Monday, April 7, 2008

The Longest Yard......Part 3

From Gary Myers .....of the New York Daily News......

Michael Vick playing prison football

Updated Monday, April 7th 2008, 12:46 PM


Michael Vick is playing prison football at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

Michael Vick has a new job and is playing football again. The money is not quite the same and the records of the players are a bit different, too.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been communicating by letter with Vick, who is at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., incarcerated at the facility's minimum security satellite prison camp.

Blank told the Daily News that Vick writes that he is washing pots and pans for 12 cents an hour. He was sentenced to 23 months in December after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting charges.

And in a scene straight out of the Longest Yard, Blank says Vick is playing football at Leavenworth. That's one way to pass his time and keep his arm loose. He's likely the first player picked when the inmates are choosing up sides or the guards are choosing up sides for them. Vick's sprinter speed surely comes in handy just in case a dog-loving inmate thinks it's cool to sack an NFL quarterback and break his shoulder.

"He is staying in shape,” Blank told The News. "Apparently, there was a prison football team and he played quarterback for both sides.”

That's only fair.

Blank, a Flushing product, says Vick wrote to him first and they've now opened a dialogue by mail. He also says that Kevin Winston, the Falcons' senior director of player development, has visited Vick several times in prison. Blank says he has no plans to visit Vick.

"He's written me a couple of times,” Blank said. "I've written him back, he's stayed in touch.”

Vick's life has taken quite a nosedive from his days as a superstar quarterback. He can be comforted financially by Judge David Doty's ruling in Minneapolis in February that he can keep $16.25 million of the $20 million in bonus money the Falcons were trying to recoup. The NFL is challenging the ruling.

Even if Blank feels betrayed by Vick, whom he signed to a 10-year, $130 million contract in 2004, he still clearly has a place in his heart for him, if not on his team.

"I just try to be supportive and as understanding as I can be,” Blank said. "He talks about the process he is going through and what he has learned, the lessons of life, how he's going to come out a different person. He's sorry he has affected so many people in a negative way — the league, our club, our fans. He feels awful about that. The letters sound quite sincere to me. From a mental standpoint, he sounds good.”

What does he write to Vick?

"I told Michael I'll do whatever I can to be helpful to him personally. Nothing to do with the Atlanta Falcons,” Blank said. "He's a human being and I would like to reach out and if I can be productive to him in some way, I would be happy to do that.

"I'd love to see him playing again in the NFL. I would love to see him back in society where he can make a difference and go back to some of these communities and talk to some of these young folks about the impact of choices — choices he personally made about people he was with and choices he made about his own actions. That would be important.”

It will take an owner secure in his own community to sign Vick, knowing there will likely be protests and a public backlash.

It's inconceivable Vick could ever play for the Falcons again. They are moving on. There's a good chance they will make Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan the new face of the franchise and select him with the third pick on April 26.
When asked if he could ever see Vick returning to the Falcons, Blank said, "I don't know that. Right now, he's in a federal penitentiary.”

Blank said Winston told him Vick is "doing well.” Asked if the inmates were giving Vick a hard time, Blank said, "I have no idea. He seems to be okay.”

Blank, who is starting all over with a new coach (Mike Smith), general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) and surely a new quarterback, says he's excited about the team's future. After Vick set his franchise back years, Blank had every reason to throw Vick's letters in the garbage. Instead, he's been glad to hear from him.

"He doesn't want anything,” he said. "He's just talking about his journey, his life and where he is. I was happy to respond to him and give him my thoughts on that. I do wish him the best.”

Vick's trial on state charges in Virginia was pushed back to June 27. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, his projected release date on the federal case, which includes the potential to have his sentence reduced by 90 days for good conduct, is July 20, 2009. That's right before training camps open.

He has been indefinitely suspended by Roger Goodell, who told The News last week he will meet with Vick before determining any further suspension once the quarterback gets out of prison. Goodell likely will suspend him for one season after he is released. If Vick is out next July 20 and Goodell doesn't suspend him for the '09 season and if he doesn't get further jail time — he faces two state felony counts each punishable by up to five years in the Virginia case — then he could be back on the field for the '09 season. And he will be only 29.

But for now, it's pots and pans and playing quarterback for two prison teams in the same game with teammates who have criminal records, not touchdown records. Vick has traded in his No. 7 jersey for a Federal Bureau of Prisons register number with eight digits.

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