Falcons Keeping Speedy Vick In Rearview Mirror
The 2013 NFL offseason was kicked off by so many arrests that a prison could hypothetically create its own football team comprised solely of players that have broken the law. This disappointing trend makes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's job even harder, as he is trying his best to police and enforce player conduct polices.
Luckily, there are teams that do not play when it comes to instilling good character on and off the field. The Atlanta Falcons are a good example of such a team. Atlanta brings in players who are not only dynamic contributors to the team on the field, but also live by a golden standard off the field. We rarely hear about a Falcons player getting arrested or suspended. As a matter of fact, I can only remember two significant player incidents over the last five seasons involving Falcons players: Safety William Moore's recent arrest for assault and former RB Michael Turner's DUI.
It is obivious that Atlanta focuses on character due to the team's strong desire to put former star QB Michael Vick and his troubling crimes behind it, despite the seemingly neverending collection of highlight-reel plays that Vick made during his time with the Falcons. The dog fighting case against Vick created a storm in the locker room that lasted throughout the season, ranging from quarterbacking issues to the players dislike for then head coach Bobby Petrino (who "quit on the team" and left for the University of Arkansas towards the end of the season).
Since the 2007 season, Atlanta has been taking steps to create a better locker room atmosphere and continues to push towards molding players who are good citizens. It started with the 2008 NFL Draft, during which Altanta drafted current franchise signal caller Matt Ryan. At the time, it was the best decision for them to make, choosing a leader who can avoid legal issues off the field. The Falcons have also brought in talented "good ole' boys" like TE Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall-of-Famer who is also well-known for his professionalism as evidenced by his acceptance of this year's Good Guy Award for his extraordinary conduct.
Eventually, the team grew into a more disciplined unit. This has since translated into more consistent winning seasons and playoff trips thanks in large part to the fact that players can now focus on winning games instead of sorting out locker room troubles and other incidents that may take place off the field.
While the Falcons need more defensive talent in order to win that illusive Super Bowl title, they are already winners off the field. I hope the front office and coaches keep instilling professionalism and citizenship to both players and fans. If they do, it is only a matter of time before they get that big win on the field too.