ATLANTA – Roddy White is usually the quiet one.
On the field, it’s hard not to notice him, but in the locker room, his shyness becomes evident with camera lights beaming down at him and microphones shoved in his face.
Maybe that’s why White’s public support – both vocal and symbolic – of disgraced quarterback Michael Vick on Monday night was so surprising.
During a 34-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints, White wore a black shirt under his jersey that, in silver pen, read: “Free Mike Vick.”
“We miss him, you know what I’m saying?” the wide receiver said after the game. “This team, we really needed him. I feel bad. I feel sad that he has to go through that and that he doesn’t get to be with us.”
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison early Monday for his role in an illegal dogfighting ring in Virginia – a story that served as a distraction for the Falcons during training camp and the early part of the season.
And while the public still seems divided over Vick, the Falcons never looked more unified than they did Monday night.
Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall wore one black eye strip Monday night with “MV7" – an obvious reference to Vick and his infamous No. 7 jersey – written in silver pen. But while most players have stared at the ground in disbelief each time Vick’s name has been brought up in the locker room this season, Hall looks at his former teammate’s predicament differently.
“This whole situation with Mike has shown that you’re only one play away from never being able to play the game that you love and have so much fun playing. One day away, one play away, one situation away,” Hall said. “Anything can happen.”
The actual game Monday night seemed to be an afterthought. Vick jerseys were sported by numerous fans in the parking lot before the game and in the Georgia Dome during. ESPN’s pregame show devoted an abundance of time to Vick’s sentencing. Falcons owner and CEO Arthur Blank was interviewed about Vick during the middle of the game.
A story that had died down within the Falcons’ locker room so long ago had suddenly reignited after Vick’s sentencing, which was why several players decided to use the national spotlight to support their former teammate.
“It’s life,” Hall said. “Life’s going to give you some bad breaks. You’ve got to take it in stride and keep going. We did it for the simple fact that we wanted him to know that we’re still thinking about him.”
Memories of Vick are still prevalent in and around the Georgia Dome, but tangible signs that he ever played there are very hard to come by. Other than supporters wearing his jerseys that have all been pulled from store shelves, Vick’s likeness and name have been eradicated from signs, posters and billboards that used to be displayed almost everywhere in downtown Atlanta.
But while the city had either forgotten about him or tried to up until Monday night, the Falcons just wanted to take the opportunity to show him that, to them, he is still a member of the team.
“Obviously, the relationship that Mike and I had was very close on the field,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “I thought about him a lot (Monday). It was an emotional day and I tried to put that behind and come out here and play football the best I can.
“I wish him well. I know it’s going to be a tough road, a tough 23 months. But he’ll live through it. He’ll come out of this still younger than I am right now, so he’s got a lot of life left to live.”