Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick has opened up about his time in prison, and watching his former team make it to the Super Bowl.
Vick, 36, was a star for the Atlanta Falcons from 2001 to 2006 after being selected with the number one pick in the 2001 Draft.
He made three Pro Bowls during that time, led the Falcons to the NFC Championship and was widely considered one of the NFL’s best and most exciting players.
However, all that came to a halt when the then-27-year-old was jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of running a dog fighting ring.
‘On the first day of my sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary, on November 19, 2007, I made a list of three things that I wanted to accomplish. One was to make it home from prison safe,’ Vick wrote in the Players’ Tribune.
‘Two was to see my grandmother again, before she passed away. And three was to return to the Atlanta Falcons as their starting quarterback — and finish what I’d started.
‘I wanted to lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl.’
Vick then went on to discuss how people thought he was crazy or in denial for thinking he could return to the city he loved and the team he led.
‘To be honest, that really wasn’t the case at all. In those first few months of my sentence, I really did come to understand how far I had fallen,’ he wrote.
‘I came to understand how much hurt I had caused, and how much work it was going to take to earn back just a portion of the respect that I had lost… But there was one thing that I just had a permanent blind spot for: being the starting quarterback of the Falcons.
‘It was something that I had taken so much pride in … something that I had come to identify myself… I was “Mike Vick, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons”. I was those five words.’
Ultimately, Vick – who said he was ‘sorrier than (he) could ever express for what he had done – did not get a chance to return to the team he considered to be his.
In 2008, the Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Ryan with the third pick in the NFL Draft.
The 36-year-old revealed he found out his career in Atlanta was all but over just moments after he called his mother to wish her a happy birthday, only for her to tell him his grandmother suffered a stroke. She died just days later.
‘Not everybody can tell you the specific day that they hit rock bottom, but for me it isn’t hard: April 26, 2008,’ Vick wrote for the Players’ Tribune.
‘The day my mom had a birthday and my grandma had a stroke. The day the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan, quarterback out of Boston College.
‘The day I lost Atlanta.’
Vick was released from prison in May 2009, and the Falcons cut him from the team in June.
He then went onto play with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2009 to 2013, before joining the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
He was without a team in 2016, and is now set to retire.
The quarterback went on in his emotional letter to dismiss rumors he does not get along with Ryan, and says the opposite is true, before describing what he considers the best moment of his time with the team.
‘I’m proud of the moment we created,’ he said.
‘It wasn’t just inside the Georgia Dome. It was also outside of it – throughout the entire city. It was a moment that was everywhere, and for everyone to share in.
‘Everywhere you turned, everywhere you looked: Falcons fitteds, Falcons jerseys… man, it was Falcons everything.
‘It meant a lot to me to be able to give the black kids of Atlanta their very own black quarterback – someone who they could see on the field, and watch play, and think, “you know, My QB looks kind of like me. And I could play that position someday, too.”
‘It just felt very real.’
But despite the intense connection Vick discussed, it had been more than 10 years since he returned to Atlanta as a Falcon.
All that changed on January 1, when Atlanta hosted New Orleans for its final regular season game in the Georgia Dome. The team is moving to a new $1.6billion stadium next season, and it invited a host of franchise legends back to farewell its soon-to-be former home.
When Vick heard about the plan, he was desperate to be involved.
‘I wanted that phone call so badly… Once I heard they were doing that, all I could think about was getting that invitation,’ he wrote.
‘I’ve kept a healthy relationship with the team over the years, but always from a distance. I think the team has always been hesitant to welcome me back into the fold – at least in any official or public capacity.
‘And I understood. But when I heard that this ceremony was happening… well, knowing my part in Falcons history, I just thought to myself, “Is it finally my time?”
‘If I didn’t get to be a part of saying goodbye to the Georgia Dome… I was going to be pretty heartbroken.’
Vick then revealed the conversation he had with the team when he was invited back.
‘The number of Kevin Winston, the Falcons’ director of player development, showed up on my cell,’ he wrote.
‘Then he just said it. “Mike, I think it’s time for you to come back home.”
‘I thought about so many things in that moment, on that call. I thought about how impossible something like this had seemed, at times, during my prison sentence.
‘I can’t really remember the rest of the conversation, because I was so happy. But I’m pretty sure, within a half second or so, I just came back at Kevin, like, “I’m there. I’m all in.”‘
To close out his essay, Vick spoke about the moment he returned for the game in January, and when he was with former teammate Roddy White when they were driven out onto the field in the back of a ‘drop-top’.
‘As our car gets ready to take the field, I try my best to stay calm… And then of course I have Roddy, looking at me, with that big old Roddy grin, grabbing my shoulders, pumping me up, saying, “Bro. Bro. This is about to be crazy,”‘ Vick wrote.
‘My nerves disappeared, and I looked at Roddy, and we laughed. And I just thought, OK, this is it. Whatever happens, from here on out, today – you made it back. You’ve waited a decade for this, but now you’re here. You’re home. So let’s go.
‘And, man: I barely even know what to say. Because it was so beautiful.
‘I didn’t actually want to die, right then, in front of 70,000 people – but it was one of those moments where you’re thinking, “You know what? I could die right here… and that would be OK, too”.
‘It was perfect.’
In the years since he was released from prison, Vick has taken steps to right his horrific wrongs.
He has worked with the Humane Society of the United States, publicly supported the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act – a law signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that means it is now a federal crime to attend an organized animal fight, and he pushed to give Pennsylvania police the power to rescue animals that were locked in cars during dangerous temperatures.
‘I know that I’m an unlikely advocate,’ Vick told ESPN at the time.
‘I was part of the problem. Now, my perspective can help reach people that activists can’t reach. I can help others become agents of change.’
Vick married his childhood sweetheart, Kijafa, in June 2012. They have three children together: Jada, London and Mitez.