Michael Vick has the chance this week to become the first NFL player to appear on the cover of the Madden video game franchise for the second time. And the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback said he'll appreciate the honor more this time -- if fans give him their vote.
Vick is one of two players -- Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis is the other -- left from 32 possible choices to grace the cover of Madden NFL 12. Fans have been voting on ESPN.com since March 21 to select the cover athlete in an NCAA tournament-type process. The winner will be announced Wednesday during "SportsNation" (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET).
"The first time, I really wasn't too big on having the opportunity," Vick said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I appreciated it, but this time around I think I will appreciate it so much more. I took a lot for granted early in my career. It was a great opportunity at the time, but now it will be so much more satisfying. To show it to my kids and say I was able to accomplish."
Hillis also is excited at his shot to be on the cover, his mother Carrie told the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
"We are all so thrilled about it," Carrie Hillis told the newspaper last week. "He's so grateful to the Cleveland fans. He's a hometown hero, and everybody is so excited. And everybody's been voting."
Vick first appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2004 when he was with the Atlanta Falcons and before his fall from grace.
He was voted Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year last season after missing two seasons while serving a prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring and playing sparingly in 2009.
Vick led the Eagles to a 10-6 record and the NFC East title after replacing an injured Kevin Kolb after Week 1. Despite missing three games with an injury, Vick had his best season. He set career highs in yards passing (3,018), touchdowns passing (21), touchdowns rushing (9), completion percentage (62.6) and passer rating (100.2).
In 2010, Hillis became the first Browns running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season since 2008. He finished with 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and became known for his battering-ram style, shedding tacklers with hard running.
Vick told the newspaper that the fans' acceptance means a lot to him. He first started to notice he had won back some fans when he was voted to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
"First off, it happened with the Pro Bowl and receiving all the votes from fans. The people did all those votes and now I can reflect on it," he told the Inquirer. "I know how hard I've worked on it and it has to continue. I have a lot of people I don't want to let down, and that's my motivation."
The cover of Madden is a big deal for Vick. In fact, he said he'd rather be on the cover of the game than to have his image on the side of Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play. He said he plays the game with his friends and also plays online, too.
Although he says he's superstitious, he's not afraid of the "Madden Curse". Several players have been injured or had down years in the season immediately after being on the game's cover -- including Vick, who suffered a broken leg before the 2003 season (Madden NFL 2004 was released in August of '03) and missed 11 of the Falcons' games that year.
PETA had wanted Vick removed from this year's Madden cover vote, but EA Sports, the maker of the game, stood up for the quarterback's inclusion.
"I appreciate EA sports standing tall and sticking up for me," Vick told the Inquirer. "I will continue to be positive. Let other people be negative. That's their view. They're entitled to their opinion. I won't try to change it."