Ed: Tomlin Wanted to Sign Vick With Steelers
WEDNESDAY, 03 OCTOBER 2012 WRITTEN BY ED BOUCHETTE
Imagine this scenario for Sunday’s game: Michael Vick playing in Heinz Field, not against the Steelers but FOR them.
It might have happened had Mike Tomlin more strongly pursued his desire to have the Steelers sign Vick three years ago.
Vick had completed 21 months in prison for pleading guilty to a federal felony charge of running an interstate dog fighting ring. The Falcons released him in June 2009, but Vick was ready to resume his football career. Tomlin was interested in having him join the Steelers.
Tomlin knew all about Vick’s talents. Both were born in Newport News, Va., and Tomlin coached twice annually against Vick when he was the secondary coach at Tampa Bay and the quarterback played for the division-rival Falcons. Plus, Vick was mentored by Tomlin’s former coach in Tampa Bay, Tony Dungy, during his time in prison and after his release.
Byron Leftwich, who played behind Roethlisberger in 2008, had signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. The Steelers had Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon as backups heading into the 2009 camp.
Two things prevented Tomlin from bringing Vick to Pittsburgh. The main reason was the Rooneys were dead set against it. 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 Steelers opened training camp in 2009, a lawsuit filed against Roethlisberger in Lake Tahoe, Nev., alleging he raped a woman surfaced. Tomlin came to the believe that signing Vick at such a fragile time for his two-time Super Bowl quarterback was a bad idea.
“Given some of the things that my quarterback was going through, I didn't think it was the appropriate time to add another quarterback to the mix," Tomlin told NBC-TV’s Bob Costas that year. "He's going through somewhat of a trying time with the civil allegation, a case against him. I didn't want to do anything that was less than supportive to Ben."
How might things have turned out had the Rooneys agreed to Tomlin’s wishes and signed Vick? It might have changed how they saw their own quarterback a year later as Roethlisberger became even more vulnerable when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the first four games of the 2010 season after another rape allegation against the quarterback in Georgia that was never prosecuted.
Look what happened after the Eagles signed Vick. Many Philadelphia fans howled in protest over the signing and animal activists picketed the Eagles. Those things died down, however, and his teammates voted Vick their Ed Block Courage Award winner. He played some behind starter Donovan McNabb in 2009.
In a stunning move, the Eagles traded their “franchise” quarterback, McNabb, to the Redskins. Kevin Kolb started the 2010 season but after two games, Andy Reid gave the job to Vick.
So here we are, Michael Vick vs. Ben Roethlisberger in Heinz Field Sunday. It’s a tale of two quarterbacks who have overcome some distasteful experiences to find success again. How their two paths might have differed had the Steelers followed through on their coach’s initial desire three years ago will remain unanswered.