ATLANTA - William Hamilton saw this sort of nastiness coming.
Hamilton bought Falcons season tickets in 2001 because the team had drafted exciting quarterback Michael Vick. Hamilton wore his old "Vick" jersey to yesterday's game vs. the Eagles.
He was elated when Vick scored the first touchdown of his comeback on a third-quarter run. He knew that not everyone at the Georgia Dome would be as happy as he was.
Hamilton sits in the end zone, Section 125. He sits between the sections where Vick gave away his touchdown ball to one of thousands of fans wearing Vick jerseys yesterday . . . and the section where, every game, another fan has dressed in an authentic, orange prison jumpsuit with the name "Vick" scrawled on it, along with Vick's No. 7.
"He's here every game," Hamilton said, a scowl on his face.
In the third quarter of yesterday's game, that fan, his long, black hair spiked 6 inches high, and three other men were involved in an altercation. When it ended, the quartet was led away in handcuffs.
The fan in the prison jumpsuit was identified by a stadium spokesman as James Crouch, 33, of Auburn, Ga. The spokesman said Crouch was arrested and charged with simple battery.
Hamilton watched as the scuffling unfolded. All around him milled fans in Vick jerseys - some the Philadelphia version, where Vick has resurrected his NFL career, but most of them various Falcons editions. Usually, Hamilton said, a few fans will break out their old Vick jerseys for Falcons games, a homage to the exciting player who lost the past two seasons to legal problems. Yesterday was different.
"You see them," Hamilton said. "But not like this."
This might be Matty Ice's town, but that doesn't mean the area has forgotten its once-favorite son. Penn Charter product Matt Ryan effectively stepped in for Vick last season as a rookie, while Vick served time in prison on a dogfighting conspiracy conviction, but Ryan missed yesterday's game with turf toe. One of the handcuffed miscreants wore Ryan's No. 2 jersey.
When the fighting in the concourse commenced, Falcons backup Chris Redman had just thrown an interception that was run back for a touchdown.
Not long after, the "We want Vick!" chants began. That's right. The home team was calling for a cameo of the other team's backup quarterback.
"I'd love to see him here," Hamilton said.
Such is the love that remains.
Hamilton, 42, a housing coordinator from nearby Snellville, expected even more. Vick, in pregame warmups and in his first few inclusions in the Wildcat formation, was soundly booed amid an undercurrent of cheers.
"I'm shocked that so many people did boo him," Hamilton said. "I guess they're dog-lovers."
As Vick entered the game, almost no boos could be heard. And when he completed his first touchdown pass of the season, to Brent Celek, you'd have thought the Falcons had come back.
Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb has been booed before . . . but never as a visiting player, by the home team, for serving fourth-quarter mopup duty.
"What's up with that?!" Kolb said, joking.
He knew yesterday was different.
Falcons fans, their team blown out, their backup quarterback having played atrociously, had entertained themselves for much of the second half watching former Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick run a few plays.
Vick usually is used only in Wildcat formations, but, in his return to Atlanta, he was given a few more plays than normal.
So, when Donovan McNabb was deemed done for the day, Falcons fans hoped Vick, not Kolb, the third-string QB, would come in.
And they didn't like it when that didn't happen. Kolb didn't mind.