Marcus Vick does not sound like you might expect him to.
His public image is in such bad shape, you’re almost anticipating this snarly voice to snap at you when you answer the phone; some one-dimensional character that fits with our understanding of the man, which has been cobbled together from newspaper clippings and Wikipedia entries and of course, Twitter outbursts.
What we found in our recent hour-long conversation with Marcus was something completely different. He was measured and he was thoughtful and he was reflective. He didn’t give any impression that he lacks a moral compass — only the ability to stay consistently true to it.
(Speaking of the Twitter antics: Marcus told us, “This year I’m going to keep my mouth closed because I don’t want to make headlines.” That was a day before he went off about Riley Cooper.)
Now 29 years old, Marcus has been sitting shotgun for the entirety of his brother’s journey. Whether it be a limousine or a jail cell, he has been by Mike’s side. That makes his perspective a unique and important one. From the humble beginnings to his brother’s meteoric rise; from the devastating fall to the climb towards maturity and respectability, this is how it has all looked through the eyes of Marcus Vick.
“Me and Mike was always best friends growing up. It was me, Mike my two sisters and my mom and dad, we all shared a three-bedroom apartment. So me and Mike had to see each other every day from when we woke up to the time we went to sleep. We were always best friends, never hid anything from each other,” said Marcus.
The apartment was in the projects in Newport News, Va. Their mom worked at a Kmart. Their father, Michael Boddie, served as a sandblaster at the shipyard.
Boddie’s work wasn’t steady and he spent some time away in jail for driving-related offenses, according to Marcus. (Boddie told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he had gotten in trouble for drinking and driving and had his license revoked. Admitted to sometimes being drunk and high around his kids.)
Money was tight, but all-in-all the family was in better shape than many around them because they had a two-parent household. The children were always provided for.
And they were offered more protection than most. Mike’s incredible athletic ability gave him and Marcus a heightened status in the community and served as a shield of sorts.
“The neighborhood was real rough – a lot of drug dealers hanging out, guys shooting, a lot of fights going on. But Mike always had the utmost respect from the older guys so we really didn’t get into the things that all our other friends were getting into,” said Marcus. “They had always seen the potential in Mike, that he was going to be the one to make it out.”
They were right. Mike not only made it out but became a national star at Virginia Tech.
Marcus followed in his footsteps, fulfilling a lifelong dream by playing a Division I sport, but was not met with the same adulation as his older brother. Every stadium he went to fans would dig into him, he says, even when he was a red-shirt freshman and not even playing. He remembers people yelling at him that he was adopted, not a real brother of Mike’s. He admits that a sizeable chip grew on his shoulder.
Marcus was suspended by the Hokies multiple times and was ultimately dismissed by the team in 2006 as a result of his numerous legal transgressions and a memorable unsportsmanlike conduct in the Gator Bowl, where he stomped on the leg of Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil. He signed with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in ’06, but saw little action and was not re-signed at the end of the year.
His career did not go as planned, but the Vick family was still riding high as Mike took flight. They were able to move out of the projects once Vick declared for the draft. Their world was transformed when he was selected first overall by the Falcons in 2001.
“From that day on, people put us up on a pedestal. Mike was the man,” said Marcus. “My mom and father got paid on Fridays, and it probably would be two-three hundred dollars apiece, and we just made ends meet with what we had. And when Mike signed the contract…
“We were up in New York at the draft – limos, free food – it was just exciting. It was something we had never been through in our life and it was a life-changing experience. But then again, a lot of things come with a life-changing experience as well.”
Marcus Vick visited his brother Mike three or four times in prison by his count.
In Richmond, they were separated by glass like you might see in the movies. Everyone would get a couple minutes on the phone with Mike: his wife Kijafa, their children, Mike’s sisters, Marcus.
In Leavenworth, Kansas, the visits were in a common area. Mike, dressed in a beige jumpsuit and black boots, used to sit in the back corner near the vending machine.
“When I first came to see him out in Kansas he was working the night shift job, so he would always just be waking up – I would wake him out of his sleep at about one, two o’clock,” said Marcus. “He was always mentally strong, saying, ‘We’re going to get through it, I’m going to get out, I’m going to do x,y,z. We’re going to write books, we’re going to do movies.’ He stayed positive through the whole thing. That’s why I look at him with so much respect. Never once did he say, ‘Man, I can’t make it through this.’ Even from the day he turned himself in, it was always positive. He cried a little bit on the ride up there, but for the most part he was always positive.”
The little brother was not able to stay as composed.
“Every time I saw him I always broke down because I never could envision him being locked in a cage with a jumpsuit on, and the boots, following all people’s orders. I was worried about him, so every time I saw him I broke down and was all crying.
“There were times when Mike was in jail where I just didn’t come out of my room for a month at a time. Didn’t get a haircut. I was lost. I was in a world without my big brother. All of a sudden my big brother is in jail and I can’t call him or text him. It was very frustrating for me. Even now when I think about him getting locked in a cage somewhere, I get a little emotional thinking about the stuff that he went through.”
There was a point when both brothers were imprisoned at the same time. Marcus did a three-week stretch for a DUI when Mike was away.
“My mom, man, she was all in pieces. Both of her sons in jail.”
That very well could have been the family’s low point.
A much higher point was soon to follow.
“It was just an outstanding day for the family when Mike came home. He’s our hero. He’s our family hero. That’s how we look at him,” said Marcus.
While they were waiting for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision on reinstatement, Marcus and Mike would often throw the ball around outside to pass the time, he said. After some tense weeks, word ultimately came that Mike would be allowed back in the NFL. Then came the call that he would be a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Those were good days.
Mike’s attempted climb back to the top almost came to a crashing halt when reports surfaced in June of 2010 that Quanis Phillips, a co-defendant in the dogfighting case, was shot following a run-in with the quarterback at his 30th birthday party. That scare proved to be a pivotal moment.
“It just felt like, man, we worked all the way to get our family back to this point, and then one incident that we couldn’t control but our name was tagged to the party, and we could have thrown it all away,” said Marcus. “It made us look at things in a different light, like we can’t continue to be around those types of people or run in that same type of circle. We’ve got to distance ourselves. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since: distancing ourselves from guys that we grew up with, family members that were always being negative. Anything that can bring you down or pull you backwards, we’re trying to distance ourselves.”
Mike has steered clear of trouble since then. It appears that he has shaken loose from the grips of the ghosts of his past and has entered calmer waters. For Marcus, some of the ghosts have been a little tougher to shake.
He has been imprisoned three different times, he says, for a total of about 40 days. Like his father before him, the trouble happens for him when he gets behind the wheel.
“I don’t want to repeat those same steps. I kind of feel like I am repeating his steps in a way. I have driven with a suspended even though I know I’m not supposed to be driving. I don’t want to keep doing the same stuff.
“I’m still trying to change, still trying to make the best decisions for me and my family on a day-to-day basis. I have a four-year-old daughter now that I have to look out for, be there for. I can’t let her grow up seeing her dad being in jail for a week or 3-4 days, I don’t want her to see me in a negative light. Seeing our dad go through that, in the neighborhood fighting people, he might go to jail or lose his job, I just always want to be positive for my daughter so she can grow up with a positive attitude and doesn’t see the world where she is growing up with a chip on her shoulder, kind of like I grew up.”
Marcus says he has paid all his fines, finished all the required classes and is set to get his license back in the next two months. Thanks in part to his brother, Marcus is currently involved in several business ventures, he says, from construction to sports marketing to real estate. He is hopeful that he has turned the corner. For his daughter’s sake, he is trying to break the cycle.
“You want to be a positive guy, a positive leader and a role model to the next generation,” said Marcus.
“The road we’ve traveled on has been full of ups and downs, and we’ve always found a way to continue to fight as a family, Mike fighting as a strong leader and individual and role model.
“Being able to help out the next generation, man, that’s what it’s all about. From here on out, whatever happens to Mike after football, the rest of the family is set up to be in a position to take care of our family, and continue to let the Vick legacy live on.”