Michael Vick was talking about his greatest achievement as an NFL quarterback, and it had nothing to do with the time he beat Brett Favre in a playoff game at Lambeau Field. This was about saving a rookie coach's team and a wide receiver's career in the early hours of training camp, and it was all right there in black and white.

Vick was sitting on a bench inside the New York Jets' practice facility two days before his return to Philadelphia for Thursday night's cameo preseason start, and he was recalling the moment he first heard last summer that something was up. He was walking from a meeting back to the Eagles' locker room when a teammate asked if he had seen the video that was starting to go viral on the Web, the sights and sounds of a man fueled by anger and alcohol, Riley Cooper saying what he said about that African-American security guard at that Kenny Chesney concert.

"And when I'd seen it I didn't believe it," Vick told ESPNNewYork.com. "I couldn't even see him fixing his face to say that because I'd known him for three years."

But it was true, all true. Despite the fact that the vast majority of his colleagues are black, Cooper used the N-word to describe the guard and other African-Americans at the concert he was threatening to fight, dropping an ungodly mess in the lap of the team leader who would handle it with the same dignity and grace that the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers, showed in managing the Donald Sterling crisis the following spring.

Only Rivers was a 52-year-old authority figure with a long history of right-minded leadership. Vick? He was a 33-year-old quarterback coming off a 3-7 season as a starter and, of course, he wasn't that far removed from serving 19 months in federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring.

"I just felt like I was the most capable guy on that team of taking a stand for Riley, and being a voice for him at that time," Vick said. Without taking that stand and being that voice, Vick maintained, the video of Cooper's racial slur "was going to derail our team. Unfortunately, it was going to derail Riley's career. It would have ended his career."

And so an established black star did a remarkable thing for a marginal white player whose production (an average of 15.3 receptions and 226.3 yards per year over his first three seasons) suggested he wasn't worth the trouble. Vick said he needed about an hour after learning of Cooper's slur to decide how to respond, and what he would say to younger black teammates who grew up idolizing him as the face of the Atlanta Falcons and the force behind dynamic change at the quarterback position in the NFL.