ATLANTA - Michael Vick strolled from the field blowing kisses to adoring fans in the Georgia Dome unmoved that his No. 7 jersey was the green and white of the team that had just blasted the Falcons, 34-7.
Several thousand fans were still in the Dome 15 minutes after the game ended, and they poured into the seats at the exit to the field where Vick was headed and leaned over the railings to get a glimpse of him and shout his name.
It was a triumphant return for Vick, the former Atlanta quarterback, who ran for a touchdown and passed for another, but not everyone was amused.
"I cannot believe how many people cheered him," said Rick Varalla, an optical technician from Loganville, Ga. "After he left we had a disastrous season. Michael Vick was with us, and we never had back-to-back winning seasons. I'm really surprised. That reaction was amazing. I wonder what Arthur Blank thought about it."
In the Falcons' media interview room after the game, Blank was not happy, but he said that was because of the beating on the field, not the bleating from the Vick fans.
"I focused on the game," Blank said. "We got our fannies kicked."
Vick came onto the field in the first quarter and there was a cacophony of noise from the crowd of 69,500. Eagles radio broadcaster Merrill Reese said on the air that there were more boos than cheers.
Others were unsure whether the boos were distinguishable from the cheers.
Paul Jackson of Marietta, Ga., a sales representative for a wireless company, said it was not hard to distinguish who was booing and who was cheering.
"Honestly," he said, "you could see it was broken down along black and white. That's the clear assessment."
Atlanta is the birthplace of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where social injustice and the specter of King resonate through the city. There is no denial among even Vick's most strident supporters that he committed a crime, but his fans want the punishment of a black hero to stop.
"There is not a person in here who has not made a mistake in their lives, so these people outside the Dome protesting are acting like they are living in glass houses," said Theron Jones, an Atlanta dentist. "That's why you saw the fan base come out to show support for him. He deserves a right to make a living. That's what those cheers are for.
"The cheers were not a thumb in the eye to the Falcons and Arthur Blank, they were not. I came here wanting the Falcons to win and him to do well."
As for the Falcons, most said they had more than enough to worry about on the field. Who had time to reason with the fan reaction?
Late in the game, the fans still in the Dome chanted loudly, "We want Vick!" and some Falcons seemed to understand the adoration.
"He was a big part of this city, and I think a lot of people wanted to see what he was able to do," said Jamaal Anderson, a Falcons defensive end. "The fans needed some type of excitement, and we didn't give them what they wanted. They had to find something else to jump on."
Falcons receiver Roddy White said Vick proved yesterday he was not finished as a player.
"You see that ball he threw, a nice spiral, he's use to doing stuff like that," White said.
"Y'all keep writing him off. Y'all just giving him motivation, that's what you're doing."