Michael Vick was back in Atlanta Sunday. Perhaps you heard? And he wound up far more than a bit player on the stage where he once starred.
The former Falcons quarterback, wearing the familiar No. 7 in the unfamiliar green uniform of the Philadelphia Eagles, recorded his first touchdowns of the season, one rushing and one passing, in a 34-7 victory at the Georgia Dome.
The two scoring plays totaled just 10 yards but they represent miles gained toward resurrecting a career.
For Vick, out of the NFL for two seasons while serving a federal prison sentence on felony charges related to dogfighting, his third-quarter touchdown on a 5-yard run was his first rushing touchdown since Oct. 15, 2006, a 22-yarder against the New York Giants.
The play generated a loud ovation from a crowd, split between cheers and jeers as they were all day.
He would cap his visit with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek in the fourth quarter.
“I will never forget this day,” Vick said. “I’ll never forget coming back to the city of Atlanta. I’ll never forget seeing all the landmarks I saw every day for six years. … You don’t always get a chance to experience something like this in a lifetime and it’s something I’m going to cherish.”
Vick finished with 17 yards on four carries. But he was more than a runner on this day. Vick saw action as a passer – prompted by chants from the crowd – and completed both attempts for 48 yards. He threw a 43-yard bomb and the short scoring strike to Celek.
“The ironic thing is [Eagles head coach] Andy [Reid] told me … on Wednesday that I’m going to score two touchdowns,” Vick said. “They weren’t both running, but two came. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Who cares what happened earlier this season? I was able to come through when my team needed me.”
Vick entered the game with just 65 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Vick had hit the field two hours before kickoff, dressed in a black long sleeve t-shirt and black shorts as he followed quarterback Donovan McNabb out of the visitor’s tunnel. He was first greeted by long-time Falcons team photographer Jimmy Cribbs and the two shared an embrace. Wide receiver Michael Jenkins was the first former teammate to greet him. Others, including John Abraham, Chauncey Davis, Antoine Harris and Michael Koenen, followed.
At midfield, he came face to face with Falcons owner Arthur Blank. They shook hands and spoke for several minutes. At one point, Blank patted Vick on the arm.
“We just talked about staying in touch,” Vick said. “Maybe some time in the offseason getting together and having dinner. … I’ve got a great relationship with him.”
When Vick left the field 40 minutes later, he was cheered by a crowd gathered by the tunnel entrance. He waved to those early arrivals, many of whom wore Vick jerseys – both Eagles and Falcons. He signed several autographs for fans with pregame field passes as he exited.
The Eagles received a mix of boos and cheers when they entered the field in uniform. The crowd did feature a significant number of Eagles fans but the boos were clear when Vick, one of three Eagles captains, came to midfield for the coin toss and his face was shown on the stadium scoreboards.
But the day would turn in his favor. As the fourth quarter began with the Eagles holding a 27-point lead, the boisterous Philadelphia fans started a loud chant of “We want Vick. We want Vick.” With the Falcon faithful already headed for the exits, Reid obliged. With 14:18 left, Vick took over for McNabb and his first play was a 43-yard completion to Reggie Brown to the 12-yard line
He completed the drive with the touchdown pass to Celek. Following another failed Falcons possession, Eagles backup Kevin Kolb took over the rest of the way and Vick had his hand bandaged after suffering a contusion.
“What I take … from the whole experience is that it’s not about what I’m going through,” Vick said. “It’s about lessons for the youth to know that no matter what happens, continue to make strides day in and day out, week in and week out and year in and year out.”
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