By Nathan Rush
Like it or not, Michael Vick still owns “Matt Ryan’s House” at the Georgia Dome. Vick is more popular than Ryan in Atlanta and always will be.
In fairness, Ryan would be the most exciting, charismatic CEO of Home Depot that Arthur Blank could ever dream of.
But the clean-cut, by-the-book pocket-passer is nowhere near the magnetic force that the Michael Vick Experience was when he was the face of Nike and a preternatural phenomenon, No. 1 overall pick out of Virginia Tech, not so long ago.
With respect to Dominique Wilkins, Dale Murphy and Deion Sanders, in Vick’s prime he was the most beloved athlete in Atlanta sports history.
Vick was the personification of Atlanta’s ideal self-image — a groundbreaking, stylish, successful young black leader. The dual-threat quarterback with a cannon left arm, running back moves and track star speed was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. And while Vick captivated America’s imagination, he was Atlanta’s very own to treasure.
Ryan, on the other hand, is the prototype NFL quarterback — professional in every way, intelligent, reliable, tall, white and right-handed. Not trying to reinvent the wheel; just trying to perfect a proven blueprint for the position.
The Boston College product is sold as Tom Brady lite —without the Brazilian ubermodel wife, Hollywood hair, NFL records and Super Bowl jewelry. But without all of that, what’s left? Ryan is methodical, where Vick is mercurial; Ryan is borin’, while Vick is ballin’.
Matt Ryan is who the Falcons need; but Michael Vick is who Atlanta still wants.
And that will be crystal clear when the Philadelphia Eagles fly down to the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The most prominent jersey in the stands will be Vick’s No. 7, in all shades and sizes.
In reality and symbolically, Ryan will be No. 2 when Vick comes back to a city whose love affair may have taken a break, but certainly never died. Vick’s absence has only made Atlanta’s heart grow fonder.
It was clear in 2009, when Vick was given a roaring ovation by the Georgia Dome crowd. Then a backup, Vick went 2-of-2 for 48 yards and one TD through the air, while rushing for 17 yards and another TD on the ground in mop-up duty at the end of a 34–7 Philly win at Atlanta.
“I just remember being in the (Georgia) Dome and the crowd chanting my name, which is special,” Vick recalled, in an interview with Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“All my teammates thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Everybody on our sideline came to me and said they were excited that they could be a part of that situation and being there to witness it because they had never seen it before.
“I will always remember that day, not for the plays I made on the field — because that was a fracture of the joy that I felt that day. The appreciation from the Atlanta fans that I had, even though I was in a different uniform.”
Now that Vick has worked his way out of the darkness — following 19 months served in prison on a federal felony conviction stemming from a dog-fighting ring run on his Virginia property — he is back in the spotlight as a Pro Bowl franchise quarterback with a $100 million contract, a Nike spokesman and a renowned redemption story.
This is no backup arriving in Atlanta to hear chants and cheers at the end of a blowout. This is Atlanta’s pride, its once-prodigious turned-prodigal son returning home.
“That’s not my house,” Vick says, politely and politically. “That’s Matt Ryan’s house. I’m just a visitor.”
Atlanta will weigh in on Sunday night when the Eagles face the Falcons in the Georgia Dome — the house Ryan is renting but Vick still owns.