for me, then I can work it for sure.
What was that spark that got you to start smoking?
I started maybe seven or eight years ago. A lot of my friends that I hang around with would smoke them on the golf course, which I thought was cool. It’s the perfect thing to do when you’re out there on the course. But when I started to hang out with Ray we would sit down and smoke different brands and really analyze all the different wrappers and all the different flavors. I love the process as I continue to educate myself on what I like or what I can potentially like. I have a better understanding now when a cigar is too strong and it overpowers my palate.
So what has you excited about this upcoming season?
I’m always interested in the quarterbacks and just the current state of all the different franchises. I’m very excited about newcomers like Justin Herbert. I’m always excited to see Lamar Jackson because you never know what he has in store. Patrick Mahomes will be on the bounce back; Brady will be doing his thing. Aaron Rodgers as he continued to work through the differences he has in Green Bay. Hopefully that works itself out. When he puts that Pack uniform back on I think it’s just good football. What do the Cowboys have to offer in the NFC East? Hopefully that division should be much better. The NFC North should be better also with some young quarterbacks there, specifically Justin Fields. So that’s where my excitement is. As you can see I’m more excited by the offensive side of the ball, but I love the defensive side of the ball too, because that’s what makes the game the game.