ATLANTA - The chanting will be remembered more than anything else, even the two touchdowns that bore Michael Vick's fingerprints. On the day he came home to the Georgia Dome, a person changed forever by prison and public contrition, Vick was booed by the crowd in his old home stadium, and then he was cheered, and then they ended up calling for him from the stands.
"We want Vick . . . We want Vick . . . " It is what they screamed in unison, dominating the dome. Later, a much smaller crowd waiting for him to leave the field after doing postgame television interviews began another chant: "We love Vick . . . We love Vick . . . " It was undeniably memorable, and the man himself was clearly touched.
But in the quiet of the Eagles' locker room, a much more important statement was made hours earlier. It was before the game, the 34-7 pounding of the Atlanta Falcons. To hear cornerback Sheldon Brown tell it, there wasn't any great speech or anything like that. It was just some people talking, expressing their sentiments, understanding what this day would mean for Vick, their teammate.
Brown said, "I remember, before we went out, everybody was saying, 'Let's win one for Mike. Let's win one for Mike.' And the guys went out and played for him."
Vick has won over his teammates and this was the clearest demonstration yet. He was welcomed upon his arrival. The Eagles players supported the move to bring him in. They thought he had done his time following the dogfighting conviction and deserved a second chance. They were rooting for him to succeed - because, frankly, rooting for him was rooting for themselves.
But embracing the notion of a second chance and embracing the person are two different things - and the latter was never guaranteed. That one had to be earned - and it clearly was. From the way Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg schemed to get him his first touchdown of the season in this game - and then a passing touchdown on top of that - to the way his teammates greeted his successes on the sideline, there obviously is a personal connection here now.
It was gained simply: with humble, hard work. Reid has talked about it in the past and Donovan McNabb has talked about it, the hours Vick has spent in preparation as he has tried to rebuild his career. Yesterday, Brown talked about it.
"Man, let me tell you something," he said. "I've got so much respect for him and what he's going through. He handles it, he's probably one of the most professional people I've been around - to go through such an adverse situation and show you how to respond, how to handle it, hit it head-on, face-to-face, and move on from it. I've got a lot of respect for him . . .
"His leadership, coming in, working out every morning, putting in the hours, staying after and watching the film. We see that. We notice how professional he is. That helps the overall picture as well."
Now, he is one of them. That is the only real story on the day when he came home to Atlanta. The other debates concerning Vick have been bigger and louder - whether the Eagles should have brought him in, and whether it is worthwhile in a football sense - and those debates are not nearly done.
But by this one, simple measure - the approval of his teammates - there is no dispute. As linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said, "Our team was just as happy as the fans."
He was talking about the chanting, over and over for a player on the visiting team. It was as unusual at it was unmistakable.
Asked if he heard it, Vick said, "How could you not? It was as loud as it gets in a dome. I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. It just let me know that people here still do appreciate what I've done and what I'm able to do moving forward."
Vick said he was touched. He said, "I'll never forget this day. I'll never forget coming back to the city of Atlanta. I'll never forget arriving [Saturday]. I'll never forget seeing a lot of the landmarks that I used to see when I lived in this city for 6 years. I'll never forget shedding a tear on the bus ride over here this morning . . .
"You don't have a lot of chances to experience things like this in your life. This is one moment that I'm going to [savor] forever."
On Wednesday, Vick said, Reid told him he would score two touchdowns. Vick said it didn't really resonate at the time. But then they came, one rushing, one passing. As Mornhinweg said, "I wanted to get him one. Then, when he got one, I wanted to get him two."
Reid acknowledged that the chanting crowd might have swayed him a little, that it "didn't hurt." Because one play after the chanting started, Vick was in the game in the fourth quarter, replacing McNabb with a 27-0 lead. Then, after the touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek, Vick left the game with a bruised right hand.
Later, Vick's play provoked the biggest smiles on the sideline. As he said, "You're talking about a great group of guys. When I scored that touchdown, the entire bench is halfway on the field. And every time I make a big play, that's what those guys do. We just have a lot of love and respect for one another."
In a season of controversies and questions for Michael Vick, with so much still to be decided, that much we know.
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