Expect a warm welcome for Vick in Atlanta


ATLANTA -- Surely, there are some people here who feel Michael Vicks redemptive road has not been pained enough. He went to prison for 19 months for bankrolling a dog-fighting ring, but just two years after his release the former Falcons quarterback has a 100 million contract with the Eagles and glory again in the NFL.

Somebody out there is not satisfied he has been hammered enough. But where are they?

They are not on talk radio. They are not on Peachtree Street in downtown. They are not in the locker room of his former team, which has to face Vick and Eagles on Sunday night in the Georgia Dome.

I was hoping he would come back, I was rooting for him, said Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson. This is a forgiving country, we tend to forgive, so I was pulling for him and hoping he did come back.

Why wouldnt you be happy for him? Anybody who goes through a situation like that, why couldnt you be happy for them? You do your crime, you do your time, and get past it. I dont see why you wouldnt be proud of a guy like that.

Once upon a time, they were going to have a parade here and Michael Vick was going to lead it, triumphantly holding up the Lombardi Trophy. Peachtree Street was going to be teeming with Vick fans and their No. 7 jerseys.

The Falcons handed the Packers their first-ever loss in a playoff game in Lambeau Field because of Vicks dynamic play in 2003. The No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, Vick got a 130 million contract from the Falcons in 2004.

Hosannas rained on Vick. Then came the dog-fighting scandal.

Now, the hosannas rain on him again, but for a different reason. Hes made a comeback and people here, even in the jilted town, are happy for him.

Its Michael Vick, people would love it here if he came back for real with the Falcons, said Cedric Nettles, 17, a football player at Jonesboro High School.

Nettles and his brother, Shikael Villaflor, were watching a Braves game in Turner Field on Monday night and they have no intention of forgetting about Vick. It is that way particularly in the African-American community here.

I still have the jersey, Villaflor said.

I have two Mike jerseys, a red one and black one, Nettles said. Why? Hes Michael Vick.

On his way to class Tuesday morning at Georgia State University, James McCray, 19, said the quarterback has settled up with society. Why should someone want more agony from a guy who spent 19 months in prison and was left penniless.

Most people feel he has redeemed himself, said McCray, a business administration and marketing major. I think more black people think he redeemed himself than white people.

Everybody deserves a second chance.

Vicks return has created a conundrum for Falcons fans.

Can you wear a Vick jersey on Sunday night and still root for the Falcons to win, said Chris Dimino, a radio talk show host on 790 The Zone in Atlanta. That was the gist of what we heard today on the show. Some have said I am a Falcons fan, but a Vick fan and I want him to do well. There are others who have flat out said they want Vick to win.

What bothers people here is that he has admitted he didnt work as hard as he should have when he played for the Falcons. He is certainly different now from everything you hear and read. He is working harder.

Like everywhere else, Vick was castigated by media here because of his role in the dog fighting ring. He was not going to get a hometown discount on the criticism. Vick, after all, asked the Falcons to encircle him with caretakers while he was here and limit his availability to the press. He ducked out the backdoor when he could and the team obliged.

After one dreadful preseason game in Jacksonville, Vick was allowed to leave without speaking to the media. When a reporter followed Vick out and tried to ask questions, one of Vicks private security guards stuck a hand in the reporters chest to keep him away. In other words, Vick did not lay much track for sympathy when he got in trouble.

When Ryan refused to talk to a reporter at a Georgia Tech-Boston College basketball game two years ago, Ryan was treated with deference, not scorn. Sorry to bother you, Matt.

Ryan, like Vick, is also surrounded by Falcons officials when he talks to media and his time is restricted. Ryan does not get ridiculed like Vick got ridiculed.

Everything seems fine now. On the airwaves or on Peachtree Street on Tuesday morning, you could not find any resentment toward Vick. There are also people who feel it was not a black vs. white issue, but a dog issue.

The issue was the dogs, said Gerald Whaley, 45, the manager of The Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta. It is a dog issue, not a race issue.

Its football. I still have his jersey because he is a great player. My prediction is I have him leading the Eagles into the Super Bowl against the Patriots. He cant be forgotten.

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