This is an article from the Nov. 29, 2010 issue
The USC alum has thrown the first-place Jets to an 8--2 start, the team's best record after 10 games since 1986
Dan Patrick:What stands out when you're watching Michael Vick play?
Mark Sanchez: He looks like he's in command. He definitely is. He's comfortable in the pocket, so he's dangerous. But when he gets on the run and can still throw or run, that's deadly. That's so tough for a defense. I wish I had speed like that.
DP:But when things break down, you seem to be making plays with your legs too. How does your coach, Rex Ryan, feel about that?
MS: He's been O.K. with it. He knows [the game calls] for a little ad-libbing. But I'm comfortable in the pocket; I'm comfortable throwing on the run. [Backup quarterback] Mark Brunell has been one of the toughest in the league throwing on the run, and it has kind of rubbed off on me. We've worked specific drills for it. Mark has these foam bats out there at practice, and I drop back, and he's smacking me with these things to make it feel like pocket pressure. It works out really well practicing awkward throws because you never get enough practice at it.
DP:How long has it taken for you to feel like it's your team and become comfortable at that position?
MS: I tried to embrace the fact that it's going to be my team last year and lead by example, stay quiet, speak when I needed to. This year I've taken the reins a little bit on talking to guys, pumping guys up before games—little things where I can assert myself as team leader. I'm feeling so much more comfortable with the calls that are coming in. The wristband—we still use it, but I have it practically memorized now. It's so much easier this year. I couldn't tell you how hard it was last year trying to find wristband calls and then think about it and try to get everyone set.
DP:How did you get fined for body language?
MS: It's basically Brunell fining me for any negative body language he sees on practice film or game film. So it's almost been negated from the film. But [after the win over the Browns two weeks ago] I got money back because of [the coaches'] goofy celebration fine after the touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery. Those guys were jumping around the sidelines, so I got $100 back.
DP:If you were [Trojans quarterback] Matt Barkley, would you have stayed at USC?
MS: Sure. Absolutely.
DP:Even with probation?
MS: This is his true sophomore year, so he can play for a national championship as a senior.
DP:Do you text him?
MS: We've texted before. I'm not superclose to him. When I went back to campus, I told him I was in town, and I've seen him around.
DP:Are you single?
MS: Well, you know I'm seriously dating the Jets.
DP:Would you be willing to see someone else?
MS: Rex would have to approve of her.
DP:What happens first—Super Bowl ring or engagement ring?
MS: Super Bowl ring.
DP:Is that this year?
MS: That would be our plan, and if I didn't say it was our plan, Rex might kick my butt.
DP:Yeah, you can't make a statement where people would go, "What is he saying?"
MS: No, he does that.
• Social Study
It was a good weekend for Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He led Buffalo to a comeback win over the Bengals on Sunday, the day after his alma mater, Harvard, beat Yale. Fitzpatrick told me he didn't really know Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was at Harvard at the same time. Fitzpatrick didn't rule out inviting the billionaire loner to a game. "I'm still kind of upset that he stole my idea," Fitzpatrick joked. "We have some mutual friends—maybe I'll go through them."
• Hard Times
Brian Kelly's first season as Notre Dame's football coach was marred by the death of Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old student who was killed when the lift he was using to film practice blew over. I asked Kelly to respond to critics. "I think I handled it the way any person in a leadership position [should]," he told me. "I took responsibility.... Everyone's looking to point a finger, but I understand that. It comes with being the head coach at Notre Dame."
• Line of the week
Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk told me how he'll know when he's too old to compete: "When you suck at it. People would be happy to tell you about that. There's plenty of people out there on the Internet especially."
THE FINE PRINT: Jimmie Johnson won his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup despite winning fewer races than runner-up Denny Hamlin. Finally, the BCS makes sense.
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Emeka Okafor discusses opponents who wow him.
2. Denzel Washington on his athletic family.