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THE MICHAEL VICK experience <br> Falcons QB transcends his talent

Michael Vick says he plays the Madden NFL video game all the time but he never picks the Atlanta Falcons as his team. It just wouldn't be fair.

"I can't play myself; it's illegal," the Falcons quarterback said on a conference call Wednesday with Buffalo media. "If I play myself it's an advantage. I always win. I know what to do. Can't nobody play me like me, so the guys I tend to play with don't like when I play myself."

It's a case of art perfectly imitating life. Ask a lot of NFL defenders, and they say the things Vick does on the real NFL field just aren't fair, either.

"He's half-man, half-amazing," former Falcon teammate Ray Buchanan once said.

"He's a freak of nature," says Miami cornerback Sam Madison.

"Frightening, absolutely frightening," says the Raiders' Warren Sapp.

The Buffalo Bills should get the chance to make up their own descriptions of Vick when they meet the Falcons on Sunday.

Vick is listed as questionable with a strained hamstring suffered last weekend in Seattle. Vick did not practice Wednesday, but Falcons coach Jim Mora called the injury "slight" and reiterated that his "gut feeling" still is Vick will play.

It will be Vick's first appearance in Ralph Wilson Stadium, and he won't be returning any time soon in the regular season. The Bills' next meeting with the Falcons isn't until 2009, and that one is in Atlanta. The NFL has not made any schedules beyond 2009, but NFC teams only visit AFC teams once every eight years. So it's possible the Falcons won't be back until 2013.

It's little wonder the Falcons game was among the first on the Bills schedule to sell out, as Buffalo fans rushed to get a glimpse of the player who has been called "Superman in spikes" and "the Michael Jordan of the NFL."

Vick is not the best quarterback in the NFL but he is the most spectacular, which is why he is the second-highest paid player in the league and the most marketable.

In March, Vick signed a 10-year, $130 million extension with $29.5 million in bonuses. That $13 million average puts Vick second only to Peyton Manning. Vick also makes an average of about $7 million a year in endorsements, the bulk of which comes from Nike.

The Vick image is enhanced by Nike's sleek ad campaigns. The most popular was last year's "Michael Vick Experience," which turned Vick's scrambling into a thrill-ride for a wide-eyed kid on a roller-coaster.

Is Vick worth the hype? That's a hotly debated subject in the NFL. His passing numbers say no. Last year Vick ranked 20th in passer rating, 27th in completion percentage and 26th in passing yards.

Vick's winning percentage tells a different story. His four-year record as a starter is 24-13, a winning percentage (.648) that is sixth best among active quarterbacks and is better than that of Steve McNair and Peyton Manning.

"It's all about winning, man," the 6-foot, 215-pound Vick said. "You can put up all the stats in the world, but if you don't win then it doesn't mean anything. You can accumulate all the stats, but I would rather accumulate the wins. That's all we believe in down here in Atlanta, just winning. We don't get caught up in the stats."

Vick got his Falcons into the NFC title game last season, and Atlanta is considered a title contender again this season.

"People want to fit everybody into a certain mold, and Mike doesn't fit into a certain mold," said Mora. "He's creating his own mold. But the most important thing is, does your team win on Sunday when you're the quarterback? Mike's team, for the most part, wins. That's in large part because of his competitiveness and his unselfishness and his ability."

Vick still is only 25. This is only his second year in Mora's West Coast offensive system. The coach says Vick is coming around.

"There's a learning curve and we all have to be patient," Mora said. "Mike's no different than any other young quarterback. . . . Our version of the West Coast offense is very different than the version of the West Coast offense we ran in San Francisco. . . . We're not trying to fit Mike into any particular offense. We're trying to mold our offense around the abilities of the players we have."

What the Falcons have is an excellent running game, a superb tight end and young receivers.

"We've still got a young crew," Vick said. "They're all growing and learning kind of on the fly, but every day getting that game experience. I think in the years to come, you will see a receiving corps that is one of the best in the game."

Mora bristles at the thought Vick should be confined to the pocket as much as other quarterbacks. Why take away the ability that sets him apart from every other player in the game? Vick already owns the third- and fourth-best single-season rushing totals ever by a quarterback, along with the best rushing game ever by a QB (173 yards).

"I love it when he runs, and I encourage him to run," Mora said. "It's unbelievable sometimes how fast he is. He's like a rocket."

Mora can think of almost every game in which Vick has done something amazing, like in last weekend's loss to the Seahawks.

"He had this play on Sunday, our first third down, and he scrambled for like 6 yards, and there were two guys that just had him (lined up)," Mora said. "I mean it was like, "Where are you going, Mike?' And the next thing you know he's got the outside, going around them and has the first down. When you watch it on tape it was almost like someone pushed fast-forward, as fast as his legs were going."

Then there was the 58-yard run against the Cardinals last year.

"He kind of rolls out and off he went, and he changed the game," Mora said. "We won the game on that play. What was amazing was his dang legs started going so fast that he kind of outran himself and stumbled. And you'll see him do that. He's going so fast and has so much lean that sometimes he'll stumble. It's like, "Slow down, big fella.' "

Slow down? That's something Vick has no intention of doing.

"When I came to the league, my mind-set was to come in and do all the things I did in college - at least try," Vick said. "My main goal was to come in and be Michael Vick - play my style of play and not change my play. I stuck to the script and have been doing everything that got me to this point of where I am at. I am not surprised by my success. I am just enjoying it."

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com

MICHAEL VICK INC.

Top Selling NFL Jerseys 2005
1. Randy Moss, Raiders.
2. Michael Vick, Falcons
3. Tom Brady, Patriots.
4. Donovan McNabb, Eagles.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Source: NFL.

Highest Paid U.S. Athletes 2005
1. Tiger Woods: $86.3 million.
2. Andre Agassi, $45.6 million.
3. Shaquille O'Neal, $41.6 million.
4. Oscar De La Hoya, $40.0 million.
5. Michael Vick, $37.1 million.
Source: Sports Illustrated

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