Three years after The Trade, both teams are happy

Saturday, October 16th 2004, 12:25 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Three years after The Trade, neither team has any complaints.

The Atlanta Falcons got Michael Vick, who quickly led them to the playoffs and became an icon for the NFL with his bewildering skills.

The San Diego Chargers wound up with LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees, along with Reche Caldwell and Tim Dwight. Not too shabby, either.

``Let bygones be bygones,'' Vick said. ``It worked out for both teams. They have a great running back and a good quarterback in Drew Brees, who's playing real well right now. And I think the Falcons got what they wanted.''

On Sunday, the teams meet for the first time since their blockbuster trade. The Falcons (4-1) are trying to bounce back from their first loss of the season, while San Diego (3-2) is just one game off the lead in the AFC West.

Rest assured, someone involved in that 2001 deal will likely play a key role.

``I'd say both teams prospered quite well from the trade,'' Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

Atlanta set its sights on Vick after he put in two spectacular seasons at Virginia Tech, then entered the NFL draft.

The Falcons were set to pick fifth _ too far down to get one of the best college players to come along in years. So they called the Chargers, who had the first overall selection but were bogged down trying to agree on a contract with Vick's agent.

When the Falcons offered an attractive package _ three picks and receiver-return specialist Tim Dwight _ the Chargers accepted on the eve of the draft.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Vick spent one season as a backup, then took over the starting job in 2002. He guided the Falcons to the playoffs, was voted to the Pro Bowl and set an NFL record for quarterbacks by rushing for 173 yards in a game.

With the picks acquired from the Falcons, the Chargers got Tomlinson, Caldwell and cornerback Tay Cody. After passing up Vick, they also used one of their own picks to take Brees, forever linking him to the trade.

Cody started 11 games before he was cut last year. Everyone else acquired by the Chargers is still contributing _ no one more than Tomlinson.

He rushed for more than 1,200 yards as a rookie, then topped 1,600 yards each of the last two seasons. In 2003, he became the first player in NFL history to run for more than 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in a season. By the time this year is done, he figures to hold virtually every rushing record in team history.

Brees is in his third season as the starting quarterback, keeping the job even after the Chargers picked Philip Rivers in the first round this year. The veteran has played well in two straight wins and actually has a higher quarterback rating (100) than Vick (77.7).

And the others? Caldwell is second on the team with 17 receptions; Dwight is returning kickoffs, already bringing back one for a touchdown.

``I don't think that there is anybody who can really argue what we've done for our teams, and I think it's only going to get better,'' Tomlinson said.

He doesn't view his first game against Vick as a chance to prove who got the upper hand in the trade, or show the Falcons what they missed out on.

``Like I've said all along, I play a different position than Mike,'' Tomlinson said. ``It just happened that it worked out the way it did. It wasn't like I was going to go to Atlanta.''

Vick certainly could have been in San Diego. He visited the city before the 2001 draft and was eager to play for the Chargers.

``I used to think about it all the time,'' he said. ``But now Atlanta is my home and I love it. This is where I want to be.''

Brees was the second quarterback taken in the 2001 draft. Since he wasn't technically part of the trade, he doesn't spend a lot time worrying about how he stacks up to Vick.

``It's fun to kind of follow his career a little bit, and the fact that this is the first opportunity we get to play against each other,'' Brees said. ``I think the majority of the people are going to say 'Hey, this is the blockbuster trade, the Michael Vick-LaDainian Tomlinson deal.' I'm just along for the ride.''

In an interesting twist, most of those who engineered the trade are no longer around.

San Diego coach Mike Riley was let go after the 2001 season, and Chargers general manager John Butler died last year after a nine-month battle with cancer. On the Atlanta side, owner Taylor Smith sold the team less than a year after acquiring Vick, while coach Dan Reeves was fired late last season.

Jim Mora, the Falcons' first-year coach, had to be brought up to speed on the deal that shaped both franchises so dramatically.

``I guess we're both winners,'' he said. ``I didn't even know there was a trade until somebody mentioned it to me.''