Tuesday, 18 October 2011

More Power, Less Flower

The New Beetle arrived in 1998 with an image problem. From the roly-poly body style to the doll-eye headlights to the non-optional dashboard-mounted vase, it was concentrated cutesiness—the drivable equivalent of a YouTube video where a puppy hugs a kitten while a baby panda looks on knowingly. In 2010 only 44 percent of New Beetle buyers were men—no other car on the market had a lower percentage of guys behind the wheel.

So when the time came for a replacement, it makes sense that VW would have wanted to butch things up. Its inspiration: that bastion of masculinity, the original Beetle. Wait, wha?

VW took the basic silhouette of the first People's Car (born in 1938), then injected it with automotive HGH. You can see the hallmarks in the new 2012 Beetle: the stretched nose, the flat roof allowing for deceptive amounts of backseat headroom, the bulging fenders. Except now the design is lower, wider, more lithe. The newest Beetle is hunkered down and inclined to ignore posted speed limits.

Which it very much will do, so long as you tick the box for the optional 200-hp turbocharged engine—the same hunk of metal you'll find under the hood of the sporty Volkswagen GTI. Tick. That. Box. While the Beetle Turbo won't smoke a Camaro SS off the line, I can verify that it's happy to hold triple digits on Germany's Autobahn.

The original Beetle, not so much. My first car was a '73 baby blue model, a 26-year-old antique by the time my parents bought it for me just before my senior year of high school. My record for maximum velocity: eighty-two miles per hour. That triumph required two traffic-free miles of highway, a downhill, and a tailwind. Once, I lost a drag race to a Saturn. And he spotted me fifty yards.

But I will say this: My wheezy blue hunchback, so light and nimble, could dance through corners—and when it comes to handling, the newest Beetle very much takes after its grandpa. As I was hustling it through the curves of a tree-lined back road north of Berlin, with "sport" mode engaged and the Beetle Turbo's six-speed DSG transmission keeping the engine on full boil, I grinned. This retro-ballsy coupe is just as fun as the original, but meaner in all the right ways. That's exactly the kind of attitude adjustment it needed.

Price: $23,395
Horsepower: 200
0-60 mph: 6.8 sec
Top speed: 130 mph

10 Secrets of a Lower-Calorie Lifestyle

1. Reduce!

When you’re young—in your twenties, say—it’s easy to think that no matter how many pounds you put on, you’ll always be able to starve and exercise yourself back into fighting shape. Here’s some bad news: Weight gain is self-reinforcing. As your weight climbs, your body’s metabolism adjusts to maintain your new girth.

The solution? Don’t let yourself slip in the first place. Maintaining a low weight over the course of your entire life is about more than looking good; it’ll preserve your overall health. By being vigilant about how much you eat—no matter how old you are—you’ll save yourself from a lifetime of fending off weight gain and the health problems that accompany it.

2. “Low Fat”? No Thanks
If you grew up in the ’80s, the notion that fat is evil is probably lodged deep inside your brain. But remember: It’s calories you’re concerned about, and you needn’t obsess over where they’re coming from. Certain low-fat foods replace fat with sugar and can actually end up containing more calories: Low-fat yogurt, for example, can contribute more to your daily caloric intake than the richer, creamier (and tastier) full-fat stuff.

3. Learn Your Portions
Even though you’re eating the right mix of things, you’re almost certainly eating way too much of everything. According to Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, for an adult male, a healthy portion of meat is “about the size of the palm of your hand and as thick as a deck of cards.” The more fat or sugar an item has—i.e., the more it resembles dessert—the smaller the serving size. You probably have a good feel for it already; test yourself on these items:

1. An average serving of peanut butter should be the size of:
(a) a Ping-Pong ball, (b) a pea, (c) a tennis ball.

2. A serving of cheese should be the size of:
(a) a wheel of Brie, (b) your fist, (c) a stack of Post-it notes.

3. A serving of pasta, rice, or potatoes should be the size of:
(a) your netbook, (b) your cupped hand, (c) a travel tube of toothpaste.

(Answers: 1.a; 2.c; 3.b.)

4. Starting Now: Less Meat
Want to know where most of your calories are coming from? Follow the lead of two anonymous GQ editors—one a fish-eating vegetarian, one a barbecue fan—and record what you eat for a few days.

29% Non-meat protein
18% Grains
10% Alcohol
16% Snacks
14% Dairy
5% Fruits/veggies
8% Seafood
Total calories: 10,472

26% Meat
31% Grains
16% Alcohol
12% Snacks
7% Dairy
8% Fruits/veggies
Total calories: 13,126

5. You Can (Almost) Never Go Wrong With Fruits and Vegetables

As a general rule, you can eat them until you’re full. One of the great triumphs of modern supermarket shopping is the sheer variety of produce on offer—half a dozen kinds of apples, a few kinds of pears, kiwis, mangoes, papayas—and you’ll improve your chances of keeping a healthy amount of fruit in your diet by cycling through different varieties. For veggies, avoid steaming and boiling; they may be the lowest- cal options, but you’ll be bored to death within days—and return to your old, higher-calorie way of eating. Instead, sauté, roast, or grill them.

6. Eat Protein, Curb Hunger

Protein—especially the sort found in lean meats and dairy—is another great way to trick your body into satiety. When digested, it causes the release of a hormone called CCK that makes you feel full. Combine lean protein and fruit—say, yogurt and strawberries—and there’s a perfect breakfast.

7. A Lower-Calorie Night Out
First the bad news: Alcohol is calorie-dense, and a few drinks add up quickly. But by having a glass of water with each drink, you’ll wind up ordering fewer of them (and have less of a hangover the next morning, too). Per serving, wine has the fewest calories, then beer, then cocktails.

8. Keep It Simple
Instead, try focusing on just a few basic ways of cutting back—a salad instead of a burger and fries for lunch (800 calories less) or the petite portion of steak when you’re out for dinner (200 calories less)—and once you’re doing that consistently, adopt another, like buying smaller dinner plates to use at home (you’ll put less food on them).

9. It’s Okay to Indulge—Every Once In Awhile
You will slip up and help yourself to a coma-inducing plate of nachos every now and then—don’t let that derail you. “This is not all or nothing,” says Harvey Simon, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It’s not a question of changing everything all at once. That doesn’t work.”

10. Stock Your Low-Cal Pantry
We went grocery shopping with Mark Bittman—bestselling cookbook author, New York Times columnist, and with his latest book, Food Matters, vocal booster of low-calorie eating—to find out how to stock our shelves. Wheat berries? In. Snackwell’s cookies? “Those,” says Bittman, “are the death of America.”

• Olives: For snacking.
• Whole-grain crackers: “Kavli, Wasa, Ryvita, Ak-Mak—they have real guts.”
• Hummus and avocados: For the crackers.
• Popcorn: “Put a fourth of a cup of popcorn in a paper bag and throw it in the microwave. Add lime, salt, and hot sauce like sriracha.”
• Cooked, peeled, vacuum-packed beets: For salads, snacks.
• Olive oil, vinegar (balsamic, white wine, apple cider), and Dijon mustard: For salad dressing.
• A bag of lemons: “Lemons add zest to baked fish, salad dressings, chicken dishes, whatever.”
• Steel-cut oats: For breakfast.
• Wheat berries, bulgur, quinoa, barley, millet: “They’re cheap, they keep forever, and they’re lower in calories than processed grains.”

Alan Richman's Wine Guide: White Burgundy

Even a Riesling lover like me will readily concede that the greatest white wines in the world are white Burgundies, more specifically those from the grand cru vineyards of France's Côte de Beaune. If you don't believe me, pick up a 1995 or a 1996 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet, available in retail outlets. You'll find them tasty, I guarantee. You'll also find them for about $5,000 a bottle.

It's not the majesty of the grapes vinified for these wines that make them unrivaled. The grapes are Chardonnay, which we've all drunk. Chardonnay is easily grown everywhere, although most of what Americans consume comes from California, and we think it's pretty good. A little boring, but good. Chardonnay is mindlessly appreciated by a majority of American wine-drinkers. It's reflexively vilified by a majority of American wine experts—when it's not from those remarkable vineyards in France.

Standing alone, undisguised, Chardonnay is a bland grape, relatively punchless, easily manipulated by winemakers. It's productive enough that mediocre bottlings can be made inexpensively. Maybe we like it because it has human attributes. When life is too easy, it grows fat and lazy.

But it has certain qualities that make it capable of greatness. Because it is essentially subtle, it picks up flavors from the soil and the earth—few other grapes are so influenced by the concept of terroir, the French word for sense of place. It reacts well to coddling. It's willing to improve. It's a swell learner. When challenged, it rises to the occasion. The best white Burgundies are spare, concentrated, focused and noble.

What's significant to me is that the overall region where white Burgundies are produced doesn't just encompass the famous vineyard sites of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet. There are vineyards throughout the Côte de Beaune and farther south that produce genuine white Burgundy that can be sold for modest prices—well, in the double-digits, at least.

I gathered up about three dozen bottles to taste. A great many came from the Mâconnais and the Côte Chalonnaise, two of those southerly areas. What they have going for them is limestone soil similar to that found in the famous villages. I also tasted the most basic, least-expensive wines from Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet, those that are called "village wines" because they are made from blends of wines from the least prestigious sites within the villages.

My goal was to see if any of them could match, or even approach, the taste of wonderful white Burgundy. At their best, the great ones have power that comes not from new oak, as is commonplace in California, but from the stress of growing on starving vines. They are austere, rather than fat, dry rather than sweet, and yet they have enormous intensity. They have minerality, sometimes nuttiness. In certain years, they are honeyed, which not everyone likes, but I do. They are restrained and understated, yet profound. They are even a touch oaky—French winemakers, unlike American winemakers, use new oak to balance, not prop-up, their Chardonnays. They can age, which even the best California Chardonnays rarely do well. (One friend of mine calls California Chardonnay "the inbred cousin of real Chardonnay.")

How can I even suggest that white Burgundy bottlings from lesser regions can be anywhere close to the greats? Because anything is possible in good vintage years, and because I always remember something one of the greatest of the white Burgundy producers, Vincent Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive told me, when I visited him at his estate nearly two decades ago. He said, "You know, white wine is very easy to make."

More E! than ESPN: 20 Famous Athletes Who Aren't Famously Athletic

Marko Jaric (Adrianna Lima's husband)
One of these things, an NBA no-name last seen playing in Italy, is not like the other, a Victoria's Secret model and our de facto Miss Universe. But you already knew there is no God, right?

Hank Baskett (Kendra Wilkinson's husband)
When Baskett's Colts and fellow E!-lister Reggie Bush's Saints met in Super Bowl XLIV, it was billed by some (hint: not us) as "Kendra versus Kim." While Bush added to a career full of nondescript performances, Baskett had the only notable one of his, bouncing off his facemask the surprise onside kick that led to the Saints' momentum-shifting score. So, guess we know who won that battle: the people of New Orleans.

Eric Johnson (Jessica Simpson's fiancé)
Even the most bigoted Romophobe would have to admit that this former tight end, whose NFL stint lasted all of seven seasons, is a downgrade from Tony in the career department.

Mike Fisher (Carrie Underwood's husband)
See Simpson, Jessica. Though if someone watched hockey, they'd make the case that the Nashville Predators center is actually a pretty good player. That's your cue, guys. Anyone?

Mike Comrie (Hilary Duff's husband)
The third most-asked question this week, after "Did you know that Hilary Duff is pregnant?" and "Who the hell cares?" is "Who the hell is Mike Comrie?" The answer: an NHL career journeyman, which is like the double whammy of major-league irrelevancy.

Anna Kournikova
The prototypical hot female athlete who can't and shouldn't be taken seriously, winning far more Sexiest Women titles than WTA singles tournaments. And we don't really have to count, because the latter is zero.

Maria Sharapova
When the relative unknown upset Serena Williams at Wimbledon at the age of 17, hopes were high that we'd found a leggy yet legit tennis player. But a string of injuries and Grand Slam disappointments later, the undoubtedly talented Sharapova is still raking in more attention from her swimsuit shoots, and more money from her record endorsement deal with Nike, than from her success on the court.

Michelle Wie
It's hard to live up to being hyped as a phenom since the age of 13, but winning more than two LPGA tournaments would be a good step. More proof that the only missing pieces from Annika Sörenstam's career were pin-up good looks and not being accused of being a man.

Danica Patrick
Unlike Tiger, it's not for past success that Danica Patrick's results get Woods-like special placement in every race update. Being the most successful woman in IndyCar and NASCAR history is a feel-good story; all those GoDaddy.com commercials, though, feel decidedly less clean.

Andy Roddick
Maybe he's had tragically poor timing. Maybe the prime of his career was snuffed out by one Roger Federer. Either way, as it stands, Andy Roddick is most famous for his supersonic serve, marrying this fetching lady, and the rest of his tennis game, in that order.

Yao Ming
He coulda been a contender. It's not the gentle giant's fault that "when healthy" will always be a glaring disclaimer to his often-dominant game. Nor is it the fault of millions of Chinese fans that they've had exactly one good reason to watch the NBA, and one shoo-in All-Star vote. Yao's global reach and impact make him a good candidate for the nebulous criteria of the Basketball Hall of Fame. His on-court career? Sadly, not so much.

David Beckham
Though the twice-runner-up for FIFA Player of the Year has had a fine career, it has long since taken a backseat to underwear ads and forming a power couple with Posh Spice. The only thing getting bent these days is L.A. Galaxy fans, as their cast-off Euro superstar spends most of his time either loafing around or being injured.

Apolo Ohno
What does it take for a speed skater to become a huge celebrity? Our quadrennial national fervor for sports we otherwise never watch is probably most of it; otherwise, Americans have probably seen more of him dancing with the stars than skating on the ice.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
It's easier to become one of the biggest names in NASCAR when your name comes from, well, one of the biggest names in NASCAR. Otherwise, 18 total Sprint Cup wins and zero championships doesn't translate into being the highest-paid driver in the sport.

Chad Ochocinco
Somewhere between the finely planned and heavily fined touchdown celebrations and the 2.6 million Twitter followers was an explosive All-Pro receiver. Too bad Chad seems to have lost a step in recent years without gaining a verbal filter; bets are on as to whether Eight Five will have more 1,000-yard seasons or name changes from here on out.

Joe Namath
Before we get Mean Green paint poured all over our cars, Broadway Joe is one of the coolest athletes of all time. He deserves credit for sporting a badass fur coat, as well the gigantic brass pair it must've taken to guarantee victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III. That said, a 50.1% completion percentage, a 2-1 record in the playoffs, and 173 touchdowns to 220 picks aren't exactly legendary. In fact, Super Bowl aside, the rest of Namath's playing career probably comes third on his list of accomplishments, behind inspiring Kissing Suzy Kolber.

Lamar Odom (LA)
Sorry Lamar, but your Sixth Man of the Year award can't atone for marrying the most-maligned Kardashian sister and being plastered all over reality television. Stick to being the Lakers' all-purpose big man and WTF-tastic PowerBar commercials, though, and you might be all right.

Kris Humphries
Look, we like Kris Humphries. Dude can rock a swimsuit. But being an above-average forward for the Nets is invariably going to be overshadowed by marrying a Kardashian. Best of luck, Kris. Your wife is currently filing a lawsuit because someone looks like her, so you'll need it.

Bret Lockett
When you're an undrafted special teams player with seven tackles to your NFL career, a good way to upgrade your name cachet is alleging an affair with a famous socialite you've never met. In the words of TMZ: "Here comes the lawsuit!" On the plus side, it probably beats "Here comes Kris Humphries!"

Reggie Bush
After a Heisman-winning career at USC, the second pick in the 2006 draft has spent most of his time in the NFL producing middling stats yet being lauded by Saints brass as a critical part of their offense—so important that they traded him to the Dolphins this offseason as a salary dump. But hey, at least he isn't Matt Leinart.

The Impossible, Inevitable Redemption of Michael Vick

"I stand before you a changed man," Michael Vick tells an auditorium packed with kids whose parents would very much like to see them change, too. "Use me as an example of an instrument of change."

It's early June, and Vick is at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, addressing the graduates of the Camelot Schools of Pennsylvania. These students are primarily from low-income African-American families, and most wound up here after being kicked out of other schools. Vick has stumbled through parts of his speech but nails this bit. It's his second-biggest applause line—after an eleven-way tie between each time he says the word Eagles.

The students want him there; he won a popular vote. Their options were Vick, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, and school-district superintendent Arlene Ackerman. The Camelot Schools claim the vote was "close." I do not believe them. When Vick was selected and accepted the honor, Milton Alexander, Camelot's vice president of operations, waved off any potential criticism by saying, "One thing that we are constantly addressing with our students is if you make a mistake, if you make a bad decision, there is accountability involved, and just because this is your reality now, it doesn't have to be your reality forever. Vick's story is very relevant to their situation."

It's a scene that many couldn't have imagined last year at this time, when Michael Vick was out of prison but oddly irrelevant—neutered, almost. The man who'd not long before been the most controversial athlete on earth seemed forgotten and ignored, even by his own team. Vick had successfully navigated his way back to football after his infamous dogfighting scandal, but his problem was no longer picketing protesters or angry television commentators. It was the Eagles' depth chart. He—Michael Vick!—was a third-stringer behind aging Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, both considered NFL starters in their own right. There probably wasn't a professional quarterback farther from glory in all of football. And nobody knew it more than Vick.

"I think I can say this now, because it's not going to hurt anybody's feelings, and it's the truth," Vick tells me a few weeks after the commencement ceremony. "I didn't want to come to Philadelphia. Being the third-team quarterback is nothing to smile about. Cincinnati and Buffalo were better options." Those two teams wanted him and would've allowed him to start, but after meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell and other reps from the NFL, Vick was convinced—and granted league approval—to sign with Philly. "And I commend and thank them, because they put me in the right situation."

That they did. After attempting only thirteen passes in 2009, his first season back, Vick moved up to second string when the Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins. But when Kolb suffered a concussion in the season opener, Vick took the reins and was a revelation—leading the Eagles to an 8-3 record in games he started, throwing for twenty-one touchdowns while running for nine, and steering Philadelphia to an NFC East division title during a year in which they were supposed to be rebuilding.

This Michael Vick was not the Vick of old; this Michael Vick was a supercharged, utopian version of the player who'd quarterbacked the Atlanta Falcons through six frustrating seasons before his forced exile from football. The old Vick had been plagued by indecision, by a lack of work ethic ("I had none sometimes," he admits), by on-field impatience, by off- field distractions that were so numerous they almost turned football into a distraction, and by the unbearable weight of being Michael Vick, Preternatural Talent. In Atlanta, Vick flipped off fans, was suspected of bringing weed to the airport, and once used the fake name "Ron Mexico" with doctors to hide that he was receiving treatment for herpes. (This was not an effective strategy.)

In Philadelphia, coaches praised the New Vick as a diligent worker and perfect teammate, a quiet leader deserving of the team's Ed Block Courage Award for "exemplifying commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage." His crowning moment—one of the most astonishing performances in the history of the NFL—was on Monday Night Football in mid-November. Vick accounted for five first-half touchdowns (three through the air, two on the ground) against the Redskins and generally made everyone else on the field look like cats darting after a laser pointer. "I was a little out of my mind there," he says. "Everything was just coming perfect."

Before Vick takes the stage to address the Camelot graduates, he meets with several teachers, nearly all of whom are extremely large and joke about applying to be one of his offensive linemen. Vick then fields questions from a handful of students in the greenroom. After a few softballs ("Are the Eagles going to win the Super Bowl next year?"), one student, taller than Vick and about twice as wide, gets right to the point: "Are you mad about what happened to you?"

Fifteen feet away, halfheartedly taking notes alongside a cluster of reporters, I snap to attention. What a strange question. Certainly to many, framing the past four years of Michael Vick's life in terms of something that happened to him suggests a gross misunderstanding of how he wound up behind bars. But this is not the way the Camelot students see it at all. The kid's question is met with head nods and shouts of "You better believe it!" and "That's right!"

Vick, who has barely changed his expression throughout the thirty-minute session with the students, smiles wide and looks over his left shoulder, directly toward the hallway of reporters. He glances left and right, cartoonishly grinning, all mock-conspiratorial. "Where the media at?" he says, and everyone laughs.

Since his release from prison in July 2009, Michael Vick has had a team of "at least seven" PR professionals working for him. He says they laid down a plan while he was still locked up, a plan "I try to follow to the letter." They have him working with the Humane Society, with whom he recently came out against an Android app called Dog Wars. ("It just sends the wrong message," he said in a press release.) Most recently, he appeared on Capitol Hill to back an anti-dogfighting bill: "During my time in prison, I told myself that I wanted to be a part of the solution and not the problem." He's made public appearances with beloved NFL figure Tony Dungy, who counseled Vick while in prison (but declined my repeated requests for an interview). Last year he produced The Michael Vick Project, a ten-part miniseries on BET meant to humanize himself. "These guys have been working for me for years now, trying to get my stuff back on track, and it has worked out great," Vick says. "Everybody works on one chord and understands that every decision is critical and has to be made collectively. I think [the success] is a credit to myself making sure that I have the right people around me."

In the Camelot commencement program, Vick's story is described as "rags to riches to rags to redemption." This is the company line, and Vick knows to ride it close. At the end of last season, Vick won the Associated Press's NFL Comeback Player of the Year award and played in his first Pro Bowl since 2005. The plan is working. Which is why Nike, the sponsor that did as much as anyone else to build the Michael Vick brand in the first place, re-signed Vick in early July to endorse the athletic garb it designed specifically for him. (Vick says Nike never lost touch with him, even while he was in prison.) This is quite the turnaround: When the investigation into Vick's dogfighting activities was in its early stages, Nike's suspension of a highly anticipated Vick shoe was the point at which many realized the scandal wasn't going to blow over. Now Nike's back on board, fully subscribed to a metanarrative that goes something like this:

Michael Vick was undisciplined, young, and too loyal to (and trusting of) the people he grew up with. He made mistakes, including but not limited to dogfighting, and eventually his malfeasances were uncovered. He realized the error of his ways and accepted his punishment. While in prison, he "got his mind right," discovered the perspective that eluded him as a free man, and vowed never to repeat the mistakes of his past. He took advantage of his second chance, becoming the quarterback he was always meant to be. His story is an inspiration to all. Particularly to those desiring the finest in athletic gear.

I'm not sure if it will strike you as a relief or an outrage that Michael Vick doesn't really believe all of this, but you should know: He doesn't.


As recently as last June, Vick was still terrified his NFL comeback could be derailed. Most of his anxiety likely stemmed from an incident at his thirtieth-birthday party. If you don't know the story, it's a wacky one: We came awfully close to missing out on this era of Vick's career because of pastry. In the heart of the 2010 off-season, when Vick was still riding the bench, his fiancée, Kijafa, in front of hundreds of partygoers at a restaurant in Virginia Beach, playfully rubbed cake in Vick's face, which he did not enjoy. Then Quanis Phillips, one of Vick's dogfighting co-defendants, rubbed more cake in Vick's face, which he enjoyed even less. They had a big public fight, and Vick, wary of getting in trouble again, left the party. Fifteen minutes later, Vick received a call and learned Phillips had been shot in the leg. (The shooter's identity remains a mystery, and charges were never filed.)

Vick was ultimately found faultless in the incident, but it scared him even more straight than he already was. For a long time thereafter, he played the humble, stoic good citizen. You will recognize this Vick from all those court appearances during the dogfighting trial—head down, chastened, all traces of his famously brash and arrogant personality smothered. Every facial expression came with an implied thought bubble: I am a remorseful man.

Suffce it to say, Michael Vick no longer looks sorry. That Vick swagger, the charisma that once made the famously individual-averse NFL promote him as if he were Michael Jordan (remember "The Michael Vick Experience" commercials?)—that Vick is back. It's this version of Vick that I encounter during a three-hour photo shoot, a few weeks after the commencement speech. I'd been so used to Vick looking forlorn during public appearances over the past three years that I didn't anticipate how bold he'd be in person. Many athletes are reluctant to take their shirts off for photographers, which has always struck me as odd. (If I looked like an athlete, I'd take my shirt off to go to the gas station.) But Vick is shirtless before the photographer even asks.


When Vick went to prison, the general consensus was that he would never be the same quarterback again. Here was a guy who'd nearly led Virginia Tech to a national championship and finished third in the Heisman voting as a freshman; who'd been the number one pick in the 2001 NFL draft at the age of 20; and whose first professional coach, Dan Reeves, had said Vick's talent "made you scratch your head and wonder what you just saw."

And yet he'd never lived up to his potential when he had every opportunity to succeed. How in the world would he train himself back to a workable level (let alone MVP caliber) while atrophying in prison for eighteen months? But damned if he didn't actually seem faster once he was out. How could prison—where he claims to have played a pickup game only once—have made him a better quarterback?

He says it didn't. He says he's just always been this good. "I have always been an outstanding football player, I have always had uncanny abilities, great arm strength, an immense ability to play the game from a quarterback standpoint," Vick says. "The problem was that I wasn't given the liberty to do certain things when I was young. The reason I became a better player was because I came to Philly."

So then it wasn't a change of mind-set in prison, as is so often claimed as a cornerstone of the Vick story? "No," he says. "I had changed my life long before then. I was just with the wrong team at the wrong time."

The way Vick tells it, he struggled in Atlanta not because of maturity issues but because the revolving door of coaches there kept trying to turn him into a player he was not. They were trying to make him a more conventional quarterback, a pocket passer, one who followed The System rather than His Instincts. In other words: Vick struggled at the end of his tenure in Atlanta not because his life was out of control but because they wouldn't Let Me Be Me.

When Falcons coach Bobby Petrino was brought aboard specifically to take advantage of Vick's talents, "his offense was designed to make me the quarterback that I wanted to be," Vick says. He adds that he had stopped going to so many parties and "buying so much jewelry" and was working mostly on a horse farm he'd built. "I was turning the corner. I was cutting my braids off. I was changing my life. I wanted to live the life where football and family were the only things that mattered. I was ready to do it. I felt like time was running out on my career. I needed focus."

And then he got caught doing some very bad things to dogs.

I ask Vick: If you'd never gone to prison, if no one had ever known that you'd been involved with dogfighting...would you still be an All-Pro today?

He smiles. "Only if I had gotten traded to the Philadelphia Eagles," he says. "They never tried to change me."


It doesn't matter how long ago it went down or how far back Vick has climbed: The dogfighting crimes for which he served 544 days—and he knows the exact number off the top of his head—will be in the first sentence of his obituary no matter how many Super Bowls he wins.

Not that Vick and his PR army haven't been trying to push the dogfighting down as many paragraphs as possible. Vick seems to think the only people who still care are reporters. "They are writing as if everyone feels that way and has the same opinions they do. But when I go out in public, it's all positive, so that's obviously not true." The media, Vick implies, still act as though he used to sneak into suburban yards, steal golden retrievers, and set them on fire. As if he were a lone actor, a single rampaging menace, a canine serial killer with no context, motivation, or backstory. As if he is the only person in America associated with dogfighting.

He isn't, of course. While nonprofit groups like the Humane Society attribute a decrease in dogfighting popularity over the past five years to the visibility of the Vick case, organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals contend that crackdowns on cases like Vick's have actually made dogfighting more popular. Either way, it is still estimated that tens of thousands engage in dogfighting—which is notoriously more prevalent in urban areas, where it has been part of African-American culture for decades.

Vick, well versed in his talking points on this matter, hesitates to make this a race issue. And yet: "Yeah, you got the family dog and the white picket fence, and you just think that's all there is. Some of us had to grow up in poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods, and we just had to adapt to our environment. I know that it's wrong. But people act like it's some crazy thing they never heard of. They don't know."

I ask Vick if he feels that white people simply don't understand that aspect of black culture. "I think that's accurate," he says. "I mean, I was just one of the ones who got exposed, and because of the position I was in, where I was in my life, it went mainstream. A lot of people got out of it after my situation, not because I went to prison but because it was sad for them to see me go through something that was so pointless, that could have been avoided."

A refresher on the details of the incident that officially put Vick away: In April 2007, the other three men involved in Bad Newz Kennels, which Vick bankrolled, were "going through fighting sessions to determine which animals were good fighters," according to Vick's indictment. Vick, who had been taking great pains not to be seen at the kennels, "helped out" in the killing of seven dogs—the ones who had lost in the fighting sessions. He then assisted in burying the dogs, too. A week later, police raided the compound. Vick said at the time, "I'm never at the house.... I left the house with my family members and my cousin.... They just haven't been doing the right thing.... It's unfortunate I have to take the heat behind it. If I'm not there, I don't know what's going on." He tells me today: "I was walking away, just totally refocused on something else.... I just happened to get caught out in the yard trying to help out."

A quiet few have made the argument that Vick's punishment and banishment and ostracism from society was excessive. Vick ultimately served more time than the other owners of the Bad Newz Kennels and was given a harsher sentence than almost anyone else ever convicted of dogfighting. He was put in prison for a sadly common crime, something that thousands of people who grew up under his circumstances witness firsthand or even partake in every day. He was, arguably, just staying true to where he'd come from, among the very few people in Newport News, Virginia, he'd known forever—men he could trust, men who were not among the Johnny-come-lately sharks, men who understood. For this, he lost the prime of his career. He's coming into his own at 31, when there is very little time left.

I ask him if he buys this argument, if he believes he was treated unfairly. Most people convicted of dogfighting don't spend a year and a half in prison. They aren't forced to declare bankruptcy. I ask him if he was sent to prison for too long.

"One day in prison is too long," he says.

Yes, but I mean for this particular crime.

He sighs. I'm not the first person who's tried to lead him down this road. "For a while, it was all 'Scold Mike Vick, scold Mike Vick, just talk bad about him, like he's not a person,' " he says. "It's almost as if everyone wanted to hate me. But what have I done to anybody? It was something that happened, and it was people trying to make some money." He pauses and looks around. Time to step back from the edge. He's recovered so much ground that he's not about to lose it all again by taking things too far with some writer he just met. "But it's not fair. It's not fair to the animal. I know what to do now. I am strong as an individual, and I can handle anything."

It's damned good to be Michael Vick right now. In fact, you might say things couldn't get better. He's poised to potentially lead the Eagles to their first ever Super Bowl win. His jersey is one of the NFL's best-selling again. He's playing football at a level that few men have ever dreamed of. He's got his city, his fans, his sponsors; everyone's back on board. But there's one thing that's still bothering him:

"I miss dogs, man," he says. "I always had a family pet, always had a dog growing up. It was almost equivalent to the prison sentence, having something taken away from me for three years. I want a dog just for the sake of my kids, but also me. I miss my companions." Assuming he doesn't suddenly start another dogfighting ring, Vick is due to come off probation in July 2012. Afterward, he is expected to be able to legally own a dog.

Obviously, if he insists on it, there will be problems. Can you imagine the outcry from the Nancy Grace crowd? PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk—who likens Vick to "a psychopath"—lays it out pretty clearly: "I don't want him within half a football field of an animal. It's the only way that we could make sure that the animals are safe."

But Vick won't be worried about people like Newkirk if he keeps winning football games. The past twelve months have proved that. Like many athletes, Vick has used his extraordinary play as a tool to silence critics. "In the back of my mind, I just said, You know, I will prove all these people wrong. I will show them that I am bigger than everything that is going on right now."

This summer, in the relative calm of the lockout, Vick's average day involved getting up, working out, spending time with his family, and playing golf. He has settled into being Michael Vick again—successful, triumphant. He's going to think twice about putting that on the line. Which is why, when I speak to him on the phone a week after our first conversation, I'm not terribly surprised to find that he's back on message, parroting lines that remind me of the Camelot Schools commencement address. "Going to prison, I had a chance to clean a lot of things up," he says robotically. "I changed, people change, and you know, now it is like I have everything in order and my life is totally different, because I am able to deal with situations based on what is right and what is wrong." This is just days after he'd re-signed with Nike. I ask him his favorite website. "Nikeelite.com," he says.

Vick must constantly play this balancing act, reconciling a desire to say what he wants with what he knows he can't. In person, you can see these cracks in disposition; there's tension because part of him wants to open up. But over the phone, I can tell it's the fortified Vick. In order to stick to the PR plan, he must make himself as uninteresting as possible. It benefits Vick to be just like every other athlete again, full of braggadocio and bromides and advertisements for footwear and lime sports beverages. This is all Vick could have ever hoped for: to reclaim the normal, pampered, stupidly happy life of a professional athlete. And why shouldn't he? He served his time. We can be repulsed by his past, we can choose not to root for him, but we can't drown out the cheers from Eagles fans. In the $9 billion juggernaut of the NFL, Michael Vick's transgressions just don't matter anymore, and maybe they never did.

And yet there's certainly a desire to know how Michael Vick truly feels about what he's done, how he's been treated, and where he's going. But the rags-to-redemption hook was for your benefit; it has never mattered inside the lines. It sure doesn't matter to the defenders lying at Vick's feet as he scampers into the end zone. Or to Vick's teammates, who just want a Super Bowl ring. Or to any armchair owner who's picked up Vick for his fantasy-football team. And it probably matters least of all to those fans, the ones wearing his jersey and screaming his name. They just look at the scoreboard, and that's all the truth they need.

Broadway Mark: The Whole Story

Jersey Boys
He's here for a workout but dressed for the beach. Baggy black shorts, faded green T-shirt, flip-flops the size of boogie boards. He drops his gym bag on the indoor field of fake turf and warms up. He winces as he tugs and yanks something that looks like a giant rubber band, trying to shed the stiffness of the weekend, the July Fourth holiday, the long off-season. Now he tosses aside the rubber band and grabs a football—no more wincing. His face relaxes. Clearly he's more at ease when gripping or cradling a football, which must be why his house and truck are filled with them. And his bed. His teddy bear has laces.

He pulls on his green-and-black cleats, takes a last sip of his iced coffee, and looks around. Mark Sanchez, "the Sanchise," the 24-year-old franchise quarterback of the New York Jets, is ready. Dang—where is everybody? (Away from the locker room or playing field, dang is one of the few cusswords you'll hear from Sanchez. If he's really worked up, God dang.) Normally, in July, it would be the coaching staff counting heads. But in this strange summer of 2011, when NFL owners have declared a lockout, players are barred from the team facility. So they practice here, thirty minutes away, at this tony health club in suburban Martinsville, New Jersey.

A friend of Sanchez—quoting Saul Bellow, of all people—calls him "a first-class noticer," and indeed he now notices several high school athletes peeping at him from behind a curtain. He quickly bootlegs the cup of coffee as if it's a fifth of Jack. "They see me drinking coffee," he says, "then they have to drink coffee." But he's also a first-class non-noticer: He has no idea that there's a message to him in big letters on the side of the coffee cup, presumably from some heartsick baristas: We ♥ Mark Sanchez!

Told about the message, he stares blankly. "What? There is?"

Now he notices a familiar face: Jerricho Cotchery, 29, one of his favorite receivers. Sanchez smiles, gives Cotchery a manshake, asks how he's feeling. Good, good, Cotchery says—except it's been months since his disk surgery, and he's eager to see how his back will hold up.

So is Sanchez. They stroll toward an imaginary scrimmage line, discussing which routes to run. Then, suddenly, it's on. They stand ten feet apart, perfectly still. One, two, hut hut. Sanchez drops back, Cotchery bursts forward, slants, turns. The ball is there. Cotchery snatches it, zooms upfield. Nearby, wearing yoga pants and Keds, seated on her fanny and straining to touch her shins, a fiftysomething real real housewife of New Jersey watches in openmouthed awe.

"Oh, my," she says.

More Jets trickle in. Linebacker Bart Scott, safety Eric Smith, lineman Vladimir Ducasse, among others. Gearing up, stretching out, they compare notes about last night's barbecue at Scott's house. Scott mocks Ducasse for leaving early—so many "hos" were poolside! They were invited expressly for Ducasse. "The girl in the tiger pants!" Scott says. "That girl in the Indian thing!"

"They were old," Ducasse says.

"Old?" Scott says. "Old!" He turns to Sanchez for support. "Were those hos old?" "Define old," Sanchez says.

The debate rages on, as fun as it is pointless, until Sanchez takes charge. He leads his teammates up and down the indoor field, through stretches and sprints, drills and weights. He leads them outside, to a steep dirt ramp in the humid woods, ignores their plaintive questions about deer ticks, runs with them up and down until they're panting and dripping sweat, then leads them back inside for sit-ups.

At some point the country music playing on the health-club stereo gets pulled. Good-bye Carrie Underwood, hello Eminem and Jay-Z—and Drake.

I know way too many people here right now That I didn't know last year Who the fuck are y'all?

Sanchez blanches. He worries that the thumping profanities and N-words might offend the other patrons. But he doesn't say anything. Whatever the guys want, whatever keeps them working hard. He doesn't want to be a killjoy. (Of course, if Sanchez were the DJ, there's no telling how offensive the music might get. He's an ardent fan of Broadway musicals, so his teammates are lucky they're not doing biceps curls to Wicked.)

It's this binary quality, this fusion of seriousness and playfulness, rectitude and mellowness, that makes Sanchez the right fit for the Jets, say his teammates, family, and friends. He can be the vigilant big brother when he needs to, but at his core he's the consummate little brother. He can spend all week competing in a gladiatorial sport, then be front row, center aisle, at Billy Elliot. If people think it's dorky or weird, Sanchez doesn't mind. He usually doesn't notice.

Selectively not noticing might be Sanchez's gift, his secret for surviving the pressure and scrutiny of New York. When it comes to his fame, for instance, Sanchez is often oblivious—which has kept the craziness from changing him. After two years of adulation and jeers, he still calls older men "sir," still opens doors for women, still sends thank-you notes, still poses with fans and spends long afternoons with sick children—and still won't say a bad word about Tom Brady, no matter how much you egg him on. In fact, he reiterates what he's said about his divisional nemesis in the past, "I love Tom," which makes Jets fans cover their ears and say, "La la la la la, I can't hear you."

He's the kind of guy, one friend says, who gets invited to a White House state dinner and thinks it's a steak dinner. Then, when the big day rolls around, whereas another guy might bring a starlet as his date, Sanchez brings 310-pound teammate D'Brickashaw Ferguson, because he knows Ferguson likes politics. He's the kind of guy who agonizes about what to buy his linemen for Christmas and reaches out to older quarterbacks for advice. (One veteran told him what not to do: Don't buy Rolexes for the white guys and Louis Vuitton for the black guys. Wow, the veteran said, it really pisses them off.)

As today's informal practice winds down, Sanchez makes plans to see his teammates later at a racetrack in Jersey City. They're going to eat chicken wings and pizza and then race 45-mph go-karts in a circle. Sanchez says he'll be there, though he doesn't look all that keen on the idea. If it were up to him, they might go into the city. Take in a show. Say, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.


Two years have passed since the Jets made Sanchez their first pick in the 2009 draft and signed him to a five-year deal worth up to $60 million, the richest contract in team history. "That was the guy they wanted," says Adam Schefter, who covers the NFL for ESPN. "They fell in love with him from the minute they worked him out."

It will be two or three more years before the Jets know if their love is requited, if Sanchez is the foundational quarterback the team has been seeking since the Vietnam War. But so far there have been hopeful auguries. In his first two seasons, Sanchez has led the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship games, one of two quarterbacks ever to accomplish that feat. He's won four postseason games on the road, which ties him for the NFL record among QBs.

At moments during the regular season, however, Sanchez has given his coaches and fans pause. Occasionally mystified by NFL defenses, he's suffered brain lock, posted anemic stats, thrown balls that looked like wounded pigeons. "His A game is as good as anybody's," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum says. "For him the next step is to be that A player the whole year."

Through two seasons, Sanchez has thrown thirty-three interceptions and only twenty-nine touchdowns. By comparison, Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback in the league and inarguably the winningest, threw twenty-six interceptions in his first two full seasons, against forty-six TDs.

Then again, Broadway Joe Namath, the legend to whom Sanchez will always be compared, threw forty-two picks in his first two seasons, to go with thirty-seven touchdowns. If Sanchez compiles comparable numbers but matches Namath's record of Super Bowl victories (one), no one at 1 Jets Drive in Florham Park, New Jersey, will complain.

"What I have seen of Mark these last two seasons," Namath says, "in my heart of hearts I know he's a champion-caliber quarterback."

Can Namath, who famously guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III, guarantee that Sanchez will win one? "Absolutely not. It's a team game. There's no guarantee they're even going to make the playoffs this year. The competition is awful tough, and Lady Luck plays a major role."

In Sanchez's long learning curve, the curviest stretch came at the end of a three-game skid in the first half of his rookie season. Against a subpar Bills team, he threw five picks, and the Jets lost, 16-13. Jets fans were apoplectic as only Jets fans can be. The back page of the Daily News showed Sanchez looking hapless and Shrek-eyed above the headline: BROADWAY SCHMO.

Sanchez was bereft. He went that night to a Cheesecake Factory and ate by himself in a corner. Then he slept in his car: "I didn't want to go home. I was just really mad and upset."

Oddly, Sanchez later had the Daily News page blown up. It's now displayed beside his bed, the last thing he sees when he goes to sleep. And yet he has no trouble sleeping. The page doesn't torture him, he says—it motivates him. Also, it must be said, he can sleep anytime, anywhere. His sleeping prowess might be the only thing he brags about. Whenever the subject of sleep comes up, Sanchez lifts his head and gives the same reflexive response: "I'm a really good sleeper." It's eerily reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man: "I'm an excellent driver."

Though Sanchez's decision-making remains an open question, it's hard to question his desire. He talks about winning with an obvious ache, about losing with raw sorrow. Last season, when the Jets trash-talked the hated Patriots, then got run over by them in week thirteen, no fan was more anguished than Sanchez. "I don't think I've ever been that embarrassed," he says. "You went out and talked a bunch of smack and then got your ass kicked—it sucked."

After the ass-kicking came another loss against Miami and then a round of second-guessing. Writers asked Jets head coach Rex Ryan if he would consider benching Sanchez. Yes, Ryan said—he would. "Rex is super honest," Sanchez says. "I wish he wasn't that honest at times, especially to say that."

Before the next practice, Sanchez was informed that Ryan wanted to give extra reps to Sanchez's backup and friend Mark Brunell. Ominous. Sanchez nodded like a good soldier, but on the practice field, when Brunell walked into the huddle, Sanchez pushed him away.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer approached. He repeated that Ryan wanted Brunell to take extra reps. "I was like, 'He can come tell me,' " Sanchez says. "And [Schottenheimer] is like, 'Come on, man, don't do that.' "

Eventually the crisis passed. Sanchez held his ground, kept his job, and managed not to alienate his friend. But the episode remains something of a sore point with Sanchez. In a locker room where everything is a laughing matter, Sanchez hasn't yet joked with Ryan about that almost-benching. And he doesn't expect to. "I wanted to fight him," Sanchez says. "I was really mad."


Sanchez leaves the health club and drives his Toyota Land Cruiser to the nearest burrito place. No one notices him, and he doesn't notice them not noticing. He gets a chicken bowl to go, with rice, pinto beans, guacamole, and mild salsa. The man knows his Mexican food. His great-grandparents came from Mexico, and Sanchez, growing up in and around Orange County, California, built his six-foot-two frame on homemade tamales and enchiladas and chorizo and eggs.

Chicken bowl in hand, he heads for a swim and a shower and a nap at Casa de Sanchez, his three-bedroom town house at a Trump luxury property. (Sanchez rents. The Donald cut him a sweetheart deal.) For a wealthy, stylish athlete, the town house is remarkably unremarkable. The decor is Early Bachelor. There is the requisite mega-couch (brown cloth), the standard jumbo TV (wall-mounted), the mandatory guitar in the corner (he's learning), the obligatory video-game station (an ace at FIFA Soccer; he's only so-so at Call of Duty), but there isn't much else. The master closet is smallish, not overfull, and the walls are hung with kitsch and football memorabilia. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will visit Sanchez long before MTV Cribs.

Maybe the most striking thing about Sanchez's home is what's on the DVR. Holding a white towel around his waist, heading for the shower, he flips through his saved shows. A documentary about Justin Bieber? Episodes of Glee? The quarterback of the New York Jets is a Gleek and a Belieber?

Yes, he says, failing to notice the tone of incredulity.

The DVR squares with Sanchez's unabashed love of show tunes. It seems too perfect that the successor to Broadway Joe is a fan of Broadway musicals, but there you have it. While you're likely to bump into other New York athletes at Scores, you're more likely to find Sanchez at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. He's seen just about every show out there, many of them multiple times. His truck is cluttered with cast albums. So ubiquitous is Sanchez in the theater district that he was a presenter at last year's Tonys.

Aside from just enjoying the music, Sanchez says he feels a kinship with Broadway performers. "Their life is so regimented—like mine. They have eight shows a week. They have to take care of their bodies, stretch, eat right, take care of their voices. You know, their voice is like my arm."

Susan Evans, one of Sanchez's former professors at USC, visited Sanchez this summer. They went to a Broadway show, of course, and afterward Sanchez took her to a lowdown piano bar. "We sat around for a couple of hours and just sang songs," she says. "At the end, he got up and he sang."

Sang what?

"Jim Croce. 'Operator.' "

Isn't that the way they say it goes?

Catch Me If You Can
Sanchez never goes out on the town without expecting some complication. The city is a celebrity aquarium; therefore every social interaction is wholly visible.

Of all social interactions, the most hazardous is dating. With green eyes and black hair and a chalk white smile, Sanchez is the most eligible bachelor to hit Manhattan in a generation. Family and friends tell him all the time: Be careful. Any indiscretion, any impropriety, anything that can be seen as caddish behavior, might turn off fans or scare away sponsors.

"You have to be a 24-year-old bachelor," he says, "with the means to do anything, just about, but with the wherewithal and understanding and life skills of a 45-year-old Supreme Court judge."

A good wingman would help, he says. Alas, Sanchez's wingman, Jets tight end Dustin Keller, is about to get married. "I'm Han Solo now," he says glumly.

So what is he looking for?

He doesn't have a type, he says. (He's dated actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Estée Lauder model Hilary Rhoda, whom he met at a GQ photo shoot, to name two.) His expression becomes thoughtful. "I can't help but want somebody that's, I don't know, athletic." Also, his future wife and the mother of his children will need to value family. "Family is big," he says. (The night before he got drafted, Sanchez flew from New York to Orange County so he could sit beside his grandmother while waiting to learn which team would select him.) And any prospective Mrs. Sanchez will have to win over the original Mrs. Sanchez. "My mom has to love her," he says. "I mean, love her."

Finally, he says, it would be nice to meet a woman who has some firsthand experience of bloggers and red carpets and skeevy photographers hiding in the forsythia. "Somebody who can handle all this, you know, who can help me handle all this—because I'm still learning."

Which may be why his celebrity crush is Jennifer Aniston. "She's experienced," he says admiringly.

Has he ever been in love?

"I don't know."

Does he realize that's like saying he doesn't know if he's ever won the Super Bowl?

He laughs. "Then no." Pause. "I think I might have been in the playoffs...." AFC Championship?


Wild-card round?

"Probably like a wild card—but I was the backup and suddenly got to play by accident."

His longest relationship was about six months. It ended the way most end. He recites his standard pre-breakup talk, which sounds like a pre-game locker-room speech delivered to a badly overmatched team: "I'm not going to be able to give you as much time as you can give me. That imbalance causes problems. It will be weird. There will be times when we lose and I will not want to talk to even you."

Even if Sanchez meets his dream girl tomorrow, he wonders if this is the time to date her, when his top priority is football. "Cynically, I think: Okay, how is this person going to help me win a Super Bowl?"

What vexes Sanchez most about being a bachelor isn't the search, per se, but conducting the search in a minefield—set inside a hall of mirrors. In late May, he suddenly found himself in the news for dating actress Hayden Panettiere. Except that he wasn't dating Hayden Panettiere. His longtime friend and teammate Scotty McKnight was dating Hayden Panettiere. Months earlier Sanchez hit the front page when a 17-year-old high school student from Connecticut told a gossipy sports site that she met him in a nightclub and they went on a date.

Sanchez has never spoken publicly about either story—and still won't: "I've found it's better not to comment on a lot of that stuff."

Generally speaking, however, he says that errors and half-truths and outright fabrications have left him shaken. "It's unbelievable. It all just blows your mind. It's crazy to think about how it could all be gone, how it could all...with just one lie, with just one cell-phone picture, you know?"

For Namath, watching Sanchez date in public causes flashbacks. "It does call up some memories," he says, laughing. "When it comes to the love life, you know, there's always that question, when we meet ladies or talk to them or visit with them or whatever: Is it because I'm me, Joe, or me, Mark, or is it because of what I am or what I'm doing? It's a little..." He searches for the right word. "Clumsy."

Does Namath have any dating advice for Sanchez?

"To really do his homework."

Life With Father
Sanchez is the youngest of three brothers. The eldest, Nick junior, 38, played quarterback at Yale. The middle brother, Brandon, 32, played offensive line at DePauw.

When Sanchez was 4, his father and mother divorced. At first Sanchez's mother had custody of the boys, but after a few years they went to live with their father. "My mom realized, with boys, sometimes they need a dad to kind of keep them in line," says Nick junior, who acts as his brother's agent.

Nick senior definitely kept them in line. Before becoming an Orange County firefighter, he was a military policeman, and he sometimes parented like an MP. Sanchez recalls his father picking him up from school. Before driving off, Nick senior asked about Sanchez's day. Sanchez recounted the highlights. Then his father told him to go through it all again—this time without saying "like" or "um."

In junior high, Sanchez lost an article of clothing—he can't remember what. As punishment, as a reminder that money doesn't grow on trees, Nick senior ordered Sanchez to attend school for five days straight in the same clothes. "I still remember the outfit," Sanchez says. "Beige cargo shorts and a green shirt."

Curfew was when the streetlights came on. Bedtime wasn't long after. Sanchez always called his father "sir," and still does. If Sanchez feels any lingering resentment about his father's strict regimen, he doesn't express it. In fact, his jersey number, 6, honors his father's Fire Station No. 6.

Sanchez's mother, Olga, has always provided a football-free zone. With Mom he doesn't have to be the quarterback; he's still her mijo. She keeps him grounded, sends him Bible passages to help him through tough times. "Anything from the Book of Mark," he says. "She loves the Book of Mark."

When he was a star athlete in high school, Sanchez's mother would take three different buses from her house to the site of his game. That's why buying her a house—"she moves in today," he says with an ear-to-ear smile—is the greatest pleasure he's ever known.

"Mark," Nick junior says, "is a total mama's boy."

That Championship Season
The night after the informal practice at the health club and the wild go-kart derby in Jersey City, Sanchez—black jeans, black leather driving shoes, a white Travis Mathew polo shirt—climbs into a car-service Escalade with his marketing agent, Ryan Williams, and heads into the city. He was planning to attend a Broadway show, but at the last minute he got asked to the season premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (An apt title for a history of the New York Jets.) As the Escalade nears the Time Warner Center, where the Curb screening is being held, Sanchez looks out the window at the swarms of people. "The city," he says. "Every time I come into New York, I kind of go: Okay." He sighs. "I'm going to The City."

The City is so far from where he was four short years ago—a backup at USC, riding the bench, yearning for his chance. Pat Kirwan, a former NFL coach and author of Take Your Eye off the Ball, remembers standing beside Sanchez on the sideline of the 2006 national championship, when USC, quarterbacked by Matt Leinart, fell to Texas. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Kirwan recalls, "Mark turns to me, and he says, 'Now it's my effing team!' "

And then it wasn't his team. USC coach Pete Carroll elevated John David Booty, making Sanchez the backup. "I'm thinking, There's a time bomb here," Kirwan says. "He's going to transfer. He can't take this. Then I became more impressed with Mark Sanchez than ever. We know what was burning inside him, but this is where his class comes in—he never showed that to anyone. That's where he won me over as a high-character guy."

At last, in 2007, when Booty broke his finger, Sanchez got his chance. In three games as the fill-in, he showed flashes of brilliance. The following year, as the undisputed starter, he threw for the second most touchdowns in USC history and dazzled at the Rose Bowl.

Much was made of the 2009 news conference Sanchez held to announce that he was leaving school early to turn pro. Carroll said Sanchez was making a mistake, that the odds were against him succeeding in the NFL—then abruptly left the room. But Sanchez insists the media misread Carroll's intensity: "Coach Carroll is one of the most influential people in my life." And Carroll, now head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, has only praise for Sanchez. "I loved him when he walked out," he says. "I love him right now."

Two years later, on the verge of his all-important third season, the Jets are Sanchez's effing team, and this will be his effing City if he can take the franchise to the effing mountaintop. "We've got a good group," he says. "It's coming."

Does he know how crazy it will get in this city, in his life, if it comes?

He knows, he knows. But it won't change him. He won't let it. "I'll even sleep good that night," he says. "Or the next day, if we party all night."

Honestly? He's going to sleep well after winning the God-dang Super Bowl?

"I'm a good sleeper," he says. "A really good sleeper."

J. R. moehringer profiled LeBron James in the September 2010 issue.

Don't Be The Worst: A 10-Step Plan To Keeping Things Hot

It's often been said that variety is the spice of life, which means some pretty depressing things for monogamy. Namely, that being with the same person forever, sexually and romantically, is sort of the equivalent of eating your favorite food every day. Most people love rice, but not as their only option, aside from masturbating to pictures of rice's Facebook friends in sexy bikini vacation photos.

I firmly believe that you can have rice every day, if you mix it up. (I mean this literally if you live in certain Asian countries or are severely impoverished and have a hotpot). You can keep the flame alive, in the bedchamber and the heart chamber with minimal effort. The key is remembering to do little things for your wife or longtime girlfriend or life partner that keep her surprised and sexually interested— almost to the point of wariness. I know that remembering to be unexpected seems counterintuitive, which is why it's important to plan your spontaneity with laser precision.

I've assembled some tips to keep your relationship feeling freshly shucked. Love is like a car, or intestines, and romance is like the oil change, or colonoscopy. Print these out and keep them in your pocket—you'll be magically transported back to a time when you didn't think of sex as an annoying reason to take off your robe. Back when seeing each other still made you a little nervous. Maybe nervous-er, if you're really good at it.

So put a rose in your teeth and let's go!

• Set an iPhone alert once a month for ROMANCE. On that day, do something romantic, like bringing her a favorite snack or showing up at work to serenade her in front of her colleagues. If she ever sees the iPhone alert, act casual and pretend like ROMANCE is the name of an adult video store.

• Sometimes jealousy is a real aphrodisiac. Why not give her the illusion that you've been cheating on her without any of the actual cheating. Have a friend call your cell phone repeatedly at odd hours, or quickly cover up your computer screen whenever she walks into a room. Now take her in your arms. Surprise! You've been taking a ballroom dancing class the whole time.

• Use an Internet coupon for a couple's massage. Let the soothing music and scent of bamboo take you into your own little world, and feel free to talk like the two people giving the massage aren't there. Maybe discuss how weird it is to be massaged, as a couple, by two people, and wonder aloud if the masseuses would consider having sex with you.

• Why not make a trail of rose petals leading to the bedroom? Or breadcrumbs. Sometimes women reeeeeeeeally want to have sex and we just get lost.

• Have a friend call your significant other from the hospital and say that she should get down there, right away. (If you don't have a friend, use your Paul Lynde impression and pretend to be a sassy male nurse.) When she gets there, have a doctor tell her that you have been in a terrible accident. Surprise! The doctor is a stripper.

• Disaster often brings people together. Try to engineer some kind of bridge collapse when you are together, or schedule a vacation when you think there will be an earthquake.

• Open Tilda Swinton's Wikipedia page. Say something like, "Wow, Tilda Swinton and her three-way marriage are really progressive, don't you think? She's so unconventionally beautiful." If your significant other agrees, go ahead and start checking the Portland Craigslist for people who want to be part of some kind of arrangement. If she doesn't, go ahead and masturbate to Tilda Swinton's Wikipedia page. She is unconventionally beautiful.

• Women really love musicians and sleeping with famous authors or actors. But if you don't have any natural talent, remember that women have really active imaginations. Accidentally crush things to give the impression that you have acquired incredible strength, and maybe let her catch you changing into or out of an outfit really quickly. Come home late at night disheveled and distracted, and maybe make one of those fake newspaper headlines about a mysterious vigilante running amok in the city. She will start to think that maybe you are Batman, who has an awful lot of sex. However she may start to think you are a serial killer and will be so relieved when you are not that she will have sex with you.

• Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Just disappear for a few days. If you're not a minor, she can't do anything for 24 hours. Try it!

• Pick up a copy of Bon Appetit and choose a recipe together. Make a day of it and shop European-style by hitting a farmer's market and butcher shop instead of going to a supermarket chain. Then prepare the meal together while drinking a nice wine and listening to a compilation CD of Cole Porter songs. When she reveals that she's poisoned your food, reveal that you have also poisoned hers. Laugh, and die well-matched. You're in love again!

She Loves You, She Loves You Not

Mindy Kaling
Writer-actress, The Office

Like: I have always liked the whimsical sock on the otherwise very neutrally dressed guy. I think that's great. [Bridesmaids director] Paul Feig is the master of this.

Dislike: I like reading magazine articles about this, or watching fashionable gay guys rock this look, BUT I'm not into the rolled-up jeans and loafers with no socks. Oh, and chest waxing. I know it's not fashion-related, but it's just not natural.

Hero: Franco. James Franco. I can't tell his ironic style from his Ferragamo style. I don't know when it starts and stops. Also, you know who doesn't get enough credit? Bruce Jenner. Regular dads should be aspirational toward Bruce Jenner.

Chanel Iman

Like: I'm more interested in a man's personal style than I am into the trends. Personally, I like a man with a gentlemanly quality, tailored and clean.

Dislike: Current guidos ...ewww! And any man wearing too many logos in one outfit needs help.

Hero: I like Pharrell's style. He dresses nice casually.

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi
Jersey Shore cast member

Like: I like guys that wear low V-necks and tight shirts that show off their muscles. I like button-downs, but the two top buttons have to be unbuttoned so you can show a little chest. Or three...or all of them.

Dislike: I don't like when guys wear really tight pants. It's disgusting.

Hero: The Rock. He's a gorilla.

Laurel Pantin
Assistant Beauty Editor, Teen Vogue

Like: I like guys who look like they chop wood and eat a plate of pasta. This is so lame, but I just really like it when a guy looks like he's not trying too hard. My main advice is don't try too hard, don't get too weird, and nothing sparkly, ever.

Dislike: Tank tops. It's so creepy when it's tight in the back, I don't like it. Ill-fitting suits are horrific. I don't really like jewelry on guys and hate [points to Mark Sanchez on the September issue of GQ] tight sweaters.

Hero: Ryan Gosling. But I did see a video of him, breaking up that fight, and he's wearing a tank top. I was like, "Why are you wearing that tank top? You're so cute."

Emmanuelle Chriqui
Actress, Entourage

Like: I love great sneakers. With a suit, with a great pair of jeans, I love sneakers. It's also kind of cool and sexy to me when a guy can rock a scarf.

Dislike: A guy can wear his jeans too high or too low. There is definitely a proper way to wear your jeans. Too high is just ridiculous. And too low is just ridiculous. Guys should know this, it's a big deal.

Hero: You know who kind of rocks it? Adrien Brody. He takes cool fashion risks.

Vashtie Kola
Music video director/party promoter

Like: I love men in workwear. Like Carhartts, work shirts, and boots. I love the idea of men doing things with their hands. My father was a car mechanic. He'd come home with his boots and smell like car grease.

Dislike: Overly accessorized men. I understand fashion, but it can be a turn-off if a man puts more thought into it than I do. A guy who has the hat, and the bow-tie, and the briefcase, and the suspenders... I don't like that.

Hero: I like Steve McQueen, a lot. And Robert Redford. Kanye West has good style, as well.

Ashley Bouder
Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet

Like: I really like button-up shirts with a scarf and a bowler hat. That's my favorite look. I also like sports jackets dressed down casual.

Dislike: I hate those shoes with the individual toes. I saw this good-looking guy the other day, in khakis and a nice button-up shirt. He had on those shoes—they're so ugly! I also hate when people wear skinny jeans and they're big at the top or hanging off. That's trying too hard.

Hero: Adam Levine from Maroon 5. He always looks very casual but also like he put together something. And his clothes fit him!

The Other Olsen Sister

It's like a tween gothic novel or What Ever Happened to Baby Janes. Your elder twin sisters—stars since infancy—are faces-on-lunchbox famous. Your summer vacations are spent on a celebrity cruise so the twins can sign autographs. Back in L.A., shopping at the mall equals mayhem. "The paparazzi were really frightening," says Elizabeth Olsen. "I thought, Maybe I'll just skip that part."

Good idea. Renouncing that hotbed of mediocrity, Olsen trained with the Atlantic Theater Company, then went all the way to Russia to study acting, dialect, and stage combat. Now, at 22, she's a legitimate Oscar contender for her haunting performance as a young woman under the sway of a creepy cult leader in the indie thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene. The most unnerving scene has her offered up naked as a ritual shag. Olsen didn't think twice about the nudity. "The movie wouldn't have been as disturbing without it," says the actress. "Taking away someone's sexuality, making it something you don't even own anymore—that's the scariest thing."