Michael Vick felt the tears welling up as he headed to the Georgia Dome.
He was all smiles on his way out the door.
One touchdown with his legs. Another with his left arm. Just like the good ol' days, when this city belonged to No. 7.
"I'll never forget this day," Vick said, savoring his contribution to Philadelphia's 34-7 rout of his old team, the Atlanta Falcons. "I've been waiting for this a long time."
A long time, indeed. He was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Falcons and one of the most dynamic players in the NFL before his stunning downfall for dogfighting. After serving prison time and losing two seasons in his prime, he's trying to rebuild his career as a backup in Philadelphia.
On Sunday, Vick showed his timing is still right on the mark.
Having made little contribution through nine games with the Eagles, he finally got a chance to shine in his return to Atlanta. Boy, did he ever take advantage of it.
Vick scored on a 5-yard run early in the third quarter, sprinting to his right, darting left, breaking a tackle and diving across the line for his first touchdown in more than three years. Once the game got out of hand _ and what was left of the crowd kept chanting "We want Vick! We want Vick!" _ he took over for Donovan McNabb and quickly drove the Eagles to another TD.
A 43-yard pass to Reggie Brown set up a perfectly executed pass for another score. On third-and-goal at the Atlanta 5, Vick rolled to his left, pulled up and threw back across the field to Brent Celek, who rumbled into the end zone to make it 34-0.
"I think things happen at the right time and things happen for a reason," Vick said. "You look back at some of the games we've played, it just hasn't been the right time for me to be out there and be as effective as we want me to be. Patience is everything. Timing is everything.
"It couldn't have happened at a better time."
Before the game, Vick chatted with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and several former teammates, including receiver Roddy White. When it was time to get down to business, No. 7 led the Eagles out of the tunnel, served as one of the captains for the coin toss and came in on Philadelphia's fifth and seventh plays from scrimmage.
"Everybody rallied around him," coach Andy Reid said. "I'm sure he had a little extra juice going."
Vick did get emotional about returning to the Georgia Dome, where he produced so many brilliant plays during his six years with the Falcons. He even hoped to get a second chance in Atlanta after serving an 18-month sentence for his crimes, but realized his former team had moved on when Matt Ryan was drafted third overall in 2008.
There are no hard feelings, only a lot of good memories.
"I'll never forget coming back to this stadium and I'll never forget the bus ride over here and I'll never forget seeing a lot of the landmarks I used to see and I'll never forget shedding a tear on the bus ride over here," Vick said. "I took that ride every Sunday coming in."
Vick was showered with boos when he came in on Philadelphia's first possession. By the fourth quarter, he heard nothing but cheers from what was left of the crowd.
Many Falcons fans wore No. 7 jerseys and made it clear they have forgiven Vick, even though their loyalties now rest with Ryan.
"Without Michael Vick, none of this would be going on right here," said Raymon Thomas of Atlanta, who wore a Falcons No. 7 jersey with the city's name instead of "Vick" on the back. "He's the one who created all this stuff at the Georgia Dome. Before Vick came, the Georgia Dome had none of this. He electrified the fans and the city of Atlanta."
There were no protests from the Humane Society or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Vick might have played more if not for striking his left hand on a helmet. It wasn't serious, but Kevin Kolb finishing up the game at quarterback.
Still, the day was everything _ and then some _ that Vick could've hoped for. He completed his two passes for 48 yards and ran four times for 17 yards.
"You knew when Vick came back to Atlanta," Falcons running back Jerious Norwood said, "he was going to be on fire."
About the only thing that didn't go right was Vick's gesture after his first touchdown. He considered doing a Lambeau Leap into the stands, but decided that would be a little over the top. So he headed over to flip the ball to a fan sitting behind the end zone, only to have it blocked by the netting going up for the extra point.
The ball ricocheted into the hands of fullback Leonard Weaver, who got it to a fan on the second try.
"One of those crazy things," Vick said with a smile.
He kept the ball after his TD pass. And once the final seconds had ticked off, Vick lingered on the field for interviews, then trotted off with both arms raised before blowing kisses in all directions.
"This," McNabb said, "is the house he built."
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