Philadelphia is the place where Eagles fans once booed Santa Claus. But when Jets backup quarterback Michael Vick makes his expected cameo start in the final exhibition game Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, he likely will be greeted warmly as a former Eagle who provided many thrilling moments over the past five seasons before leaving as a free agent.
Vick was a social pariah when the Eagles took a chance on signing him in 2009 when he was released from prison after serving 18 months for his role in a dogfighting operation, but that's where the former Atlanta star revived his career.
As Vick recalled Monday, Philadelphia was not a desired destination.
"Just going to Philadelphia for the first time and taking the drive up there, I'll never forget it was a place I didn't want to be," Vick said. "I wanted to go to a team and start, and I knew I was going to sit behind Donovan [McNabb] and Kevin Kolb.
"I remember being angry the whole trip and kind of upset, almost a disgruntled employee before I could even get there."
That all changed as soon as Vick met former Eagles coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, now with the Jets, and had a chance to talk with McNabb. "I was like, 'This could be my home for a year,' " Vick said. "It ended up being my home for five years. That's how God worked."
Vick succeeded McNabb as the starter in 2010 and led the Eagles to the NFC East title. He lost the starting job last season to Nick Foles in the Eagles' first season under coach Chip Kelly, but Vick parted on great terms with the entire Eagles organization when he signed with the Jets to back up Geno Smith.
"The chemistry I had with the organization was uncanny," Vick said. "The relationships I developed with the people in the front office were awesome, and I had a great relationship with Howie Roseman, the general manager. I had a great relationship with Chip. I had a great appreciation for my teammates, and I think vice-versa. We had a great time.
"It will always be a sense of gratitude. That will never change. I have friends from that team that I will have for a lifetime, and that means more than anything."
Vick was gracious about his demotion last season and said he didn't want to become a distraction by fighting to regain his job because the team was playing well with Foles at quarterback. The experience helped prepare Vick to serve as the Jets' backup and as a mentor to Geno Smith.
"You always envision yourself being a starter," Vick said. "You always want to be the guy behind the center, but times change and things change and we change as individuals, our feelings and emotions."
Some expected Vick to put up more of a battle for the Jets' starting job, but coach Rex Ryan officially named Smith the starter after he played well against the Giants last week. Still, he has shown flashes in his limited preseason action of the young, exciting Michael Vick, who was a multidimensional threat every time he touched the ball.
When he watches game film, Vick is confident he's still got it if called upon. "Yeah, I watch myself on film, and I appreciate what I see," Vick said. "At the age of 34, to still be able to play at a high level means a lot. I want it to carry over throughout the season and the next couple years, and I'll be grateful."
No doubt, it's the thrill-a-minute quarterback that Eagles fans will remember. Vick isn't sure how many snaps he'll take Thursday, but he appreciates the opportunity to appear in Philadelphia one more time.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Vick said. "I'm just looking forward to going back to Philadelphia and just enjoying that day and helping the young guys."