Michael Vick leads Pro Bowl voting just 18 months after his release from prison.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback had 729,838 fan votes, nearly 39,000 more than second-place Peyton Manning, the NFL said Wednesday. Manning topped the balloting two weeks ago before being surpassed by Vick.
"I think it's just a credit to everything I've tried to accomplish on and off the field, just working as hard as I can to change things around, be a part of the solution and not the problem," Vick said. "I changed my life and it just goes to show anybody can do it. It's an unfortunate situation, the things that happened, I wish I could go back and change it all. I wish I could take it all back. The only thing I can do is move forward."
It's the latest evidence many fans seem willing to forgive Vick for the vicious dogfighting operation that sent him to prison for 18 months — and embrace his stunning return to NFL stardom. A backup to start the season, Vick has led the Eagles to first place in the NFC East, accounting for 21 touchdowns and throwing just two interceptions.
"I appreciate my fans, man," Vick said. "Couldn't do it without them. Been very supportive over the last three years. What more can you ask for?"
Manning had 691,146 votes, which led the AFC, followed by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (623,074), Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (591,598) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (547,340).
Online Pro Bowl voting ends Dec. 20. The teams are picked by a combination of votes from fans, players and coaches.
Vick, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons, pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges in August 2007. He was released from federal custody and conditionally reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in July 2009. But it wasn't clear how much interest teams would have in the quarterback who once wowed fans with his unique skills, yet frustrated them with his inconsistency when he last played in the league in 2006.
The Eagles signed him before last season, when he was the third-string quarterback and had limited playing time as a change of pace. Even after Philadelphia traded away Donovan McNabb, Vick was expected to back up Kevin Kolb. But when Kolb was hurt in the opener, Vick took over and showed a newfound maturity as a passer. Added to his running skills, he's made the Eagles a contender at 8-4.
"It's a great honour, a great position to be in right now, because I haven't made the Pro Bowl yet, but it's a credit to my coaches, a credit to my teammates, [backups] Mike Kafka, Kevin Kolb, guys who just helped me get through this season," Vick said.
"I can't do it without my team, I can't do it without my teammates, I can't do it without the offensive line, [wide receivers] DeSean [Jackson] and Jeremy [Maclin], can't do it without them. I'm just thankful to have these guys in my life, these coaches in my life."
The Eagles play at Chicago (9-3) on Sunday.