Living in the Tennessee Valley during the week of the Tennessee-Florida football game makes it easy to forget that there are also a couple of fairly important NFL contests taking place on Sunday.
Especially when you consider that both the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons are already 0-1 on the young season and the percentage of 0-2 teams rallying to make the playoffs is just north of 10 percent over the past decade.
So it would behoove the Titans to knock off Baltimore at LP Field on Sunday afternoon. It would equally help the Falcons to ground the Philadelphia Eagles and former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday night inside the Georgia Dome.
Yet the mere presence of Vick elevates the Falcons-Eagles to something far beyond football only. This is some kind of weird pigskin passion play, the prodigal son returning as a starter for the first time to the site of his greatest triumphs and worst failures.
Or as the overall No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft said on Wednesday during a teleconference for Atlanta area media: “People have to understand I was young when I was in Atlanta. I think I've matured a lot. It's just a different situation. I could go into detail about it but I won't.”
You could argue that the city of Atlanta and Falcons fans in particular deserve to have Vick go into detail about why a $100 million quarterback felt the need to viciously kill dogs that underperformed in his illegal dogfighting operation.
Yes, he did his time in jail for those crimes. Yes, he has been a completely model citizen since his incarceration. Yes, yes, yes, he deserves a second chance, just like the rest of us.
But to say “I could go into detail about it but I won't” also hints that he feels there was an excuse for his behavior.
Let's be crystal clear here: There was no excuse for his brutality toward defenseless dogs. None. So if nothing else, the 31-year-old Vick needs to skip his details except those that pertain to his football skills, which are arguably better than ever, despite his two years away from the game.
And that is what must be both most fascinating and most frustrating to Dirty Bird watchers throughout the Southeast, for even Vick admits that the Eagles quarterback who'll take the field around 8:30 Sunday evening on NBC is a better QB than the one who last dressed for the Falcons in 2006, despite those quarterbacks being the same guy.
“Maturity,” is Vick's answer for his steadier play, which included 187 passing yards, two touchdown passes and 97 rushing yards in last week's win over the St. Louis Rams.
Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went further in an interview with the Boston Globe.
“[Vick's] got that mentality right now where he doesn't care how we get it done; run, pass, who scores, who gets the credit,” he said. “He's only concerned about winning the next ballgame and what it takes to win the next ballgame.”
It is unfair to say Vick cared less about winning in Atlanta. One need only return to his years at Virginia Tech, to the miracle comebacks he orchestrated for the Hokies, to know that Vick always cared deeply about winning.
But wanting to win and understanding the most reliable way to win are two different animals. Especially in the NFL. Arguably asked to do too much in Atlanta, Vick sometimes faltered.
Asked to run the show rather than be the show in Philly, Vick now seems to be thriving.
But it is how he answered a question about his return that may be the real key to his current success.
Recalling how Deion Sanders once said, “This will always be my house,” upon his return to the Georgia Dome after he was no longer a Falcon, someone asked Vick on Wednesday if he might say the same.
Said Vick, “No, that's not my house. That's [Falcons QB] Matt Ryan's house. I'm a visitor.”
Understanding that detail will always make him a visitor much welcomed to return, regardless of Sunday's outcome.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...