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Original Issue

Decline and Fall

THE DETAILS were still to be determined—the length of his prison sentence and his suspension from the NFL—but what was clear on Monday after Michael Vick agreed to plead guilty to a felony dogfighting charge was that his fall from football eminence is complete. The 27-year-old quarterback, once one of the most popular players in the NFL, will stand before a federal judge next Monday in Richmond and admit to his role in a dogfighting operation that he financed for six years. Prosecutors are believed to have agreed to recommend a sentence of 12 to 18 months in prison, though Judge Henry Hudson, who is not known for leniency, could give Vick up to five years. (A sentencing date will be set on Monday.)

How did Vick reach this nadir in the prime of his career—and only two years after signing a $130 million contract? One former teammate gave SI a simple answer: "He's not that smart." Another said that Vick was coddled by the Falcons and his advisers. "He never thought there were consequences for how he acted," the teammate said.

In addition to a prison term that will likely run through the 2008 season, Vick also faces a potential suspension from the league. "We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons," the NFL said in a statement issued on Monday. Vick's lawyer Billy Martin said that "football is not the most important thing" for Vick, who, he said, "wants to get his life back on track." If Vick is allowed to return, the Falcons or any other team may not want him because of the backlash they would face. "If a team were to try to sign him, we would certainly make them aware of what he has done," says John Goodwin, of the Humane Society of the United States. "But I don't know that we would have to do much. The hanging of dogs, the drowning of dogs, electrocuting dogs—those are images that are not going to be easy for people to forget."



DOGGED PURSUIT Protesters vow to remain vigilant.