You can only imagine what was going through Michael Vick's mind as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell emerged from the left side of the Radio City Music Hall stage, walked to the podium, leaned toward the microphone and said, "With the third pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons select [dramatic pause] Matt Ryan, quarterback."
In the time it took to say those two words -- Matt Ryan -- Vick's Falcons career, or what remained of it, came to a final resting place on the NFL sea bottom. There will be no comeback in Atlanta. Perhaps there will be no comeback at all.
Seven years ago Vick stood on a stage in New York, just as Ryan did this past Saturday. There was a freshly issued Falcons ball cap on Vick's head and a beaming NFL commissioner at his side. Together he and Paul Tagliabue had pinched the sleeves of a Falcons No. 1 jersey and held it in the air for the requisite draft day photo op. Vick's silverish-blue suit gleamed in the lights.
Vick was going to redefine the way the quarterback position was played. He was going to do so many things. That's what everyone said.
And now he's in prison. The U.S. Federal Prison Camp, to be exact.
From Madison Square Garden in 2001, to Leavenworth, Kan., in 2008. Tailored suit to prison wear. Handshake-with-the-commish shots to mug shots.
What a weird, weird Saturday it must have been for Vick, especially if he had access to the television feeds of the draft. Vick knew what it was like to stand there. He knew exactly what Ryan was feeling.
Of course, the Falcons could have taken someone else. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, considered to be the best pure player in the draft, was still there at No. 3 when Atlanta went on the clock. Dorsey, said the scouts, has an upside to die for.
But the Falcons had already decided on Ryan. The decision to select the Boston College quarterback was made nearly two full days before the draft. Dorsey's availability was an intriguing twist, but nothing more.
"The gods were with us, so to speak," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff would tell an NFL Network reporter.
The message is clear: The Vick Era, so to speak, is finished in Atlanta. A manhole cover has been all but welded shut over whatever hopes Vick has of returning to his first and only pro team, and to the doting owner who adored him, Arthur Blank.
Blank had told ESPN's Chris Mortensen months ago that a scenario existed involving Vick's return to the Falcons. But all that ended Saturday, when a Falcons rep handed an NFL official a draft day card with Ryan's name on it.
When Dimitroff said days before the draft that Atlanta's picks would be "needs-based," he could have been referring to the Falcons' apparent need to distance themselves from Vick. Ryan is the opposite of Vick in so many ways, which is exactly why the Falcons chose him.
Think about it: prototypical pocket passer versus hybrid runner/passer "sneaky" athletic versus once-in-a-lifetime athletic 32 career college starts versus Vick's 20 starts at Virginia Tech no off-field issues versus, uh, once-in-a-lifetime athletic
The Falcons didn't come right out and say they were looking for squeaky-clean, but they used the buzzwords. They gushed about Ryan's leadership skills, his competitiveness, and the "new dimension" he brings to the team -- that new dimension being no CNN video of a Ryan-financed dogfighting compound.
So Vick can forget about Atlanta. Blank either recused himself from the draft day process (doubtful), or simply agreed with Dimitroff and new head coach Mike Smith that it was time to use that third pick -- and more of Blank's millions -- on a quarterback. In fact, it wasn't long after the pick was made that Smith said Ryan could win the starting job over incumbent Chris Redman. Duh.
Meanwhile, you can find Vick at 1300 Metropolitan Ave. in Leavenworth, just off Highway 73. According to the federal government's penitentiary Web site, inmate Vick (Register No. 33765-183) is eligible for release July 20, 2009. Training camp time.
There's also a possibility Vick could be transferred to a halfway house as early as January 2009, but only if he is admitted into a residential drug abuse program and a paycheck. His most likely employer: an NFL team.
Again, weird how this works out. The man who shook Ryan's hand and helped the BC quarterback hold up a Falcons No. 1 jersey on Saturday -- Goodell -- is the same man who ultimately will decide whether Vick can rejoin the league.
Vick deserves a second chance. But once Goodell gives it to him, then what?
No other quarterback, with the possible exception of Tennessee's Vince Young, does what Vick does or did: stretch and spread a defense to the breaking point. If those 23 months don't rob Vick of those singular athletic skills, it becomes a matter of finding a team willing to play a 29-year-old quarterback whose last game was Dec. 31, 2006.
The Oakland Raiders come to mind, mostly because owner Al Davis has a lifelong romance with speed, and he's nutty enough to try anything. Plus, he could get Vick cheaply.
The problem is, Davis has a six-year, $61 million deal (including a $29 million signing bonus) with 2007 No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell. And whatever team signs Vick is going to have to alter its entire offense.
Vick moves the pass pocket. He gets to the edges. He runs. But he also sees only half the field that way. And he's never been Mr. High-Percentage Passer. So something is going to have to give.
I can see a team taking a flier on Vick. But will a team blow up its existing offense for him? Will it simply incorporate a Vick-type play package? Or will it ask him to switch positions and become a left-handed, supercharged version of Antwaan Randle El?
The answers could begin to arrive nine months from now. Until then, Vick does his time just 43 miles from the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium.
No, Saturday couldn't have been any fun for Vick. As if Leavenworth and an estimated $142 million in financial losses weren't humiliating enough, he was repudiated by Blank and his Falcons.
Now he counts the days to freedom, to a meeting and a handshake with Goodell. Most of all, he wants what Ryan got.
A job and a chance.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.