Famous football player Michael Vick was asked about whether Atlanta Falcons fans will cheer for him this Sunday, like some of them did the last time he came around with the Philadelphia Eagles:
I don't know, and that's something I haven't thought about and don't want to get into. I still have a lot of love for the fans down there, but keep in mind that I am with 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. That's the fun part of the game, and we're just going to enjoy the game.
Make no mistake: Vick is still very popular in Atlanta. More so than he would be as the former quarterback of any other franchise in any other city. Explaining it would mean going into demographics and the team's history and so on, but, yes, Vick is still widely beloved here. (Atlantans would not, for instance, cheer for any other former player during a game against the home team.)
I was at that game. The legend of the entire Georgia Dome rooting for Vick to beat the Falcons really doesn't reflect what happened. It made for a great story, especially given Atlanta's confounding reputation. If, say, Bulls fans rooted for a Wizards-era Michael Jordan to score some points late in a game that had already been decided, Chicago fans wouldn't catch hell, but it's Atlanta. So.
Before the game began, Vick hitting the field for warmups produced far more boos than it did cheers. The lopsided score sent Falcons fans for the exits in the second half -- just as it would've in any stadium -- leaving Eagles fans and Atlantans who wanted to see Vick. So, yeah, there was a higher concentration of Vick fans by the time he did score. Kind of a different story than the video clip ESPN presented.
Considering it was a small (but LOUD) portion of the crowd, Atlanta had very little chance of winning even before Vick scored, and the Falcons had entered the game with something like half their offensive starters missing due to injury, it really didn't bother me at all. I was more disappointed by the Falcons' robotic red zone play calling and Chris Redman's difficulties with throwing over the defensive line than by seeing fellow Atlantans finding something to enjoy in a blowout loss. I took it as a sign of what makes Atlanta great -- a city that refuses to hold a grudge -- but that's the way I take everything.
Who am I to judge somebody else's sports fandom?
I wouldn't expect very many boos this time around, since there aren't as many hard feelings still lingering, but there won't be as many cheers from Falcons fans, either. But knowing Atlanta, I'm sure plenty of fans have already decided to boo or cheer more than they would otherwise, just for the sake of taking a side.
I'm hoping Vick isn't audibly cheered this time around, at least. It would be disturbing to see anybody in the crowd turn during Vick's second trip through Atlanta as a member of the Falcons' decade-long nemesis. Kinda hoping the late kickoff time has everybody drunk enough that nobody with multiple allegiances notices Vick is even on the field.
For more, head to Falcons blog The Falcoholic and Eagles blog Bleeding Green Nation.