For the first time since 2006, QB Michael Vick had the Georgia Dome rocking with a strong performance
The Philadelphia Eagles 34-7 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons became a footnote to bigger story. No it was not the fact that the Eagles (8-4) are now tied for first place in the NFC East with Dallas Cowboys. The main storyline that dominated Sunday afternoon’s game was the triumphant return of Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick to the Georgia Dome. The trip back to Atlanta had been an emotional one for Vick. He later admitted to tearing up on the bus ride over to the stadium. This was the city where he first made his mark in the NFL as the Falcons star billboard player only to fall to tragic lows in 2007 due to his involvement in dogfighting.
Vick’s fall from grace was swift and when he went to prison for a 23-month period, he not only left behind his family and friends, but also the franchise that stood by him since he first entered the NFL in 2001. The Falcons owner Arthur Blank had given the keys to the franchise to his pseudo son only to have Vick disappoint him and ultimately causing the team to walk away from their former electrifying player. While Vick was beginning his prison sentence in late 2007, the Falcons were also a shattered mess. The 2007 season was one of the worst in Falcons’ history as the team finished with a dismal record of 4-12, their head coach Bobby Petrino quit with only a few games left, and many blamed the duo of Blank and Vick for the overall collapse of the former 2004 NFC Championship contender. Vick finished his 6-year Falcons’ career with passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating plus a record of 38-28-1 as a starter.
Though the Falcons rebounded in 2008 to make the playoffs under rookie of the year quarterback Matt Ryan, the attention of many in Atlanta still remained with Vick. The journey of Vick from a jailed dogfighter back to the NFL has been well documented and when the Eagles first signed the former Falcons star in mid-August there was a firestorm of activity on message boards, talk radio, and any other medium associated to fan feedback. To say the least the Vick signing was polarizing across the country sometimes along racial lines – especially in Atlanta and Philadelphia. One camp had the former 3-time Pro Bowl player designated as persona-non-grata for the heinous nature of his crimes against dogs while others believed he deserved a second chance after serving his time. However much like any big head line story, the Eagles signing of Michael Vick eventually faded into the back pages of NFL news after a while. The majority of fans that had threatened to boycott their beloved Eagles due to the signing of Vick still packed the stands and on the field the former first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft had become a “spare” part in the Eagles’ offense. Vick would come in for a play here or there out of the Eagles version of the Wildcat formation called the “Spread Eagle”. But other than a big 34-yard run against the San Diego Chargers, No. 7 was relegated to a designed run every so often while mostly watching starter Donovan McNabb from the sidelines. Vick’s numbers in 9 games – suspended for the first two games — before Sunday were anything, but electrifying (3 of 9 passing for 7 yards and 0 TDs with 15 rushes for 65 yards and no touchdowns).
Even Vick’s return to Atlanta to face the Falcons was considered non- front page news as many figured the former Falcons’ star would play maybe one or two plays as he had done throughout his stint with the Birds. But fate and a soft spot for a “comeback” story by Eagles head coach Andy Reid stepped in to bring Vick’s name back into the spotlight. Playing in the Georgia Dome, which was once dubbed “The House that Michael Vick built”, the former 6-year Falcons player was everywhere. Vick led the Eagles out of the tunnel to start the game, was a designated team captain for the coin toss, and received probably his most playing time of the season. However when Vick entered the game on the Eagles fifth and seventh plays of their opening possession, he was showered with boos. But those boos quickly faded in the 3rd quarter. With the Eagles leading 13-0, Reid re-inserted Vick in the redzone. The former Falcons’ starter lined up in shotgun formation and after a direct snap, Vick ran into the endzone for a 5-yard jitter-bugging touchdown. The play was pure “Vick” as he sprinted to his right then sharply cut back to his left then broke a tackle before finally divining into the endzone. The play led to a thunderous ovation as many fans wearing No. 7 jerseys stood for their former superstar.
As good as his first touchdown run since Oct 15, 2006 felt, the NFL’s only 1,000-yard rushing quarterback had to feel even better later on. With the game well in-hand, Vick showed everyone that he still has plenty of juice left in his rocket left arm as he fired a 43-yard completion to receiver Reggie Brown. Then in the redzone for the second time, the “Michael Vick Experience” was back as he sprinted out to his left then lobbed a pass back to the right to wide-open TE Brent Celek in the endzone. The dome’s roof shook again as indeed the prodigal son had returned home. Vick finished the day with numbers 2 of 2 passing for 48 yards and 1 TD plus 4 rushes for 17 yards with 1 TD. Not bad for a “spare part” and there were even chants of “We want Vick! We want Vick!” from his former home crowd in the fourth quarter after his satisfying day was done. Vick said of the fans cheers for him, “It was as loud as it gets in the Dome, I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”
It was easy to see the pure joy that Vick felt playing back in the ATL. After the game Eagles starter McNabb said of Vick’s fine performance in his return, “You were seeing a guy in his element. I think he was just relishing the moment.” After spending a larger amount of time giving on-field interviews and reflecting, Vick in his post-game press conference said “It couldn’t have happened at a better time, I want to become one of the top quarterbacks in this league again.”
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)