Vick submits guilty plea to judge

Michael Vick stood behind a podium, all alone. His amazing speed and quickness was of no use in this predicament. He couldn't scramble away from trouble with one of those nifty moves.

All he could do was apologize. And ask for forgiveness. And start "bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player."

Looking somber and speaking without notes, Vick said Monday he was taking full responsibility for his actions after pleading guilty to a federal dogfighting charge in Richmond, Va.

He could go to prison for one to five years.

"I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out there in the world who was affected by this whole situation, and if I'm more disappointed with myself than anything it's because of all the young people, young kids that I let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model," he said.

Vick canceled a Tuesday morning radio appearance on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show". Host Tom Joyner said Vick's advisors suggested that the football player shouldn't talk at this time because someone "might take any part of our interview out of context."

Vick called dogfighting "a terrible thing," said he initially lied to the NFL and his team about it because he was ashamed, and apologized specifically to all those he deceived about a gruesome dogfighting ring: commissioner Roger Goodell, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, coach Bobby Petrino and his teammates.

"I need to grow up," Vick conceded.

Acceptance of responsibility is one of the factors U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson will consider in handing down Vick's sentence Dec. 10. The federal sentencing guideline range is projected at a year to 18 months, but Hudson can impose up to the five-year maximum.

Vick has already been suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

"So I've got a lot of down time, a lot of time to think about my actions and what I've done," he said.

"I will redeem myself. I have to."

In Atlanta, the Falcons said they would not cut Vick immediately because of salary-cap issues. The team intends to pursue the $22 million in bonus money he already received in a $130 million contract signed in 2004, looking to reduce the financial burden of his massive deal.

"Cutting him today may feel better emotionally for us and many of our fans," Blank said. "But it's not in the long-term best interests of our franchise."

Before the wrenching day was done, the Falcons defeated Cincinnati 24-19 in their first home preseason game, a chance for Atlanta's fans to get a sampling of life without their most dynamic player.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people showed up for the game wearing Vick's No. 7 jersey. His replacement, Joey Harrington, made a good first impression by throwing two touchdown passes.

"It's not something we can sweep under the rug," Harrington said. "Mike is definitely in a bit of trouble, but he's still a member of this team, still a member of this family."

Vick took no questions after his first public statement about the dogfighting ring, and he said little in court. With family members, including his brother and mother, watching from the front row of the packed courtroom, Vick stood flanked by two of his five lawyers and softly answered "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to Hudson's questions.

The judge, known for his tough sentences, emphasized his broad latitude in handing down Vick's penalty.

"You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson said.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said a first-time offender ordinarily might receive no jail time for the dogfighting conspiracy.

"We thought, however, that the conduct in this conspiracy was heinous, cruel and inhumane," he said.

Blank and Falcons general manager Rich McKay refused to say whether Vick would ever play for the Falcons again, though their reluctance to cut ties with the quarterback is related more to complicated legal issues than any willingness to take him back. They've already sent a "demand letter" to Vick saying they will attempt to recoup his bonus money.

"We realize that this situation has tarnished our franchise," Blank said. "We've heard from fans who are embarrassed to wear the No. 7 jersey now. We cannot undo what's been done. But we can and we will recover from this."

The Falcons will receive a $6 million cap credit for Vick's salary this year because he's been suspended without pay. They are still on the hook for about $22 million in prorated bonus obligations spread over this season and the next two. Any bonus money returned by Vick will be credited to Atlanta's cap number.

Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, both members of the Falcons' board, attended a news conference at Blank's corporate headquarters in Atlanta.

"I've never seen someone who had so much ability and has fallen so far," Aaron said. Asked if he expected Vick to return to the Falcons some day, the former home run king replied, "I hope so."

That sentiment was echoed by many Atlanta fans, who cheered Vick as he led the Falcons to the NFC championship game in January 2005, and became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season last year.

"I don't see any reason why he shouldn't," said lifelong fan Gwen Tucker, who wore Vick's jersey to the preseason game. "He's an electrifying player. He did bring a hell of a lot of excitement to this place. It's not going to be the same."

A few dozen animal-rights protesters turned out in Richmond and Atlanta, holding signs such as "Ban Vick Permanently."

In his written plea, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings, but merely associating with gambling can result in a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Three Vick co-defendants who previously pleaded guilty said Vick bankrolled the enterprise, and two of them said Vick participated in executing dogs that were not vicious enough in testing.

The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's rural Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.

While waiting to play a most extraordinary preseason game, the Falcons watched Vick's apology on television.

"He was real sincere," running back Warrick Dunn said. "Most important, I think he took everything on his shoulders. He didn't make excuses and said it was his fault."

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