ATLANTA -- It was a day for reflection.
Reflection on two great football players, Michael Vick and Roddy White, and their exceptional careers with the Atlanta Falcons. But with the reflection on the good, it also meant addressing the elephant in the room, celebrating a quarterback whose career in Atlanta was cut short because of a mistake a decade ago that sent him to prison.
Vick and White were honored by Atlanta Falcons team owner Arthur Blank on Monday. They played a combined 16 seasons with the league. Both were four-time Pro Bowlers. White is the all-time leading receiver for the Falcons.
As Blank opened the ceremony, he decided to deliver a message on Vick's behalf.
"Much of what our family foundation does since 1995," he began, "Has to do with second chances. People in a variety of circumstances have made choices that they wish they didn’t make for a variety of reasons and provide an opportunity to restate their life again.
"Michael, like everybody on the earth, 7 billion plus, 707 million living in Atlanta, has made a mistake in his life. It starts with the person speaking now. But life is really about learning from the mistakes, redemption, learning to be a better person, moving on and making a difference in the lives of other people."
He mentioned Vick's efforts to support animal rights, as well as speaking to children who are going through difficult moments in life. In 2007, Vick was indicted and served 21 months in prison after he was found to have been part of an illegal dog fighting operation in Virginia for more than six years. He returned to the NFL in 2009.
"He is a living example of how you can make a better choice," Blank said.
Vick told 11Alive that after he served time in prison and was moving towards his return to the NFL, his wife, Kijafa Frink, pushed him to call Blank. It was a call he never regretted.
"As a human being sometimes, you feel like you let people down and you shy away from them when they really are extending an open arm. She encouraged me to always do that. When I did, it was like nothing that ever happened," he said.
"It was more about family, what was going on in my life, what was most important, what my goals were. What my potential and opportunities were. Those are the things that really allowed me to clear my head, speak freely and really be able to converse with Mr. Blank in a different way, as a growing young man. I appreciate those times in my life more than anyone in this room could ever understand.
"I was a different person when I was 26 then when I was 29, 30 years old. I just appreciate the fact that everyone didn’t changed towards me. Nobody in this organization ever changed or looked at me any differently. I wasn’t scrutinized in any way or I wasn’t perceived any different. I just appreciate that more than anything."
Vick was the No. 1 overall pick by the Falcons in 2001, and the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback threw for 11,505 yards and 71 touchdowns in six seasons with the Falcons.
Vick's center on the team, Todd McClure, introduced Vick as his quarterback who helped him put food on the table thanks to No. 7's great success.
"Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. He changed the culture. Michael Jordan, I consider thing king of the court. He changed the culture. Michael Phelps, the king of the swimming pool. He changed the culture. Michael Vick, the king of Atlanta," McClure said. "He changed the culture."
Vick said he was optimistic that he would retire as a Falcon, but never knew whether or not it would happen. He went to other teams-- Pittsburgh, New York and Philadelphia-- and he appreciated those organizations that helped him reach redemption, but he always felt like a Falcon.
"As I left and went on to other things and other opportunities, I was still rooting for you guys and still had an opportunity to watch you guys do some great things," Vick said.
White was introduced by former Falcons receiver Brian Finneran, who talked about White's early struggles in the league. But something clicked, and he became the greatest Falcons receiver of all-time, according to Finneran.
"The Georgia Dome was my sanctuary. Like I said, the tunnel, there was nothing like it," White said. "I had a great run. An outstanding time…I plan to be around this franchise forever."
Blank praised White for his commitment to the city, including a story never told before about White calling Mayor Kasim Reed during the Black Live Matters protests in the city. He was committed to doing whatever the city needed to help the tension and fear ringing through Atlanta, like other cities across the country. It was a big turnaround from his days of a young player running late to practice.
Neither White nor Vick received ceremonial 1-day contracts. Vick's final game in the NFL was with the Steelers. But Falcons president Rick McKay said there wasn't any need to do it. McKay drafted White and gave Vick his $130 million contract when he was 23.
"You look at all different players at different ways, wherever their home is, that’s where they’re retired as. Their homes and their hearts are in Atlanta," McKay told 11Alive. "You don’t need to go thorough the process of cutting two players that are going to participate in mini-camp, sign them to a one-day contract, then cut them and go through all those shenanigans just to say they are Falcons. They are Falcons."
PHOTOS | Michael Vick and Roddy White
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