Michael Vick left Atlanta in disgrace five years ago. He returns this weekend as one of the NFLs most electrifying players.
Vick will make his first career start against the team that made him the first pick in the 2001 draft on Sunday when the Eagles and Falcons meet at the Georgia Dome, where Vick emerged a decade ago as one of the leagues most exciting quarterbacks and one of the most popular sports figures in Atlantas history.
Vick spent six uneven but often-brilliant seasons with the Falcons before the team decided to cut ties with him after the 2006 season, once the extent of his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring in Virginia became known.
After serving 19 months in a federal prison in Kansas and another two months in federal custody on house arrest, he resurfaced with the Eagles in 2009, became a starter a few weeks into last season, and now quarterbacks a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
And this Sunday, the same fans that cheered so loudly for him from 2001 through 2006 will find themselves booing the greatest quarterback in their franchises history.
Oh man, its going to be great, Vick told CSNPhilly.com Sunday night in St. Louis, after leading the Eagles to a 31-13 season-opening victory over the Rams.
Im going to have fun. Im going to enjoy that game. Going back to Atlanta and having an opportunity to play in front of the crowd that I think I provided a lot of excitement to, that I brought a lot of wins to in that dome, its going to be great.
Vick did get into the Eagles 34-7 win over the Falcons in Atlanta in 2009, but by the time he got in the game, replacing Donovan McNabb in the fourth quarter, the Eagles already led by 20 points and the dome was half empty.
Vick was mainly cheered that day, although there were boos when he put 14 points on the scoreboard late in the game on a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown -- his first in an Eagles uniform.
Last year, the Eagles faced the Falcons at the Linc, but that was one of three games Vick missed midway through the season with rib cartilage damage suffered in a loss to the Redskins. Kevin Kolb started and beat the Falcons, 31-17.
So this is uncharted waters.
In 2009, when we went back there, I got in at the end of the game, and it was fun, Vick said. But this time, its going to be a completely different feeling, going out there as a starter and playing the whole game. Its going to be wild.
Vick had a great deal to do with the renaissance of football in Atlanta. Before he arrived, the Falcons had just three winning seasons in the previous 18 years and had won only four playoff games in franchise history.
All of a sudden in 2001, one of the most exciting players in NFL history arrived in town and not only made football fun again in Atlanta but made the Falcons a winner. Vick carried the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 and 2004, beating the Packers at Lambeau Field in a playoff game in 2002 and the Rams in 2004.
He went 38-28-1 in 67 starts for the Falcons, the best won-loss of any quarterback in Falcons history.
When I was in Atlanta, I always believed I was going to be in Atlanta for the duration of my career, he said. I wondered if this day would come where I would come back in another uniform, but, honestly, I thought Id be there my whole career. Im thankful to have the opportunity to go back and play there. I think its going to be fun. I cant wait.
Vicks relationship with some fans in Atlanta went sour during the difficult 2005 and 2006 seasons, but its a lock that thousands of No. 7 jerseys -- both red Falcons jerseys and green Eagles jerseys -- will be pouring through the Georgia Dome turnstiles Sunday evening.
Vick continues to have an outstanding relationship with owner Arthur Blank -- who gave him a 100 million contract and then released him a few years later -- and many Falcons fans continue to revere Vick, who really had so much to do with putting the Falcons back on the NFL map.
So how will he be received Sunday? Vick laughed.
I didnt really get booed that much (in 2009), but that was the end of the game -- well see how it goes when Im out there for four quarters, he said. If we get up on them, they might start booing me. But it doesnt matter. I still got unconditional love for the city and for the fan base.
Its a special place for me, and it will always be a special place.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.