By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun
and CM Report
ATLANTA–If you want to get an idea of the affection that Atlanta Falcons have for Michael Vick,
all you have to do is look throughout the Georgia Dome at all the high-fiving by Falcons fans after Jeremy Maclin caught the game-tying touchdown pass from Vick early in the second quarter.
During the pre-game warmups, fans clad red in No. 7 Falcons jerseys with Vick’s name on the back sitting in the endzone of the Georgia Dome cheered the former Falcon as he was running across the field with the 1980s Phil Collins tune, “In the Air at Night,” blared loudly through the arena’s sound system.
Unfortunately for Vick and the Eagles, the Falcons came away with a 35-31 come-from-behind win in a game that Vick would not finish because of a concussion.
For three quarters, Vick dazzled fans with his ability by using both his arm and his running ability. But he also had his share of foibles with a pair of fumbles and an interception that led to 14 points and gave the Falcons a 21-10 lead early in third quarter.
Vick managed to overcome mistakes and led the Eagles to pair of touchdowns to put them back in the lead. Just when Vick was leading them to a 10-point lead late in the third quarter before he left the game two plays before the Eagles took a 31-21 lead on a two-yard LeSean McCoy touchdown run.
For the game, Vick completed 18-of-28 passes for 242 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Earlier in the afternoon in the tailgate lots outside the Georgia Dome, there were Atlanta Falcons fans donning Vick’s Falcons jersey and some even wore his new Eagles jersey. Walking around the tailgate areas, it was apparent that Vick is still a hero to Atlantans even wearing the Eagles green and white colors.
Even with Vick’s arrest, conviction and jail time spent in a federal penitentiary for being involved in a dogfighting ring, Atlanta fans welcomed Vick as the proverbial prodical son returning home as a conquering hero who came back from the abyss of his own shortcomings.
Tomika Barnes, 41, of Atlanta expressed her enthusiasm for Vick with a dark green tee-shirt with loud white letters that read, “Mike was no nice…They had to pay it to him TWICE. $100 million” She said there is no shortage of love for the Eagles starting quarterback, especially among African-American fans .
“He still got the love, the feeling, all of that is still there ,” Barnes said. “He’s just moved on.You got a lot of Falcons fans that still represent No. 7. No. 7 was always Michael Vick, still is Michael Vick. Some can’t afford the Philadelphia Eagles jersey, but they are representing No. 7.”
Most of Vick’s supporters refer to the Georgia Dome as “the House Vick Built” They say he was the reason Falcons flocked to the arena in droves and sold the building out on a consistent basis from 2001 to 2006.
“As far as the Atlanta Falcons, he made this team what it is right now as far as the support, the fans and this dome filling up on Sunday,” said 35-year-old Atlanta resident Chris Battle. “As I recall when I was younger the game wouldn’t even come on (TV) locally because they didn’t sell enough tickets. When Vick came to this city, these games sold out. The revenue that he brought to this dome and the respect we have for him as an athlete means a lot.”
Battle said when Vick played with the Eagles in Atlanta as a backup in 2009, the fans wore all kinds of teeshirts welcoming him back. He said there are many African-Americans in Atlanta who understand Vick’s background and can relate to him going through a difficult situation.
“This is a guy who come from fighting dogs in the street and living in the projects who got in trouble and was able to make it back,” Battle said.
But not all Falcons fans had warm feelings for Vick.
Earl Reed, 59 of Southwest Atlanta was wearing a white No. 7 Jersey with the words, “Federal Penal League on the front. On the back, the words in all caps, “INMATE” was on top of the “7.” He said he will never forgive Vick for his cruelty to animals.
“To me, he’s the lowest creature on the earth,” Reed said. “Lying to the fans, the public and animal cruelty is unacceptable. I don’t care if he spent 30 years in prison that’s no excuse.”
Kevin Johnson, 32, was selling red and black tee-shirts that read, “Boo Mike Vick.” He said he likes Vick and rooted for him when he wore a Falcons uniform, but not to the point to where he would root against his beloved Falcons.
“I support him when he’s not playing my home team,” Johnson said. “He can be Michael Vick every 15 weeks, but when he’s playing against the home team, it’s about the home team. We won the division last year.”