Playing to Wrong Crowd

michael vick - atlanta falcons
Michael Vick and his attorneys are scheduled to appear in federal court in Richmond next Monday. The deal still must be approved by the judge in the case and could collapse at any point until then. (Tami Chappell - Reuters)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

BROOKLYN, Md. -- James Boddie rose from a leather chair in the living room of his townhouse, minutes from downtown Baltimore, and walked upstairs to retrieve something. "I want to show you this," he said.

He'd been telling stories about his grandson, Michael Vick, stories about how a poor kid from a rough neighborhood in Newport News, Va., could use football to build a fancy house for his mother and a life of fame and riches for himself. He had been telling of taking a train to New York to be with his grandson and other family members when the Atlanta Falcons made Vick, a quarterback from Virginia Tech with a powerful left arm and magical legs, the top pick in the NFL draft in April 2001.

Boddie returned with a frame containing a draft-day picture of Vick and a signed commemorative draft T-shirt. That was a fond memory indeed. "Got a chance to meet Joe Theismann and all those guys," Boddie said.

For those who care about Vick, it has become a struggle to keep the good times from becoming fading memories. Yesterday, Vick, 27, agreed to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges and likely will be sentenced to 12 to 18 months in prison. He also faces further possible Virginia state charges and an NFL suspension.

An athletic career, once so promising that it earned him a $130 million contract, is in ruins.

"It's just sad when someone has that much God-given talent for something," former Falcons coach Dan Reeves said, "and it's potentially going to be wasted."

There are multiple explanations for Vick's downfall, according to interviews conducted the past few weeks with family members and Vick's former teammates, and a review of court documents related to the case. Vick could not be reached to comment and some of the key figures in his life refused to be interviewed.

The most prominent theory, espoused by Boddie and Reeves, blames much of Vick's troubles on his continued association with childhood friends who have questionable pasts. Those same friends were the ones who agreed to testify against Vick in exchange for more lenient sentences for their roles in the crimes.

Court papers, however, portray Vick as someone whose legal troubles are his own doing. They show Vick as the unquestioned leader of a vicious dogfighting operation. Not only did he finance it, but he also carried out some of its most heinous crimes, including the killings of dogs.

For some, the truth lies somewhere in between. As one person familiar with the case said: "Clearly, he's the leader but he couldn't say no to them and he couldn't cut them loose."

Regardless of the causes, it is difficult to find a greater non-injury-related demise of a top American professional athlete in the prime of his career.

"He could have saved a lot of people a lot of heartache, like his mother for one, if he'd done what was right from the beginning," Michael Boddie, Vick's father, said yesterday.

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