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A New Vick Returns To Atlanta

When Michael Vick signed with the Eagles on August 14, 2009, this was the game that everyone circled on their calendar.

This Sunday, Vick returns to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to play in front of the crowd he once thrilled and the town he once owned when the Eagles take on the 6-5 Atlanta Falcons. It will be Vick's first game in Atlanta since a 10-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers on December 24, 2006, and his first game in front of the Atlanta faithful since his conviction, and subsequent prison term, on charges of dogfighting.

Needless to say, it's a game that Vick is looking forward to.

"I look forward to going back and being in that stadium," Vick said. "It's going to be like a dream come true, even though I'm on the opposite side."

For the most part, Vick is still a popular figure in Atlanta. In his six seasons at Falcons' quarterback, Vick had a 38-28-1 record in the regular season, and won two playoff games. He dazzled the fans with both his arm and legs, leading the NFL in yards per rush four times and becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards. But when he hits the field for the first time, Vick will be focused solely on beating his former team.

"The last thing I want to do is get caught up in the crowd's emotions and their cheers and go out and forget about the task at hand and embarrass myself," he said. "So, most importantly I have to go out there and stay focused. Trust me, if there's a warm reception it's going to be highly appreciated - I'll say that before even going into that stadium so everyone will know what I'm feeling - but I'll be focused."

With the Eagles potentially being without wide receiver DeSean Jackson this week, and tight end Brent Celek expected to play with a thumb injury, there has been some talk that perhaps Vick could have an increased role on offense - he was even asked about the possibility of splitting out wide as a receiver.

"We'll have to wait and see on Sunday, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win," he said. "I'm confident I could contribute lining up anywhere. Playing quarterback is where I'm able to make the biggest difference, but hey, anything you want me to do I'm your man. I'm the handyman, I'll make it happen."

But Vick also knows that his role on the Eagles' thus far has been to contribute in a limited role. While he's comfortable doing whatever it takes to help the team win, he admitted that he will be a bit more anxious to get on the field this Sunday.

"I think this week is going to be a little tougher than the others," he said, "because I played in that stadium and that's where I started my career and I have so many great memories. To be playing in a limited role - I'm pretty much used to that and I know my position on this team and the ultimate goal is to win the game, let's not forget that - but being on the opposite side, it's going to be a bit different. It's going to be tough, but at the same time, I'm going to enjoy the moment."

Vick expects to have about 15 to 20 friends and family in attendance, and he still has friends on the Falcons' roster - he's been exchanging text messages with former teammate Roddy White. He's also looking forward to talking with Falcons' owner Arthur Blank. Blank and Vick have had a close relationship for years.

"I haven't spoken to him this week, but I'll probably give him a call before I get down to Atlanta," Vick said. "We've been speaking periodically. We still have that relationship. I always enjoy speaking with Mr. Blank. He's a great guy, he's awesome and he's done a lot of good things for me, things that I'll never forget. So he's a special person who holds a special place in my heart."

Vick even acknowledges that the Falcons have taken a big step forward with their new franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, who, incidentally, is out this week with turf toe.

"This is business and you have to move on," Vick said. "They did a great job in drafting Matty Ice and he's come in and been big for that organization. He's contributed; he took them to the playoffs last year. They have a lot of smart people in the organization and they do a great job."

After all, Vick has enjoyed a successful first season with the Eagles. While his contributions on the field aren't overwhelming - he's rushed 15 times for 4.6 yards per carry - Vick prides himself on the impact he feels he's made in the community.

"I've just been trying to get the message out that what I did was wrong," he said. "I just want to keep as many people from doing the same things that I've done, and I think it's working."

So when Vick runs onto the Georgia Dome turf for the first time Sunday afternoon, instead of going back in time, he'll be showcasing a new Michael Vick.

"I would have to say that I'm not the same person that I was when I left (Atlanta) in 2007," Vick said. "I've been through a lot, I've seen a lot and had to deal with a lot. Going through certain experiences, you mature a great deal. You never know how much you've matured until you've been put in a similar situation that you were in prior and those situations are handled differently ... I'm just a changed man."

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