Vick, Tomlinson pay big dividends for their teams

FLOWERY BRANCH - The Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers have always said negotiations of their blockbuster trade didn't begin until the day before the 2001 NFL draft.

Virginia Tech quarterback whom every team slotted No. 1, asked him about the big rumor.

"Mike told me, 'San Diego, they're going to trade the pick to Atlanta and you're going to go to San Diego,' " Tomlinson said during a phone call Wednesday. "Of course, I thought he was full of it. And sure enough, it happened."

Vick was everybody's choice to go No. 1, but San Diego offered a poor fit. The Chargers were still reeling from taking Doug Flutie freshly signed to a six-year contract, San Diego wanted to trade the rights to Vick.

The day after Tomlinson and Vick swapped cell phone numbers and promised to keep in touch, Atlanta met the Chargers' price. In addition to receiver Tim Dwight, the Falcons would send the fifth overall pick, a third-round spot and a second-rounder in 2002 to San Diego.

"When they first initially called, they wanted our first, second, third and Tim," said Ron Hill, Atlanta's vice president of player personnel. "In talking to John (Butler) and whoever else, it was like, 'We're not one guy away.' We're taking a young quarterback, and the odds of him playing in the first year - you try to bring them along slowly."

Butler, who later died of cancer, originally asked for the Falcons' second-rounder in 2001, a pick Atlanta used to take Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler. The Chargers used their second-rounder in '01 on former Drew Brees.

Though Brees has helped San Diego begin this season 3-2, Phillip Rivers, chosen fourth overall, eventually will take Brees' job, but coach Marty Schottenheimer has built his offense around Tomlinson, who last year became the first player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in the same season.

Vick set four NFL records for rushing by a quarterback in 2002 and led Atlanta to the second round of the playoffs, but this year has gone less smoothly as the Falcons (4-1) run a new offense under first-year head coach Jim Mora.

"There are ups and then there's a down," Mora said. "Then there's a huge step up and there might be a little dip. We've talked about this now for two weeks, but none other than (Philadelphia coach) Andy Reid, who's a tremendous authority on quarterbacks, said the same thing in analyzing (Eagles quarterback) Donovan McNabb _ 'It takes a while to evolve.' "

Vick, who struggled with three turnovers in a 17-10 loss last week to Detroit, and Tomlinson, who left the Chargers' last week's win over Jacksonville with a strained groin, will lead their teams into the Georgia Dome Sunday in the first meeting between the two young stars.

"Whenever I see him, it's all love," Vick said jokingly. "And I can't wait to see him on Sunday. Hopefully, we'll keep him contained, but he's a great player. He's going to do his thing."

Notes: Mora was pleased to see Eric Beverly, who dislocated his right shoulder early in the Detroit game, has joined rookie cornerback DeAngelo Hall as being ruled out this week. Neither player practiced.

Also held out were middle linebacker Jason Webster (knee). All are listed as questionable.

Weak-side linebacker Keith Brooking (hamstring) is probable, but he couldn't practice.

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