Falcons welcome back Michael Vick, and expect more of this (podcast added)

January 1, 2017, Atlanta - Former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (7) greets fans at the Georgia Dome during the NFL football game against the Saints in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday, January 1, 2017. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

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January 1, 2017, Atlanta - Former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (7) greets fans at the Georgia Dome during the NFL football game against the Saints in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday, January 1, 2017. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Some are never going to let go of what Michael Vick did -- to the dogs, to the Falcons' franchise, to this city's sports fans. But it's long since passed the time that everybody needs to move on.

Vick, who united Atlanta's sports fans, regardless of race and social class, like nobody else, only to then divide them, returned to the Georgia Dome Sunday for the Falcons' final regular season game against New Orleans. He was among several former Falcons who were brought back to commemorate the team's final regular season game in the Dome before it's imploded. But of course he drew more attention than anybody else, as evidenced by the fact he was the only one the team carved out pre-game media access for (lasting six minutes).

Podcast link added:

This was Vick's first time back in the Dome since 2011 when he played quarterback for Philadelphia, the team he signed with after his prison sentence for funding and operating -- and mostly lying about -- a dog-fighting operation in his home state of Virginia. But a lot of time has passed since then. Vick served his time and has handled himself with class and humility since.

When asked what he would say to the fans who haven't forgiven him, Vick said, "I think it's so important in your life -- you have to forgive. I'm just thankful for the people, a lot if people, here in this organization and in this city. I come and go all the time through the Atlanta airport. A lot of people have forgiven me and given me an opportunity to show a different side of myself. I'm just thankful I have  a lot of support and that’s all I can ask for, and I appreciate those people with the utmost humility."

Doubt him if you want. I believe he has changed.

What happened Sunday was significant. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said several times in recent years that he has forgiven Vick and moved on. But for Blank to invited Vick back to the building is the most overt symbol of that forgiveness.

This might be the first in a series of Vick-Falcons photo ops. It also wouldn't be surprising to see him return and officially retire as a Falcon. That would mean signing a one-day contract and then retiring in ceremonies. It would further the healing process.

More from Vick:

• On his return: "The last time I was here I was on the opposing team. Those are great memories as well but today is a different feel. When I first got the call they wanted to honor the old legends and have the guys come back, I was just thankful I got the call and my name was in the mix. This Dome holds a special place in my heart. This is where I started my career. It’s not where I finished it. But I have some very fond memories, and the teams that I was on we did some great things."

• On his favorite two or three memories in the Georgia Dome:  "The play against Carolina in 2004 when I dove into the end zone and I got the touchdown (that led to a 34-31 win) that really put us in position  to go to the playoffs. My first game, playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers when I was just a rookie. My first snap I remember how nervous I was. Going through a lot my second year in 2002, I wasn't really playing my best and then we got it turned around and got on a winning streak and we were able to make the playoffs that year. We had  a lot of great memories."

• More reflecting: "Sometimes I look back on my carer and I wish I could recreate all of those scenarios, doing a lot of those things again and maybe doing a lot of things different so we could win some of those games. But those days were spectacular and I was glad we were able to kick-start it. The future is bright."

On Matt Ryan: "Matt has just taken his game to another level. Over the last three or four years he's been the consummate teammate, the best player on the field, the leader on the field. You can tell he’s in total control. This team goes as he goes."

MORE:Never mind fade vs. Saints, Falcons look like Super Bowl team

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