Michael Vick received a big hug from Arthur Blank.
Vick also received an embrace from Blank’s team that he said would last a lifetime.
Vick, the dynamic quarterback whose career with the Atlanta Falcons ended in disgrace, and Roddy White, the leading receiver in franchise history, were honored with a retirement ceremony Monday.
“I’m here today as a retired Atlanta Falcon, and I can live with that forever and will forever be grateful. Thank you,” Vick said.
Vick, who thrilled fans with his dual-threat skills as a passer and runner, and White, the physical and productive receiver, were two of the biggest stars and most dynamic players in Falcons history.
For Vick, the warm embrace from the Falcons was not automatic. After leading the Falcons to two playoff appearances and one NFC championship game appearance in his six years in Atlanta, Vick was sent to prison in 2007 for running a dogfighting operation. The revelation of the abuse of dogs on Vick’s property angered fans in Atlanta and around the nation.
He returned after missing two seasons to play five years for the Eagles and had backup stints with the Jets and Steelers.
Vick did not play last season, but expressed his wish to retire with the Falcons.
Blank spoke about his belief in second chances as he granted that wish.
“Life is really all about learning from your mistakes, redemption, learning to be a better person, moving on and making a difference in the lives of other people,” Blank said. “There are many people I know in life who have done that and I would say none more than Michael Vick.”
Blank said Vick and White “would certainly be considered” for the team’s Ring of Honor.
For now, Vick said it meant more to simply have a retirement day with the Falcons.
“I just appreciate the fact nobody ever changed toward me,” Vick said of his relationship with Blank and the team following his prison sentence. “I wasn’t perceived any different.”
Vick said that “about three days” after leaving the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, “Mr. Blank and his family came with food from my favorite restaurant.”
Said Blank: “I knew what Michael liked.”
Some were not as quick to forgive Vick’s crime, but he remained popular with a large segment of Falcons fans. His No. 7 jersey remained popular at the Georgia Dome, where in his six seasons he was a big reason sellouts became routine.
Vick was the first quarterback to run for 1,000 yards in a season. He holds the record for most yards rushing in a career (6,109) by a quarterback.
Three of Vick’s four Pro Bowl seasons came with the Falcons.
Former Falcons center Todd McClure, who introduced Vick at the ceremony, said the quarterback “changed the way Atlanta looked at the team.”
Any doubts about Vick’s ongoing popularity with Atlanta fans ended last season. Vick and White received a loud ovation when they rode onto the field together as former players were welcomed back for last season’s final regular-season game at the Georgia Dome.
Now the Falcons are preparing for their first season at their new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Monday’s ceremony could be a well-timed way for Blank’s Falcons to reach out to Vick’s fans who didn’t return when the quarterback left the team.
White played for the Falcons from 2005-2015 and is the team’s career leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches. He did not sign with another team after being cut before the 2016 season.
At the time, White had criticism about being phased out of the offense by former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but those words were forgotten Monday.
“I plan to be around this franchise forever,” White said.
Among current and former players who attended the ceremony were quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, tight end Alge Crumpler, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and offensive lineman Kynan Forney.