Now before we talk about what Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta as the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback is, let’s talk about what it’s not.
Vick isn’t coming back to Atlanta like someone out of a blaxploitation movie, complete with “Big Payback” by James Brown playing in the background.
He’s also not coming back in the role of the revenge-seeking Edmund Dantes in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
Vick’s return to the Georgia Dome is not about righting the self-inflicted wrongs of the past.
For him, it’s about leading the Eagles to a 2-0 record against an Atlanta Falcons team that is desperate for a win after losing badly in their season-opener against the Chicago Bears.
“I think it’s going to be exciting just to go back, but this is a business trip for us,” Vick said. “From an emotional aspect it’s going, it’s going to be great to back to the Dome. But I think we have to just focus on the game. That’s going to be my approach. I don’t want any distractions. I just want to go out and play the best football I can play.”
WATCH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE OF MICHAEL VICK’S RETURN TO ATLANTA:
During his stint with the Falcons, Vick led the team to the 2004 NFC Championship game against the Eagles and he was the first quarterback to win a playoff game at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field back in 2002. In those days, he was “The Michael Vick Experience”, a freewheeling running quarterback who admitted that he didn’t put as much work studying the game as he does now.
Still, it was an experience no one in the NFL wanted to have.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights when we had to play him back then,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He was a heckuva player back then. I mean (late Eagles defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure the guy out. But I think he was good then, he’s good now. I don’t see much difference there.”
But having spending time in prison on federal dog fighting charges and not being able to play the game he loved has ultimately given him a different perspective as a quarterback and as a man, Vick said.
“Maturity has been something that I think that I am able to accomplish things that I have been able today,” said Vick, who threw a pair of touchdown passes in last week’s win over the St. Louis Rams. “I’m more focused, it’s being older. With age comes the maturation process. Everything happens in time.”
As part of that growth process, Vick said he has no ill feelings toward Falcons owner Arthur Blank and that he has a tremendous amount of respect for him.
“Arthur is great, he’s a great owner,” Vick said. “Everybody in that organization has the utmost respect for him and I still do. I always wish the best for him and still care about him, and love him unconditionally. It always be that way.”
Vick said he is not sure of how the crowd will react to him when he comes out for player introductions. Some say a Vick is still beloved by Atlanta fans in spite of all of his legal troubles over the years. In 2009, he got on the field briefly as a part of the Eagles wildcat package and was warmly received by the crowd.
“I don’t know and that’s something I haven’t thought about and really don’t want to get into,” Vick said. “I still have a lot of love for the fans down there, but keep in mind I’m the opposition now. I don’t expect it to be in my favor since I’m out there for the other team, but we’ll see.”
Falcons beat writer Darryl Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the team for the Atlanta Journal Constitution said that fans in the city are more interested in cheering for the team’s current quarterback Matt Ryan for the success he has brought the team in his first three seasons as the team’s signal-caller.
“Most of the city has moved on in part because the Falcons have climbed to new heights under the direction of quarterback Matt Ryan,” Ledbetter said. “He’s done things that Michael Vick was never able to do, and that’s win on a consistent basis. Ryan has led the Falcons to three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.
“Vick still has his fans, but those folks are not generally Falcons fans. I’m really not sure if race is an issue. It’s really about football and winning.”
Oddly enough, Ryan, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia, became the Falcons top draft pick in 2008 after Vick was released from the team to serve his prison term. He said he and Vick became friends during last year’s Pro Bowl and their football paths will be intertwined with one another.
“I have a lot of respect for him as a player and as a person, too.” Ryan said during a recent conference call with Philadelphia media. “Fate has a funny way of putting people in different positions and that’s probably one of the reasons we’ll always be linked together, but I’m happy for Mike in that he’s ended up in a spot that’s been really good and positive for him as have I. Both of us are fortunate that we’re in the spot that we’re in.”
When it comes to facing the Falcons on the field, Vick is expecting the Falcons to come with a lot of blitzing, especially from his blind side. In last week’s win over the Rams, Vick got attacked and sacked from his blindside three times. He said has to do a job better of seeing those blitzes when they come.
“You gotta keep your eyes up,” Vick said. “That was totally my responsibility. I can make the game easy for myself and so that was my mistake. I can make the game so much easier. Sometimes, shooting for the big one all the time can get you hurt. I can’t keep doing that all the time and I won’t. It’s something I’ve learned from.”