MIchael Vick has a team, and that team will come to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 6. We in Atlanta have seen some momentous days in our time as a big-league city — we’ve played host to the Super Bowl, to the World Series, to All-Star games in three different sports, to Muhammad Ali’s return-from-exile fight against Jerry Quarry, even to an Olympiad — but we won’t have seen anything quite like this.
The saga that has in many ways divided our city will be coming to our city for one last act. The man who packed the Dome will return on an opponent’s roster. Nothing says Vick will actually play that day — he’s being signed to back up the majorly successful Donovan McNabb — but what if he does?
Will there be a Deion Sanders “This Is My House” Moment? Will Vick take a Jeff George victory lap if the Eagles win? Will Vick jerseys outnumber those shirts bearing the names and numbers of current Falcons that day in the Dome?
We cannot know the answers to any of this today, same as we couldn’t know Michael Vick would ever be an ex-Falcon. On Dec. 23, 2004, he signed the $130 million contract that was supposed to have made him a Falcon for life. On Dec. 31, 2006, he played his final game for the franchise.
And we Atlantans know all too well how the past three years have been. The Falcons hit bottom and are climbing again. Vick went to prison and is starting anew. And some of us here have turned this into a zero-sum game: If you’re for the Falcons you can no longer be for Vick, and vice versa. It is that peculiar dynamic that will be the backdrop on Dec. 6. It is that peculiar dynamic that makes some among us wonder if the massive Dome is a big enough place to hold all the emotions that will be present therein.
Michael Vick was the biggest professional athlete in this city’s history — bigger than Dominique, bigger than Chipper, bigger even than Hammerin’ Hank. Now he again works in the NFL, works for another team. And that team is on the 2009 Falcons’ schedule, and that game is here. We knew this would have to come at some point, but we couldn’t know it would arrive so soon.
And now, from the distance of August, we ask: Will we be able to handle it? Will there be fights in the stands? Fights on the field? (When last the Eagles played here, on a Monday night in September 2005, there was a brawl in pregame warmups.) Will the fabric of Atlanta be rent by a single football game on that one given Sunday?
And the guess, again from a faraway perch, is that we’ll all be just fine. The crowd will be alive but not overwrought. The teams will play a game and someone will win and Vick may or may not participate, and then we’ll all get along with the rest of our lives. It’s what people do. It’s what we Atlantans have come to do rather well.
We’re supposed to be the city too busy to hate, remember? We can also be the city big enough to root for both: We can wish Michael Vick well and still support the hometown team.
And it’s not as if we haven’t been through Big Events. Indeed, the day before the Eagles play the Falcons, there’ll be another event in the Dome that figures to stir some passions — the SEC championship. And you know what will happen after that titanic tilt? The Dome crews will sweep the aisles and redo the field markings and get ready for another game the next day.
Because, at bottom, that’s all these are. Just games.