To open the strangest of news conferences Monday, Falcons owner Arthur Blank went on the offensive in his defense of Michael Vick, saying, “Like everybody else on the face of the earth, he has made a mistake in his life.”
That's true. Not everybody who makes mistakes winds up in a federal penitentiary, but it doesn’t change the fact Vick did what he did and he paid an enormous price for it -- personally, professionally and economically, suffering arguably the greatest fall of any athlete in history.
I’m not here to judge Vick on his past. His actions since being released from prison in 2009 suggest he’s humble, contrite and appreciative of anything good that now comes his way. He’s moved on. I’ve moved on. Forgive him, don't forgive him, that's your decision.
But when the Falcons made the unusual decision to concurrently celebrate the careers of both Vick and Roddy White on the same, symbolically suggesting both are going out as Falcons, it ignited more revisionist history about one player and served as a major disservice to the other.
White had hoped to continue playing after his clumsy exit from the Falcons following the 2015 season, but the offers that came in from non-contenders didn’t entice him, and he affirmed that he was retired after the Super Bowl on the, “We Never Played the Game” podcast. (That declaration was overshadowed by his comments that he “literally would have fought" offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had he been on the field for the Super Bowl loss.)
White played 11 seasons for the Falcons and ranks as the greatest wide receiver in franchise history, at least until Julio Jones breaks all of his records. He was universally admired and respected by teammates, and on a personal note was one of the toughest athletes I’ve ever covered, often playing through injuries.
He deserved that stage alone last week. The Falcons should have taken that otherwise meaningless gathering last week and used it to state right then that White will be inducted into the team’s “Ring of Honor” in their new stadium and the player's jersey No. 84 would be retired.
But because he had to share the stage with Vick, he was reduced to a relative afterthought.
White and Vick were teammates and remain close friends. But the team’s decision to put them side by side suggested they should be viewed as relative equals in franchise history, and it’s not even close.
Vick was flash. White was substance. Vick was a moment. White was a career.
There was no reason to “honor” Vick last week. But Blank has long had a soft spot/blind spot for his former quarterback and revenue-generator, so maybe we should not have been surprised.
The news conference has ignited a silly debate: Should Vick be in the “Ring of Honor” and have his No. 7 retired. In short: no.
Vick spent his six NFL seasons in a Falcons uniform. If they were six great seasons, we might have the beginnings of an argument. They weren’t. Consider:
-- He started only two games in his 2001 rookie season because Chris Chandler was the incumbent. So now we’re down to five years.
-- He suffered a broken leg in an exhibition game before his third season and started only four games at the tail end of a lost season. So now we’re down to four years.
-- He played poorly at times in 2006, often seeming distracted and looked to borderline quit at the end, as the Falcons finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. So now we're down to three.
Then he went to prison and never came back.
Vick was a treasure in those other three seasons (2002, 2004, 2005). He elevated a flawed team with his incomparable speed from the quarterback position, as well as possessing a bazooka for an arm. There was the playoff win at Green Bay in 2002 and the career-best season in 2004 when he went 11-4 as a starter and took the Falcons to the NFC title game.
But that’s it. Three seasons. Is this a debate over whether to retire a jersey number for three great seasons? Because if so, there’s a long line of players ahead of Vick, in his era and before him.
Ticket sales should not factor in. Merchandising, TV ratings, water-cooler talk and the Madden video game should not factor in. Because if you choose to go down that road, crediting Vick for things that have nothing to do with football achievements, you open the door to the counter-arguments: He also went to prison. He also crashed-and-burned the Falcons.
If Blank chooses to put his arm around his former quarterback and continue the healing process for the city’s sports fans, I’m all for it. But let’s focus on the player who really mattered over the long-term. That’s White.
To the Falcons’ credit, nobody has worn jersey No. 84 since White left. Conversely, the team has assigned No. 7 to a few players in past minicamps and training camps. (Wide receiver Josh Magee, an undrafted free agent out of South Alabama, was assigned the number after recently signing.) Maybe that's foreshadowing for eventual franchise honors.
White likely won't make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He never played for a Super Bowl winner and he played on too many losing teams. But he made it to four Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro, had more than 800 receptions for over 10,000 yards, ranks as one of the 30 best wide receivers in NFL history and easily is No. 1 all-time in Atlanta.
He deserves the attention. He deserved the stage. He deserves the honors.
Subscribe to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC's Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. Episodes also can be downloaded from on-demand link on WSBRadio.com.
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