ATLANTA -- Michael Vick knew Arthur Blank had his back.
When the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison in 2007 for running a dogfighting operation, a disappointed Blank didn't totally abandon Vick. Instead, the Falcons owner remained in contact with the fallen star during his incarceration. And when Vick was released from jail in May 2009, then headed back to Virginia, Blank made sure to make him feel right at home.
"I think I was home for about three days and Mr. Blank and his family came in with food from my favorite restaurant," Vick said. "They flew from Atlanta to Virginia, and Stoney River [restaurant] is one of my favorites. ... He brought food in for me and my family, sat and talked, and we just had a good time. Yeah, maybe I said something about my [prison] experience and talked about what I had been through, but it was all forward thinking from then. It was never about the past."
The dark cloud that has hovered over Vick for years following his egregious mistake was lifted Monday, at least from the franchise's perspective. Blank took the podium to acknowledge the retirements of both Vick and franchise all-time leading receiver Roddy White as Falcons.
For Vick, who spent six seasons with the team and was signed to a 10-year, $130 million contract, never imagined he would retire as a Falcon while he stood behind bars. And for Blank, Monday's ceremony was symbolic of his firm belief in second chances, a mindset Blank and his family carry out through his charitable foundation.
"I want to touch on something that I know is a question for some people, not for me," Blank explained. "But I think it's time to deliver, I think a message on behalf of Michael. And I want to do it for myself, personally. ... Michael, like everybody on the face of the earth, has made a mistake in his life. ... Life is really all about learning from your mistakes, redemption, learning to be a better person and moving on and making the difference in the lives of other people. There are many people that I know in life that have done that, I would say none more than Michael Vick."
Blank specified how Vick hasn't taken lightly the crime that led to his conviction and is a proponent of animal rights. Blank also singled out how Vick has made an effort to relay a positive message to children as part of rebuilding his character.
"He is a living example of how you can make a better choice," Blank said.
Then Blank turned to Vick and addressed him personally.
"And coming from you, Michael, that means so much to these young people that today are influenced in so many ways that are not always positive," Blank said. "... So I want to thank you for all the people that you have touched."
Vick deflected the praise back to Blank for giving him an opportunity not only to play for the Falcons, but to be welcomed back to the franchise following his transgression.
"At the end of the day, I think it is most important I thank Arthur Blank and the Blank family for everything they've done for me over the years," Vick said as he looked in Blank's direction. "Arthur being there, being so considerate, being passionate with me as a young man.
"Not knowing certain ins and outs to life. Not always leaning on your expertise at times but [you] still remain patient. I think that speaks volumes in terms of your character. ... I know that contract wouldn't have come through without you giving clearance on it. I just want you to know my love for you will always be unconditional. It will never change."