ATLANTA - For one of the few times in their mostly dismal history, the Atlanta Falcons appeared to have gotten one right.
They had the NFL's most exciting player, a guy who helped sell plenty of No. 7 jerseys and made sure every seat in the Georgia Dome was filled.
Then Michael Vick's nasty little secret was revealed.
Suddenly, the Falcons found themselves back in a familiar position: starting over.
With Joey Harrington at quarterback instead of Vick, Atlanta lost four of its first five games and headed into Monday night against the New York Giants facing the prospect of another dismal season under rookie coach Bobby Petrino. He's already faced the wrath of two of his best players, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and tight end Alge Crumpler.
'In any situation when you lose, you'll have people who are frustrated,' Harrington said.
If frustration was a commodity, the Falcons could have cornered the market. After all, this franchise has somehow managed to make it through a 41-year history without ever having back-to-back winning seasons.
Even the greatest moment in franchise history - a 1999 trip to the Super Bowl - was overshadowed by the stunning arrest of defensive leader Eugene Robinson the night before the championship game. He was picked up on charges of trying to solicit sex from an undercover cop on the streets of Miami, then got burned for a long touchdown pass in a 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Lawyer Milloy, who played on a Super Bowl champion at New England, signed with the Falcons before the 2006 season because he thought they were poised to win a title. Instead, the team lost seven of its last nine games a year ago, then lost its most valuable player when a gruesome dogfighting operation was found on property owned by Vick.
Welcome to Atlanta, Mr. Milloy.
'I didn't come down here for this,' the 33-year-old Milloy grumbled a few weeks ago. 'I'm at the end of my career. I was looking at coming to a winner, coming to a team that I felt was on the verge of not only winning some ballgames, but possibly a championship. I wanted to put myself in the best situation possible.'
This wasn't it.
The Falcons have usually ranked near the bottom of the NFL hierarchy, a position they staked out their very first season. Atlanta lost its opening nine games as an expansion team in 1966 and hasn't had much success shaking that stigma. Overall, the franchise is 253-370-6, which means it would need to win every game between now and Week 10 of the 2014 season to reach .500.
It wasn't until Year 6 that the Falcons finally had a winning record, a 7-6-1 mark in 1971. They should have made the playoffs two years later, winning a memorable Monday night game against Fran Tarkenton's Minnesota Vikings and pushing their record to 8-3 with three games remaining - all at home. Of course, they lost two of those and missed the playoffs by a single game.
After going 9-5 in 1973, they slumped to 3-11 the following year and played their final game before a gathering of 10,020 at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It wasn't even the smallest crowd in franchise history, a distinction held by the 7,792 who attended the final game of 1989.
In 1980, Atlanta won its first division championship and earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That lasted all of one game, the Falcons blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 30-27 loss to Dallas.
After a dismal stretch in the late 1980s, Jerry Glanville brought some excitement to Atlanta with his outlandish personality and run-and-shoot offense. The Falcons earned a wild card in 1991 and even won a playoff game, but it didn't last.
The following year, the Falcons traded Brett Favre.
And on it went. Dan Reeves brought an air of professionalism to a franchise sorely lacking in that department, and he had Atlanta doing the 'Dirty Bird' during that thrilling run to the Super Bowl in 1998.
Then came Vick, whose arrival seemed to signal a new era in Atlanta, especially with Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank having bought the team from its original owner, the much-maligned family of Rankin Smith.
With Blank opening up his checkbook and Vick running like no other quarterback in pro football history, the Falcons came within one win of another Super Bowl during the 2004 season. Again, it was a cruel tease.
Atlanta collapsed in the second half of the next two seasons. Then that home on Moonlight Road in Virginia was raided by law officers looking for evidence against Vick's cousin.
Within months, Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges and was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
Rest assured, Vick will never play another game for the Falcons.
It's back to square one in Atlanta.
SideBar: GWINNETT NFL PLAYERS
Week 5 update on NFL players from Gwinnett County:
Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (Norcross)
' Detroit (3-2) did not play
Jason Elam, PK, Broncos (Brookwood)
' Denver (2-3) did not play
David Greene, QB, Patriots (South Gwinnett )
' On New England practice squad
Stephon Heyer, OT, Redskins (Brookwood)
' Played in 17-14 loss to Packers
David Irons, CB, Falcons (Dacula)
' Played on special teams against Giants
Jon Stinchcomb, OT, Saints (Parkview)
' Started in 28-17 victory over Seattle
Darius Walker, RB, Texans (Buford)
' On Houston practice squad
Mansfield Wrotto, OG, Seahawks (Brookwood)
' Inactive for 28-17 loss to New Orleans