Michael Vick has returned to the Georgia Dome for the Atlanta Falcons’ final regular-season game in the stadium.
Despite an online campaign calling for the Falcons to revoke their invitation, the quarterback joined a group of former players and coaches set to take part in a halftime ceremony during a game against the New Orleans Saints.
Vick was one of the most dynamic players in team history, but his legacy was marred by a dogfighting operation that sent him to federal prison for almost two years. He never played again for the Falcons.
“When I first got the call that they wanted to honor the Dome legends, I was just thankful I got the call,” Vick said before the game. “The Dome holds a special place in my heart. This is where I started my career.”
Now 36, Vick played five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles after getting out of prison. He also spent time largely in backup roles with the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but hasn’t played for anyone this season and it appears his career is over.
“I’ve got some very fond memories,” Vick said.
He was asked back to Georgia Dome even though more than 28,000 people signed a petition on change.org calling for the Falcons to revoke their offer.
“For over six years, Michael Vick ran a dogfighting operation in Virginia where he personally tortured and killed dogs without hesitation, without fear of reprisal, and without remorse,” the petition said. “By inviting Michael Vick to participate in a ceremony on Sunday, the Falcons are honoring a convicted dogfighter who profited from cruelty to animals for years.”
But Vick is still remembered fondly by many fans for his career with the Falcons, and his No. 7 jersey remains one of the most popular on game days even though he last played for the team a decade ago.
“There are a lot of people who forgave me,” Vick said. “It gives me another opportunity to show a different side of myself. I’m just thankful I have a lot of supporters.”
Vick was the top overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft, earned three Pro Bowl selections in six years with the team and guided Atlanta to the NFC championship game during the 2004 season. He was the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
It all fell apart when his off-the-field crimes came to light before the 2007 season. Vick pleaded guilty to financing and participating in Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting ring in his native Virginia.
Vick expressed remorse for his actions and became an advocate for animal rights. He was named NFL comeback player of the year in 2010 with the Eagles, receiving his final Pro Bowl nod, but will go down as a player who never quite lived up to his enormous potential.
Still, there is no doubt he was one of the greatest Falcons to play at the Georgia Dome during its 25-year history.
Atlanta is set to move next season to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a $1.4 billion facility with a retractable roof that is under construction next door to the Georgia Dome. The current stadium will be demolished after the move is completed.
The Falcons went into their finale having already clinched the NFC South and looking to lock up a first-round bye.
After Vick’s downfall, Matt Ryan was selected in the 2008 draft and has been the team’s quarterback ever since.
He’s having his best season yet and appears to be one of the top contenders for MVP.
Vick is certainly impressed with his successor’s play.
“Matt has taken his game to another level,” the former QB said. “He is in total control.”