Friday, September 21, 2018

With Vick fallout an issue, Falcons fans had to warm up to Ryan

HOUSTON — On the night the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan No. 3 overall from Boston College, their quarterback, Michael Vick, sat in a federal prison in Leavenworth serving 18 months for animal cruelty. Their former coach, Bobby Petrino, had already bolted with two games remaining in the 2007 season for the University of Arkansas, leaving notes in the players' locker.

For six seasons, before he had been disgraced by his role in dog fighting, Vick had thrilled fans in Georgia and the Southeast with his improvisational rushing skills, explosive speed and strong arm. He had made three Pro Bowls, and in 2004 he took the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Eagles.

But after he went to jail, Falcons fans — many of them African-American — stayed away in droves from the Georgia Dome.

"We lost a big portion of our fan base. Michael had a lot of fans," Falcons president Rich McKay said. "I don't mean just African-American fans, I mean a big portion of our fan base. I think Matt, people looked at and said, 'Oh, he's a young quarterback, might have been picked too high, Boston College.'

"When we opened training camp, we had PETA at our gate and the helicopters flying over us."

You wondered if Matty Ice, the nickname Ryan had carried since his sophomore season at Penn Charter High School in Philadelphia, could melt a fan's heart.

"Obviously, when I got drafted here, Mike had been here for such a long time, and everybody knows how that ended in Atlanta," Ryan said. "For me, early on I just tried to go in and do the job the best I could. Michael has been incredibly supportive of me as I've gotten to know him, as I've gotten older. That support has meant a lot because he is such an icon for the city of Atlanta. He was such a huge part of the sports fabric in that town, and for him to be supportive and help me out in the way that he has throughout my career has been really, really nice."

It wasn't always that way. In fact, Vick was only half paying attention to the draft in 2008 when inmates watching ESPN asked, " 'You know who the Atlanta Falcons drafted?' I was like who? They said Matt Ryan," Vick told Sports Illustrated this week. "And you know there was a lot of talk about them selecting a quarterback, and you never know what's going to happen until you see it actually happen.

"I was a little shocked. Stunned. A little bitter. A little salty. But I was able to get over it quick because I understood the circumstances."

It didn't take long for Ryan to prove the Falcons might be okay with him at quarterback after all. On his first NFL pass attempt in a regular-season game, he hit Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard touchdown.

What's not to like about Ryan? He led the Falcons to five straight winning seasons and four playoff appearances under coach Mike Smith before it all derailed. The Falcons had three straight losing seasons, Ryan seemed to plateau and last year it led to the hiring of Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he didn't feel as much pressure entering the NFL as a sixth-round pick as Ryan did.

"That first year when I was with our team, I was really under the radar," Brady said. "No one knew anything. I was just trying to work hard to earn a spot. When you're the first pick overall, that's a tough journey, and I have a lot of respect for those guys. You can't do anything wrong."

A year ago, Ryan and the Falcons got off to a 5-0 start then didn't do much right, finishing 8-8. Ryan passed for 4,591 yards with 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while losing five fumbles. This year, on his run to a presumptive NFL MVP award, he passed for nearly 5,000 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the regular season.

After his release from prison, Vick had success with the Eagles before holding a clipboard for the Jets and Steelers. Nobody wanted him in 2016, so he says he's retired. But he will be rooting for Ryan on Sunday.

"That's why I've pulled for Matt since Day One," Vick said. "He can breathe life back in the city, as well as the other guys surrounding him."


Football: Armwood 24, Jefferson 14

SEFFNER — Armwood is becoming accustomed to winning close games.The Hawks fended off visiting Jefferson 24-14 in a defensive battle that featured a plethora of holding penalties in the second half.Armwood (3-1) earned two rushing touchdowns from juni...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

Football: Plant 44, Gaither 34

TAMPA — Seventy-eight points. Eight hundred and 40 yards in total offense. Five players surpassing the century mark in yardage.When the game was over Friday, Plant had the edge in every category — including the scoreboard as the Panthers (3-1) opened...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Football: Robinson 28, Blake 25

TAMPA — Nevermind that Blake scored a go-ahead touchdown with 87 seconds left in the game.Forgive him, but part of Robinson junior Lateef Al-Shaa’ir was hoping it would happen just so it would set up a comeback.And it did.With 24 seconds left in the ...
Updated: 22 minutes ago

Football: St. Petersburg 23, Gibbs 6

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg’s Aumhryaun Brown’s two touchdowns helped overcome the ejection of quarterback Tonio Shavers as the Green Devils cruised to a 23-6 win against Gibbs on Friday.As time expired during the first half, with the Green Devil...
Updated: 28 minutes ago

Football: Plant City 24, East Bay 7

GIBSONTON — Plant City’s high-powered passing game gets most of the attention. But the Raiders’ defense is just as responsible for the team’s unbeaten start.In Plant City’s 24-7 road victory against East Bay in Class 7A, District 9 on Friday, the def...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football: Sickles 7, Freedom 3

TAMPA — Sickles needed a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter to escape Freedom 7-3 on Homecoming and remain in the hunt for a Class 7A, District 8 title.Gryphons coach Patrick Murphy knew that facing the Patriots would be a battle. Freedom (1-...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football: Clearwater Central Catholic 38, Northeast 17

ST. PETERSBURG — Championship caliber teams don’t cut themselves any slack.Just ask senior quarterback Rory Hicks, a tough grader moments after visiting Clearwater Central Catholic rolled out its textbook offensive precision to subdue Northeast, 38-1...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football: Wesley Chapel 48, Gulf 7

NEW PORT RICHEY — Welcome to the Jelani Vassell show. The Wesley Chapel junior entered Friday night’s game leading Pasco County in touchdowns with seven. Before the first quarter ended against Gulf, he had added three more as the Wildcats eventually ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays journal: Carlos Gomez says ump should’ve been ejected

Rays journal: Carlos Gomez says ump should’ve been ejected

TORONTO — After unleashing a Twitter rant criticizing umpire Andy Fletcher's work behind the plate Thursday, Rays OF Carlos Gomez doubled down on his comments, saying he was even more upset about how Fletcher treated him when questioning a thir...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football: Wiregrass Ranch 42, Wharton 6

TAMPA — The Wiregrass Ranch Bulls football team has been struggling on offense the last two weeks heading into Friday’s District 7A-8 game against Wharton High. The Bulls had scored a total of 19 points the last two games after averaging 30.5 the fir...
Updated: 1 hour ago