Michael Vick will start today at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field. If things had fallen differently three years ago, he might be taking the field wearing a Steelers uniform. • Mike Tomlin pitched the idea to the Steelers of signing Vick in the summer of 2009, shortly after the disgraced quarterback completed 21 months in prison for pleading guilty to a federal felony charge of running an interstate dog-fighting ring. Atlanta released him in June, and Vick was ready to resume his football career. Tomlin was interested in having him as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger, although how that would have worked out is anyone's guess.
Tomlin knew all about Vick's talents. Both were born in Newport News, Va., and Tomlin coached twice annually against Vick when he was the secondary coach at Tampa Bay and the quarterback played for NFC South-rival Atlanta. Vick's mentor during his time in prison and afterward was Tony Dungy, Tomlin's former coach in Tampa Bay.
Byron Leftwich, who played behind Roethlisberger in '08, had signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in '09. The Steelers had Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon as backups heading into '09.
Two things prevented Tomlin from bringing Vick to Pittsburgh. The Rooneys wanted nothing to do with it. They had no desire to bring in a felon, just out of prison, and all the negative reaction his signing would bring, both internally and externally. Plus, the Steelers were reigning Super Bowl champs. Who needed that headache?
Tomlin was willing to look past that. But there was another element in the equation that he said ultimately convinced him not to pursue it -- Roethlisberger.
A week before the Steelers opened training camp in '09, a lawsuit filed against Roethlisberger in Lake Tahoe, Nev., alleging he raped a woman surfaced. (The suit quietly was settled out of court last year, and neither side has divulged the settlement.) Tomlin came to believe that signing Vick at such a period for his two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback was a bad idea.
"Given some of the things that my quarterback was going through, I didn't think it was the appropriate time to add another quarterback to the mix," Tomlin told NBC's Bob Costas that year. "He's going through somewhat of a trying time with the civil allegation, a case against him. I didn't want to do anything that was less than supportive to Ben."
How might things have turned out had the Rooneys agreed to Tomlin's wishes and signed Vick, who certainly wasn't going to take being a backup for very long? It might have changed how the Steelers saw their $100 million quarterback a year later when Roethlisberger became even more vulnerable as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the first four games of the '10 season after another assault allegation against the quarterback in Georgia -- an allegation that never was prosecuted.
Look what happened after the Eagles signed Vick. Many Philadelphia fans howled in protest, and animal rights activists picketed the Eagles. Those things died down, however, and his teammates voted Vick their Ed Block Courage Award winner after that first season, in which he played some behind starter Donovan McNabb.
In a stunning move, the Eagles traded their "franchise" quarterback, McNabb, to the Redskins in '10. Kevin Kolb started that season at quarterback, but, after two games, coach Andy Reid gave the job to Vick.
So here we are, Michael Vick vs. Ben Roethlisberger in Heinz Field today. It's a tale of two quarterbacks who have overcome some distasteful experiences to find success again, on and off the field.
How their two paths might have differed had the Steelers followed through on their coach's initial desire three years ago will remain unanswered.
All about the name on the back of the jersey
The NFL office continues to show that, when it comes to protecting quarterbacks, it depends on which quarterback.
The league fined Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams $15,000 for a low, late hit on Tom Brady late in the third quarter of their game last Sunday. It was the right call because low and late are both forbidden on quarterbacks.
Two weeks ago, Oakland linebacker Philip Weaver hit Roethlisberger in a similar manner. The only difference was that Williams hit Brady more from the side and Weaver hit Roethlisberger in the back of the legs, which is no difference when it comes to applying the rules that make both illegal.
There were two other differences: While the hit on Brady drew a penalty and a fine, the hit on Roethlisberger drew neither.
Random thoughts as October arrives
• Radio station KDKA-FM (93.7 The Fan) has been running a series asking listeners to vote for the Steelers 80th anniversary team. Fine and dandy, but the station picked the candidates and, when it came time to offer fans a vote at guard, these were the names: Alan Faneca, Sam Davis, Moon Mullins, Kendall Simmons, Steve Courson. There's one Pro Bowler among them, Faneca.
Overlooked was perhaps the second-best guard in their history, Carlton Haselrig. And if you played in the '50s or '60s, you can't make this list, even though the Steelers had more guards make Pro Bowls in the those decades than they did in the '70s, '80s and '90s.
• The Steelers' chances of making the playoffs dipped lower during their off week. According to the website www.makeNFLplayoffs.com, which uses computers to calculate the chances each NFL team will make the playoffs, the Steelers opened the season with a 37.5 percent chance. It dipped to 30.7 after their opening loss, climbed to 40.6 after they beat the New York Jets, dove to 29.3 after their loss in Oakland and to 28.5 after their weekend off. Their chance of winning the division has decreased from 19.5 percent to 16.1.
• Maybe overlooked because of the Steelers' surprising No. 5 ranking on defense in yards allowed per game is this: The defense has had to play only 40 percent of the time because the offense has consumed on average 60 percent of the possession time in a game, 35:59. Translation: Opposing offenses have had fewer opportunities to rack up the yards.Steelers