Michael Vick makes triumphant return to Georgia Dome

Michael Vick made a triumphant return to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, riding onto the field in a convertible to a raucous ovation that made it clear Atlanta Falcons have forgiven their former franchise quarterback.

Despite an online campaign calling for the Falcons to revoke their invitation over a dogfighting case that sent Vick to prison for nearly two years, he received by far the loudest ovation from the sellout crowd of 70,835 during a ceremony honoring the final regular-season game at the team's home of 25 years.

Vick, wearing a black No. 7 jersey and a silver Falcons cap, blew kisses and threw up his arms in appreciation.

"It was all good," said former Falcons receiver Roddy White, who rode onto the field with Vick after about a dozen former players came out in pickup trucks, the crowd erupting when highlights from the former quarterback's career began playing on the video board. "I'm glad they did something to recognize the work we put in. This is home. Mike started here. We're all a family together."

Vick was one of the most dynamic players in team history, but his legacy was forever marred by his criminal activities off the field, which came to light in 2007. He never played again for the Falcons.

A decade after his final game with the team, the animosity that Vick's name once stirred among Atlanta fans appeared to have turned to forgiveness. Not one boo or jeer was heard from the crowd.

"When I first got the call that they wanted to honor the Dome legends, I was just thankful I got the call," Vick said before the game. "The Dome holds a special place in my heart. This is where I started my career."

Now 36, Vick played five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles after getting out of prison. He also spent time largely in backup roles with the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but hasn't played for anyone this season and it appears his career is over.

"I've got some very fond memories," Vick said.

He was asked back to Georgia Dome even though more than 28,000 people signed a petition on change.org calling for the Falcons to revoke their offer.

"For over six years, Michael Vick ran a dogfighting operation in Virginia where he personally tortured and killed dogs without hesitation, without fear of reprisal, and without remorse," the petition said. "By inviting Michael Vick to participate in a ceremony on Sunday, the Falcons are honoring a convicted dogfighter who profited from cruelty to animals for years."

But Vick is still remembered fondly by many fans for his career with the Falcons, and his jersey remains one of the most popular on game days even though he last played for the team a decade ago.

"There are a lot of people who forgave me," Vick said. "It gives me another opportunity to show a different side of myself. I'm just thankful I have a lot of supporters."

Vick was the top overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft, earned three Pro Bowl selections in six years with the team and guided Atlanta to the NFC championship game during the 2004 season. He was the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

It all fell apart when Vick pleaded guilty to charges related to financing and participating in Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting operation in his native Virginia.

Vick expressed remorse for his actions, paid a huge financial price and became an advocate for animal rights. He was named NFL comeback player of the year in 2010 with the Eagles, receiving his final Pro Bowl nod, but will go down as a player who never quite lived up to his enormous potential.

Still, there is no doubt he was one of the greatest Falcons players in the history of the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta is set to move next season to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a $1.4 billion facility with a retractable roof that is under construction next door to the Georgia Dome. The current stadium will be demolished.

The Falcons went into their finale having already clinched the NFC South and looking to lock up a first-round bye.

After Vick's downfall, Matt Ryan was selected in the 2008 draft and has been the team's quarterback ever since.

He's having his best season yet and appears to be one of the top contenders for MVP.

The two hugged in the tunnel after the halftime ceremony before the Falcons came back out for the third quarter.

"Matt has taken his game to another level," Vick said. "He is in total control."


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AP freelance writer William Peace contributed to this report.