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HELLO. MY NAME IS THOMAS, AND I'M A FALCONS ADDICT
Thomas Lake
January 14, 2013
OVER MORE THAN TWO DECADES, THE AUTHOR HAS LEARNED SOME OF LIFE'S BITTEREST LESSONS AS A HOPELESSLY DEVOTED FAN OF LUCKLESS ATLANTA. BUT THIS YEAR? THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT
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January 14, 2013

Hello. My Name Is Thomas, And I'm A Falcons Addict

OVER MORE THAN TWO DECADES, THE AUTHOR HAS LEARNED SOME OF LIFE'S BITTEREST LESSONS AS A HOPELESSLY DEVOTED FAN OF LUCKLESS ATLANTA. BUT THIS YEAR? THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT

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January 11, 2003. Eagles 20, Falcons 6, and our season ends in the divisional playoff. Vick throws two interceptions, one of which comes back for a touchdown. But there's plenty of time for improvement. He's only 22 years old.

January 23, 2005. Eagles 27, Falcons 10, and our season ends in the NFC Championship Game. A month earlier we signed Vick to a 10-year, $130 million contract extension, one of the richest in NFL history, which made perfect sense to Red and me, given Vick's extraordinary talents, but today he throws for just 136 yards, with an interception, and runs for only 26, and the Eagles' defense makes him look ordinary at best.

Still, there's plenty of time for improvement. He's only 24.

December 24, 2005. A flash of red, the shine of polyester. With excitement I tear off the paper and unfold the gift. Black trim, white letters, long white number 7 down the front and back. I put it on. Today we play the Buccaneers, with the playoffs on the line. Michael Vick and I will wear matching jerseys, thanks to an early Christmas present from Sara, now my wife.

We were married five months ago. Red was the best man. After the wedding he gave a toast and said something he'd never said before, something I'd never said before, and only when he said it did I realize it had always been true.

"You're my best friend."

Sara and I have a one-bedroom apartment by the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, where I write features for The Florida Times-Union. Red's still in Atlanta, working in social services, which is a boring way of saying that he picks up the shards of broken families and tries to glue them back together. But we don't talk much about that. He calls me, or I call him, and we talk about Michael Vick.

He and I feel the same way about Vick. It seems strange, almost embarrassing, for us to say this about another man, especially a man we've never met. But we love him. We love the flawless rotation of his passes, the surpassing quickness of his feet, the way, against Carolina last season, he flew for a split second, his body parallel with the ground and just above it, to put the ball across the goal line. We see him as a brother, a blood relative, so that when defenders go for his knees or his head, we want to run on the field and personally fight them off.

This is our 40th year in existence. We've never had two straight winning seasons. When we started 6--2, it looked as if we would easily put that record to rest. But now we've lost four of six, thanks in part to Vick's 39.1 quarterback rating against Carolina and his 25.8 at Chicago, and today we must defeat the Buccaneers to be assured of staying in the playoff race.

We're at my grandmother's house in south Georgia, and Red is driving down Interstate 75, listening on the radio, and I watch from a recliner as Vick commits an unforced fumble, as a receiver can't hold on to what would be a 38-yard touchdown, as we give up six yards on a fourth-and-one for the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, as the Buccaneers block a 28-yard field goal that would win us the game in overtime, as we play for a tie by punting on fourth-and-two with 1:02 left in overtime, and as we fail to get even that tie when the Bucs make the winning field goal with 15 seconds left.

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