Not to mention Billy Joe Tolliver, Tony Graziani, and Danny Kanell.
All Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks during my childhood.
And all slow, exceedingly boring, and with about as much star power as a blind kid playing Rock Band.
For a kid from suburban Atlanta whose Braves effectively supplanted his mother’s teat as a source of sustenance, I didn’t get it—why would anyone watch the Falcons?
They were bad. They played in a hideous pink building that was usually filled with more visiting fans than Falcons ones. And, more than anything, they were bad.
Neon Deion provided some excitement every now and then. A run to the Super Bowl in 1998 was cool. But the Dirty Bird?
Enter Michael Vick, an impossibly elusive quarterback from Virginia Tech with a Howitzer for an arm.
Prior to Vick’s appearance in 2001, I would have considered myself a Falcons "follower."
But, above the NFL, I loved baseball. I loved college football. I loved college basketball.
Even NFL-wise, the Colts were my team, a product of being raised a Tennessee fan and one of my first real man-crushes on Peyton Manning.
I read about the Falcons. I watched bits and pieces of their games when I could (they used to be blacked out on local TV when it wasn’t a sellout at the Georgia Dome, which still doesn’t make sense). I rooted for them.
But I would cry sometimes when the Braves lost, and a Colts loss really punched me in the gut—I really didn’t care either way if the Falcons won or lost.
Now Vick was there, and now I cared.
I pursed my lips and pumped my foot like I was playing a bass drum every time he snapped the ball. His runs made me cringe and simultaneously pray for something spectacular and for him to get out of bounds (or slide, by God).
Instead of spending my Sunday afternoons in September nodding off halfway through a Braves game, I was jumping up and down, swearing and pacing as Vick turned a football game into a circus.
When he ran for what seemed like a 100-yard touchdown in overtime in Minnesota, he kept on running right into the tunnel, and I ran around the house screaming.
When he won that playoff game at Lambeau, I just about had a heart attack.
I was there during the infamous substance-in-a-water-bottle-at-the-airport situation, and I had his back, whether I was right or wrong.
I even stuck around as a Falcons fan when he tore his ACL in his second season as a starter and I had to endure the Doug Johnson era.
In hindsight, I didn’t care if he was good for the team, or if he would ever be a true leader or a true quarterback—he gave me something to exciting to watch. He gave me a reason to care about Falcons football, and a legitimate hope that they at least had a chance to win most Sundays.
Now he’s a convict, and deservedly so—what he did was despicable and stupid.
And yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon.
But I was 14, and none of that changes the fact that Michael Vick not only turned me into a Falcons fan, but a true fan of the National Football League.