In Atlanta, Mike Vick is still Mike Vick.
It’s been 18 years since the Falcons drafted him first overall. Seventeen years since that wild overtime run against the Vikings. Sixteen since the playoff win in Green Bay.
Nearly 12 years since that Virginia dogfighting compound was raided.
It hasn’t always been this way, and things can be ... complicated. But in Atlanta, No. 7 is still a big deal.
Even during Super Bowl week.
“It's good to see him back here, and it's good to see people accepting him back here,” said Angela Gates, 56. “What's done is over and done. He has rebuilt and he's back.”
Gates was among the red and black horde that swarmed around Vick Thursday afternoon at the NFL Shop inside Georgia World Congress Center. The quarterback was using the Super Bowl festivities to hold an autograph session and hawk a new New Era cap — a red leather strapback sporting his number, a hand-stitched signature and a $110 price tag.
The line for Vick’s signature was several times longer than the one for young New York Giants star Saquon Barkley, who was signing nearby. Some folks waited close to an hour.
Uzoma Enyinnah, 36, was one of many Falcons fans who braved the crowds — and the wounds from Super Bowl LI’s historic meltdown against the New England Patriots, who will play in Sunday’s game — to meet Vick.
He came prepared with his old No. 7 jersey.
“It's always cool to meet one of the legends of Atlanta sports,” Enyinnah said. “You can't reproduce that.”
Vick spent nearly two years in prison and was a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles and a few other teams before officially retiring in February 2017. The Falcons threw him a retirement party a few months later.
Vick has also signed on to coach the offense of the Atlanta Legends, the local squad for the new Alliance of American Football.
“We love him,” Jan Radford, 60, said. “Always have.”
On Thursday, a swarm of people surrounded him even after his autograph session was over and he gave a short interview to Channel 2 Action News.
Gates, an official Super Bowl volunteer making the most of a little downtime, shouted that just being within a few feet of Vick had “completed my Super Bowl weekend.”
“He was so exciting, he was electrifying,” she said. “Even when we lost a game, it was still fun. It didn't feel like we lost the game. ... The house was packed every game when he played. All that still resonates today for me.”
She’s not alone.
“The fans are loyal,” Vick told Channel 2 as the crowd looked on. “I appreciate it. They appreciate me being here, and that's what it's all about.”
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