FLOWERY BRANCH - Nobody puts bodies in seats like Michael Vick.
The Falcons have sold out every game at the 71,228-seat Georgia Dome since Vick joined the team in 2001.
Now that Vick won't play for Atlanta this season because of his guilty plea on dogfighting charges, many wonder about the situation's impact on the fan base.
"I'm excited to see what type of fan base we're going to have because I know how divided our fan base has been over the years, both in support of Michael and not in support of some of the things that have gone on," Falcon tight end Alge Crumpler said. "Time will tell how this whole process will play out and how we're affected by this situation."
Vick split the Atlanta Falcons' fan base long before he came under suspicion for dogfighting. A small but vocal group decried Vick's shortcomings as a passer and doubted his ability to lead the team to a championship.
Vick steadily earned more detractors in recent years with his off-the-field shenanigans, from the "Ron Mexico" herpes incident to his run-in with Miami airport security over a fake water bottle. And then there was his obscene gesture toward Falcons fans following a game last season.
Yet his past transgressions had no effect on ticket sales. Falcons officials claim 99 percent of season-ticket holders renewed for 2007. And the one percent who didn't failed to dent the season-ticket waiting list. It is still 90,000 names long.
The franchise sold out the Georgia Dome suites for this season as well.
But sellouts do not guarantee a packed house. And the Internet is flooded with ticket holders looking to sell. The Falcons "official secondary ticket provider," StubHub, has approximately 4,000 tickets available for each of Atlanta's eight home games. Two more Web sites popular with ticket sellers, craigslist and eBay, feature more than 1,500 ads, most offering multiple tickets, for Falcons tickets.
Brandon Evans, a longtime Falcons' fan from Cornelia, said his interest has waned slightly this offseason. He will attend one or two games this season and watch "90 percent" of the other games on television. He attended four or five games a year and watched every game during what he calls the "Michael Vick era."
"I guess that was because Michael Vick gave the Falcons a chance to win every single Sunday," Evans said. "I saw him take over games throughout his career."
No matter the reason, fans stay away from the Georgia Dome when Vick doesn't play.
Thousands of ticket holders skipped Vick-less games in 2003, when a broken leg sidelined him for 11 games.
No Vick, no interest. And according to Falcon fan Keifer Parker of Savannah, the Falcons could be destined for a repeat of 2003, when they finished 5-11 with Doug Johnson filling in for Vick.
"As a Falcon fan, all I can wish for now is that the defense can surprise everybody and that quarterback Joey Harrington has a banner year," Parker said.
The initial gauge of post-Vick fan interest will come on Monday when Vick is scheduled to plead guilty to a single conspiracy count in Richmond.
The Falcons play their first home preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. But the exhibition will be far from a true measure. Preseason games are often poorly attended. They are usually played on weeknights and the stars see limited action.
The real Vick fallout won't be known until mid-September. The Falcons begin the regular season with back-to-back road games.
The home opener is Sept. 23 against the Carolina Panthers.
Success could make the Vick situation moot with the fans, however. Everybody loves a winner, after all. And Evans, the fan from Cornelia, said the Falcon faithful should rally around the franchise.
"As a Falcons fan, I am proud to have an owner like Arthur Blank, who has dealt with this nearly impossible situation with a dignity unparalleled amongst NFL owners," Evans said. "I am also hopeful for an innovative, no-nonsense (approach) with Bobby Petrino running the show."
SideBar: Bengals at Falcons
' When: Monday, 8 p.m.
' Where: Georgia Dome
' TV/Radio: WGCL/92.9-FM