The almost year-long saga of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick dominated sports news not only in Georgia, but across the nation. It turned the Falcons training facility in Flowery Branch into a media frenzy.
It divided Falcons fans along racial and socieoeconomic lines and brought the unlawful hobby of dogfighting to the forefront of issues in America.
The drama that spanned over half a year started on April 25, when police in Surry County, Va., served a warrant at a house the day after arresting Vick’s cousin, Davon Boddie, on drug charges.
Found at the house were 66 dogs, 55 of them pit bulls, and what looked like dog fighting training equipment. Police seized the dogs and equipment after another warrant was served.
Federal authorities joined the investigation in June and on July 17 they laid down the first blow to Vick’s chances at playing football in the 2007 season: He was being indicted.
The 18-page indictment detailed the gruesome manner in which Vick and three other proprietors of "Bad Newz Kennels" trained dogs for fights and killed those that lost or weren’t fit for fighting.
Five days later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ordered Vick to stay away from the Falcons training camp, which opened on the same day, July 26, that the quarterback entered a non-guilty plea in a federal court in Richmond, Va.
Meanwhile, Vick’s sponsors continued to pull themselves away from the fallen quarterback, including Nike, Reebok and AirTran.
After his three co-defendents, Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips, pleaded guilty to dog-fighting charges, Vick agreed to do the same. On Aug. 23, Vick signed a plea agreement and statement of facts admitting to conspiracy in a dog-fighting ring and helping to kill dogs.
Vick apologized to the Falcon organization and fans in a statement after the plea and asked for forgiveness.
"I take full responsibility for my actions. ... I am totally responsible," He said in the statement, ending it with, "I will redeem myself. I have to."
On Nov. 19, Vick surrendered to U.S. Marshals three weeks before his sentence hearing, getting whatever jail sentence he was to receive started early.
That sentence, which came down on Dec. 10 by Judge Henry Hudson, was 23 months in jail, the longest of any of the four defendents involved in the case.
Hudson said he was harsher on Vick because he was "less than truthful" about his involvement in killing pit bulls.
"I’m not convinced you’ve fully accepted responsibility," Hudson told Vick, who was forced to wear a white and black striped prison outfit in the courtroom.
Unfortunately for Vick, the Falcons owners and fans, the saga is still not over. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is still trying to reclaim nearly $20 million in bonuses given to Vick. Vick is also still facing state dogfighting charges in Virginia.
Vick is still listed on the Falcons roster at www.atlantafalcons.com under suspended, but his future with the team is shaky at best.
Whether the former highlight reel returns to the NFL will not be known until his prison sentence is up in 2009.