We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it, we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.
I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe re-live them while we wait for football to come back.
That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll re-live and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.
You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article about the 1980 Atlanta Falcons here.
Following their Super Bowl appearance in 1998, the Atlanta Falcons crashed back down to Earth very quickly, going a combined 9-23 over the course of the 1999 and 2000 seasons. As a result of their 5-11 record in 2000, they owned the number 5 overall pick in the 2001 draft and had their sights set on a difference-maker.
The best player coming out of college that year was Virginia Tech’s electric quarterback Michael Vick, who led the Hokies to the 1999 National Title Game and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash time at his pro day. That’s still the fastest time ever for the position.
The San Diego Chargers, who owned the number 1 pick, however, were hesitant on making Vick the top selection. According to league sources right before the 2001 draft, the Chargers were reluctant on giving Vick the big signing bonus that a quarterback at the top of the draft demanded after getting burned by Ryan Leaf (who got an $11.2 million signing bonus) in the 1998 draft. The Falcons were on the prowl, trying to trade up to that top spot from the beginning.
After extended negotiations, Atlanta’s General Manager at the time, Harold Richardson, got a deal done to secure the top overall pick. Atlanta sent the 5th overall pick, a 2001 third-round pick, a 2002 second-round pick and Tim Dwight to San Diego for the 1st overall pick. With the selection, they made Michael Vick a Falcon. The Chargers took LaDainian Tomlinson, who they had eyes on throughout the entire draft process, with the fifth pick.
Vick Becomes A Starter
In 2002, the Falcons would hand over the reins to Vick, and the result was showtime. The passing numbers never stood out for Vick in his career, but the damage he could do with his legs made him arguably the most difficult player in the NFL to defend.
In that 2002 season, the Virginia Tech product threw for 2,936 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but ran for 777 more yards and eight rushing touchdowns en route to his first ever pro bowl appearance. He would lead the Falcons to a playoff birth with a 9-6-1 record, and would dominate the Green Bay Packers in the wildcard round, in frigid Green Bay, 27-7 (we’ll talk about this specific game more in the future). The Falcons knew that the face of their franchise was a superstar.
Following an injury-plagued 2003 season, Vick would return to the Pro Bowl in 2004, thanks to his 902 rushing yards to go along with 2,312 passing yards. He led the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a division title. Atlanta would end up annihilating the Rams, 47-17, in the divisional round of the playoffs and would find themselves in the NFC Championship game. Vick also graced the cover of Madden 04 and became the most unstoppable video game character in the history of that franchise.
While the future seemed so bright, that would be the last time the Falcons would taste the playoffs in the Michael Vick era. Vick would make it to his third pro bowl in 2005, but the Falcons would finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs, before going 7-9 in 2006, which signaled the end of Jim Mora’s time as the team’s head coach. In that 2006 season, however, Michael Vick became the first (and thus far only) QB to ever rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
It All Crashes Down
The good in the beginning can’t be talked about without mentioning the terrible ending when it comes to the Vick era in Atlanta. It’s been well-documented what happened after 2006: Vick would plead guilty to a felony dogfighting charge and would never play for the Falcons again.
In six seasons with the Falcons, Vick would lead the team to the playoffs twice, would be named a Pro Bowler three times and would lead the NFL in rushing yards per attempt four times. Sheer numbers alone don’t do him justice, however, as Michael Vick generated the type of excitement for the city of Atlanta that no other Falcon has ever been able to match. He was a transcendent football player and even became a bit of a pop culture icon.
Despite the excitement and moderate success on the football field which Vick brought to the Falcons, he never truly lived up to his potential. In excerpts provided from his book, Vick would admit to slacking off and never preparing as well as he should have: “Back when I was involved in those activities, I may have become more dedicated to the deep study of dogs than I was to my Falcons playbook. I became better at reading dogs than reading defenses. That’s just so sad to say right now, because I put more time and effort into trying to master that pursuit than my own profession ... which was my livelihood ... which put food on the table for my family.”
In the end, there are few more polarizing figures in Atlanta Falcons history than Michael Vick. No matter how you feel about him, however, you can’t deny that he left a lasting impact on the Atlanta Falcons. Every Falcons fan who supported through the days of the early-to-mid 2000s, when number 7 was at his best, will remember just how big Michael Vick was at one point.
Expect these “Throwback Thursday” articles to be recurring throughout the offseason, to reminisce about the team’s history and to give us some stuff to talk about. Don’t expect them to go in order, however. The next one could look back on a moment that occurred in the 90s or even a few years ago. Between you and me, I’m just making it up as I go along.