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7 revelations from Michael Vick’s letter to Atlanta

The former Falcons quarterback addressed the city via The Players’ Tribune.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Since the conviction for dog fighting charges that cut short Michael Vick’s promising career as the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, the city’s relationship with Vick has been tenuous and uncomfortable, until now. In The Players’ Tribune, Vick has written a letter to the city of Atlanta, and it’s a catharsis, for him and for those who love this city and this team.

So many Falcons fans became fans of this team because of Michael Vick. The Falcons selected Vick with the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, and when he took the field for Atlanta that fall, he was transcendent. His speed, his athleticism, and his arm gave Falcons fans hope that Vick could be the player to finally carry the team to its first Super Bowl win.

Many have tried to encapsulate precisely what he meant to this city over the years, and the only person who has been able to do it justice has been Vick, with this letter.

Here are seven things that stood out.

1. Even after his conviction, Vick thought he would still be the Falcons’ quarterback after he served his time.

The dog fighting charges and Vick’s subsequent conviction were distinctly more serious than the number of silly things Vick had gotten in hot water for over his years in Atlanta.

For many Falcons fans who preferred to look the other way when Vick did things like flip off fans or get detained at the airport for trying to take a water bottle with a hidden weed compartment on a plane, the dog fighting issue was one they couldn’t ignore in good conscience.

Vick, despite the gravity of all he was facing, was sitting in prison in Leavenworth holding onto the belief that he would return as the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. That’s heartbreaking.

2. It crushed Vick when the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan.

The hope that Vick would return to the Falcons — that his role as Atlanta’s starting quarterback might be the one thing he wouldn’t lose — was crushed when he found out the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan third overall in the 2008 draft.

What’s even more devastating is to know the circumstances of the day it happened.

It was April 26, 2008, and that’s Vick’s mother’s birthday. When he called his mother from prison to wish her a happy birthday, she told him his grandmother had suffered a stroke, and her prognosis wasn’t good.

Imagine, then, Vick passing a fellow inmate on the stairs who casually tells him that the Falcons have replaced him with Ryan.

I know sometimes people will say it’s like they’ve been “punched in the stomach” when something bad happens … but I’d never really understood the expression, until that moment. Matt Ryan. I just kept repeating his name, in my head, again and again. Every time I thought about what it meant, it took the air right out of me — but I couldn’t help it.

Matt Ryan. As in, the quarterback.

Before that moment, I didn’t have much. I didn’t have my money … or my reputation … or, worst of all, my freedom. But I did have one thing. I had those five words: Mike Vick, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons.

And once I heard, Matt Ryan, well … I didn’t have that either.

Vick calls it “the day I lost Atlanta.”

3. But Ryan and Vick have a wonderful relationship now.

Vick says that one of the biggest misconceptions about him is that he harbors some bitterness toward Ryan or that he and Ryan have a bad relationship. It’s untrue.

Vick realized that it was his own fault that he landed in prison, and by extension, it was also his fault the Falcons were put in a position that they had to draft a new quarterback.

If you weren’t following the Falcons closely in 2007, it may be difficult for you to understand how it felt to watch the team you love absolutely flounder with a combination of Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich, and Chris Redman under center. It was acutely painful, especially for those who had loved Vick and everything he meant to this city.

Bobby Petrino, who was hired to mold Vick into a quarterback who would carry the Falcons to the team’s first Super Bowl victory, left the team before the season was even over to take the job at Arkansas. He left notes in players’ lockers. It was a gut punch to the players and to fans who were all still reeling from Vick’s conviction.

Then Ryan comes in, and the team goes 11-5 and makes the playoffs in his rookie season. Winning does wonders, and many fans, with the exception of a contingent who felt it was disloyal to Vick, embraced Ryan. And Vick eventually embraced Ryan as well.

4. Vick is a Falcons fan.

Vick said that he’s watched this season on the edge of his seat, just like every other Falcons fan in the world.

I’ve been living and dying with every play: Pumping my fist after every touchdown. (And thankfully there have been a lot of touchdowns.) Watching every field goal attempt through my fingers. (And thankfully most of them have been good.) I’ve just been a fan.

Vick still gets plenty of criticism for the choices that landed him in prison and the impact that had not just on his life, but on the team. He served his time. He has done his best to demonstrate that he’s learned from his mistakes.

And nothing is more emblematic of Vick’s maturity than the fact that he’s actively and enthusiastically rooting for the team that moved on from him at the lowest point of his life.

5. The only person in the world who couldn’t win Madden with Vick at quarterback was Michael Vick.

For someone like me, who adopted this city and this team in part because of Michael Vick when I moved here almost 12 years ago, this letter from Vick is an emotional read. So the part about Vick struggling with Madden provided some welcome levity.

Vick said he never really understood the hype surrounding his legendary Madden dominance. Vick had unbelievable player ratings — a 95 speed rating, 95 agility, and 97 arm strength, which sounds about right, if you ever watched him play. Still, Vick tried to play Madden as himself and he wasn’t very good at it.

6. Vick’s return to the Georgia Dome meant as much to the city and the fans as it did to him.

In Week 17, the final regular season game in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons invited some of the team’s former greats, including Vick, to be honored at halftime of the matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Vick couldn’t have been more thrilled, but he was also anxious.

I flew in the day of the ceremony, and all I could really think about during the flight was, How is my reception going to be? I knew the connection was still there between me and the city, and they had shown me love over the years. ... It had been almost 10 years. And you just never know.

This moment in Falcons history was special because of everything it signified. The Falcons offense looked characteristically dominant against the Saints, and chants of “MVP! MVP!” filled the Georgia Dome as Ryan showed, once again, why he’s the front-runner for the award.

And when Vick took the field at halftime, next to his friend, Roddy White, the crowd cheered him enthusiastically. It was more than a warm welcome home. It was a deafening confirmation that bygones are bygones, and that Vick’s place in Falcons history and in fans’ hearts is secure.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Many Falcons fans have struggled over the years with the idea of embracing Ryan, because it feels like a betrayal to Vick. Many others have had a hard time forgiving Vick for his actions and the consequences for the team. That last game in the Georgia Dome, and Vick’s return, was a reconciliation.

7. The culture Vick helped create in Atlanta and around the Falcons is returning with the success of this year’s team.

Atlanta has a reputation of being a lukewarm sports town for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that being an Atlanta sports fan is difficult. We’ve had a few highs, and oh so many lows, one of those being Vick’s conviction and departure.

You see, Vick actually got Atlanta excited about the Falcons, and when he was gone, that excitement fizzled.

Sure, it began to rebound in 2008, and it continued to build slowly and cautiously through the 2012 season, but after the team blew a 17-point first half lead to lose to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, fans generally defaulted back to the “same old Falcons” mentality.

But this season is different, and not just because the Falcons finally made it back to the Super Bowl. The excitement in this city surrounding this team is on another level. That culture of hope, of believing in the Falcons is back, and Vick is a part of it.

But I’ll be there, rooting for my team as hard as anyone. I’ll be sitting and watching, hoping and praying. I’ll be there, as if I was right there, still there, under center — as if I was an Atlanta Falcon myself.

In my heart, I always will be.

It’s all come full circle for Vick, and he will always be an Atlanta Falcon. That is especially true now that he has officially announced his retirement from the NFL.