FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The night before the 2001 NFL Draft, the Falcons traded up to obtain the No. 1 overall pick from the San Diego Chargers. In return for the top spot, the Falcons sent their first and third round picks and a second-round pick from the 2002 NFL Draft to San Diego for a young Virginia Tech talent. That talent being Michael Vick, to be exact. The emotions that ran through Vick that night was everything he could've dreamed of.
"Right then and there, my heart melted because my mom didn't have to fly across the country to see me play," Vick said in an interview with AtlantaFalcons.com. "She could come to more games. Atlanta was eight hours away if she wanted to drive and it was an hour flight. It was just set up perfect, and I felt like it was divine by God. When I got here and put the uniform on, it was the black jersey, black helmet and turf on the field."
Things couldn't have aligned more perfectly for the young rookie. Growing up and watching Hall of Fame running back, Barry Sanders, play on turf at the Pontiac Silverdome is something Vick always imagined of doing once he got his shot at playing in the NFL.
"Barry Sanders on turf, I'm on turf," Vick said keenly. "It was like 'man, it don't get no better than that.' Indoors, a dome, like I couldn't envision all that coming out of college. It was the right situation, and I was super thankful for it."
Before he got to the league though, doubt often creeped in. As a 6 foot, 200-pound mobile quarterback, there weren't many who looked like him, let alone played like him. Vick created an entirely new style of play that inspired a whole generation, and we see glimpses of that in today's game. It wasn't until Donovan McNabb was drafted in 1999 that ignited a certain confidence in the NFL luminary.
"To be six feet doing it and Black, I was like this might not work for me," Vick said. "So, it was always a lot of doubt up until Andy Reid drafted Donovan in the 1999 draft with the second pick and I was like 'I got a shot. This might work for me'."
During Vick's first year as a starter in 2002, he brought a new ethos to the Falcons franchise. He would go on to pass for 2,936 yards, 16 touchdowns on a 54.9 completion percentage, rush for 777 yards on eight touchdowns, and had a streak of 177 passes without a single interception. Mind you, this was only his second year in the league. That same season, Vick steered the Falcons past Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, winning 27-7 in the first playoff round, before losing to the Philadelphia Eagles the very next week.
At the start of the 2003 season, Vick faced a broken ankle in a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, forcing him to sit out the first 11 games, before returning as a starter on Dec.7 against the Carolina Panthers. This wasn't ideal for Vick. He had only been in the league for two years and was already suffering from an almost season-ending injury. But that never fazed him. He stockpiled 141 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown having the third-highest rushing total by a quarterback in league history, while leading the Falcons to a 21-14 victory. The love and support from the city of Atlanta is what carried Vick throughout that game.
"It was a lot of moments where I felt like the city was behind me, but I think really is when I came back from injury in 2003," Vick said. "They did this welcome back 30-minute segment right before the game where they rehashed memories from 2002 and I wasn't even here that long. The crowd went crazy. It was amazing, and the atmosphere was strong that night. We pulled the game out, but we wouldn't have won if it wasn't for the crowd's participation. That night showed me they appreciated everything that I brung to the table."
Vick would later become one of the most storied players in Falcons history. He finished fifth in passing yards (11,505), seventh in rushing yards (3,859), fifth in pass completions (930), and fifth in touchdown passes (71). No other quarterback in franchise history is ranked top 10 in both passing and rushing yards. Like I mentioned before, Vick brought a new ethos to the city of Atlanta that's still felt today.
After his career with the Falcons ended in 2008, Vick would go on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers before returning in 2017 to retire in the same place he started. Following his NFL career, Vick joined FOX Sports as an NFL analyst. He never thought he would get into media. Media days was something he dreaded going to as a player, but he later shifted his outlook on everything and embraced it.
"One day it kind of hit me like 'this is a blessing to be in this position and you need to embrace it'," Vick said. "All of sudden I just did a complete 360. I started inviting the media and wanted to talk. I felt like I should be able to talk about the game and elaborate on my teammates and how well they were doing or if I needed to play better. I needed to step up in that regard. I did it in Philadelphia and it made my teammates more receptive to the media as well."
Along with his position with FOX Sports, Vick joined Levels Sports Group, a premier management firm for athletes, as a Partner & Head of Athlete Development in June. In this role, Vick will serve as a mentor to help athletes navigate their careers and in the name, image, and likeness space.
We take a look at Michael Vick's visit to his old stomping grounds in Flowery Branch.
"We're looking to do some amazing things," Vick said. "For me, the first year is just understanding what the company is really about and then taking on that mentorship role. A lot of young kids are looking for direction and are going to be some great football players. But I don't want them to just be outstanding on the field, I want them to be outstanding away from the game. In the NIL space and being able to make money early, we can teach them more responsibility."
With so many people and players influenced by Vick, mentorship has been key at this stage of his life, and he wants to continue to push that needle moving forward.
"Responsibility and leadership is super important in my life and I teach that in my household to my kids," Vick said. "Don't be afraid to step up and be bold with it. It only strengthens character and brings the best out of you. We should all live with an open mind, and I think when it comes to competition and being competitive, everybody has to be on the same page."