Is Michael Vick For Real?

After astonishing everyone with the way he played last season, he seems to be all the way back—with a lock on the Eagles quarterback job, a new autobiography and a new multimillion-dollar Nike deal. So why does it still feel like we'll never really know him?

When I ask Vick if it’s harder to convince the world he’s a changed man than to actually become that person, he says, “I can’t worry about perception.” It’s a mantra of everyone around him. Build the man, not the idea of him.

But he’s pushing hard: the autobiography, the documentary. Razaqi is in charge of everything that’s not a standard endorsement. They’re considering a graphic novel, starring a superhero version of … Michael Vick. Razaqi just launched a Vick iPhone app. Vick personally addresses his more than 1.3 million Facebook fans and nearly 600,000 Twitter followers.

Yet he’ll never be let off the hook by a certain animal-obsessed segment. Geoff Robbins had Vick come to his memorabilia store in North Jersey in mid-June for a signing. Some 60 protesters showed up, screaming. One sign wondered what Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Vick and Robbins have in common. One protester yelled to a teenage girl when she left the store: “Look at you, you hood-rat slut. … Your mother would be ashamed of you if she knew you were here, you whore.” The girl’s mother answered: “I’m right here, baby, wearing my Eagles jersey.” Robbins received phone calls from people threatening to kill him and burn down his store.

Michael Vick, meanwhile, took it all in stride. He’s been through worse.

Now Nike and MusclePharm—a Denver nutritional supplement company he reportedly signed a $1.55 million endorsement deal with—are betting that Vick is indeed a reformed man, and that the fringe of violent-sounding protesters has turned tiny. All along, in fact, Nike was keeping the endorsement engine warm, giving Vick merchandise to wear. I wonder if we’re ready for a new sneaker model: the Redeemer.

ON A STICKY FRIDAY AFTERNOON, I leave Vick’s camp in Hampton and head to his hometown. Newport News is on the water, across the bay from Norfolk, with wide, mostly vacant streets lined with run-down ranchers and barren housing projects. At the project where Vick grew up, and where, as a young boy, he first saw dogs fighting, four or five guys are sitting on creaky kitchen chairs under a big oak tree, just outside Vick’s old unit. I ask them about dogfighting there—they don’t know about that. But one guy who calls himself Fat Boy points to another guy, named Black, and says he played high-school football with Mike Vick. “He was real smart,” Black says. “He wouldn’t know the streets. He played sports.” Black, shirtless, still with the body of an athlete, sits, on a Friday afternoon, still here a dozen years later with nothing better to do.