Bob Ford | Vick case grisly and shocking

Posted: July 19, 2007

If you have a strong stomach and a high tolerance for the wordy thickets of a federal indictment, it might take you until Page 17 of the 18-page indictment against Michael Vick and his alleged dogfighting compatriots to really need a pause and a deep breath.

In the case of the United States of America v. Purnell "P-Funk" Peace, Quanis "Q" Phillips, Tony "T" Taylor, and Michael "Ookie" Vick, as laid out by the federal prosecutors Tuesday, there are many recitations of dog fights that took place, of money that changed hands, of state lines that were crossed, of training methods that were employed, and of some losing dogs that were placed on a version of unrevokable waivers - usually by being shot or electrocuted.

But when you get to Page 17, you find Charge No. 83: "In or about April 2007, PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK executed approximately 8 dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning, and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."

This charge, and all the others handed down by a grand jury in Richmond, Va., is an allegation, as yet unproved. Much of the testimony before the grand jury came from cooperating witnesses who, according to their accounts, were involved in dog fights against dogs from Vick's Bad Newz Kennels. Some of these witnesses might have arranged plea bargains in their own cases in exchange for testimony. Some of the sworn statements were likely made by people whom you wouldn't trust as far as you would throw a dog.

That said, the government does not enter into these cases lightly and it doesn't look so good for Mike Vick, who would be just one name in a small article buried in the news section of the paper if he didn't also happen to be the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, a franchise in the criminally challenged National Football League.

Vick has a public-relations problem at the moment, along with his legal ones. People might not really care if an NFL player throws bags of money at strippers in Las Vegas, or gets caught carrying a gun, or even if he smacks around his girlfriend. The shock factor, regrettably, is a little faded by this time.

But if a player - one that the Falcons count on to sell shirts and season tickets and keep the fan base loyal and supportive - is a puppy-killer, well, that's not going to look too good on the billboards, is it?

The Falcons, according to a team release, are "disturbed" by the indictment. Owner Arthur Blank jetted back from an overseas vacation to take stock of the situation, and he's facing a tough decision regarding the player he gave a 10-year, $130-million contract (including a $37 million signing bonus) in 2004.

Vick didn't do himself any favors by flipping both of his middle fingers at a Georgia Dome crowd following a home loss to the Saints last season. And his Ron Mexico exploits weren't helpful, either, and the water bottle incident in the Miami airport in January wasn't a highlight. All of that could be overcome - even for a player consistently voted most overrated in the league - but when you start hanging dogs, you've probably crossed the line for most supporters.

When fans chant "How 'bout them dogs?" in the future, they won't be talking about the University of Georgia team. If there is a football future for Vick, who might well have made himself unhirable, conviction or not.

The league isn't touching this one yet. It is content to let the federal government handle things. And it is possible that Vick, regardless of the specificity of the indictment, will be found not guilty. Strange things can happen in a trial by jury.

That isn't going to help the Falcons, though, a franchise that has never had back-to-back winning seasons in its 40-year-plus history. It is now also a franchise with a quarterback who might or might not be a winner, who might or might not be hated by a majority of the ticket-buying fan base, and who might or might not have to spend up to six years in a federal penitentiary.

Talk about roster uncertainty. That's some way to enter training camp. So what should they do?

By comparison, you have to admit, having a starting quarterback who is merely coming back from knee surgery doesn't seem so bad.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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