August 21, 2007 -- IT WAS New Orleans, the Su perdome, Jan. 4, 2000, four days after America had waited for a Y2K meltdown that never came. There were 79,280 people inside, watching the national championship football game between Virginia Tech and Florida State, and watching something else, too.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life," Bobby Bowden said that night.
At the time, Bowden had been a head coach for 40 years. He'd seen all of the best football players since an old lineman named Dwight Eisenhower was president. That night, his Florida State Seminoles had battered V-Tech, 46-29, for his second title. Yet Bowden knew no one would be talking about his team the next day.
Not after what Michael Vick had done.
"I've never seen a better one," Bowden said that night, after Vick ran for 97 yards and threw 225 yards and, according to the old coach, "came as close to beating us by himself as any single player ever could."
That was where it started for Michael Vick. Let the record show that it ended exactly 2,785 days later, on Aug. 20, 2007, when Vick finally acknowledged what the rest of the world had already begun to understand, unequivocally: he'd run a dogfighting ring. He'd tortured and killed animals in some of the most cruel ways imaginable, including drowning.
Apologies aren't enough, not now, not after all we've learned, and all we're sure to discover. Not after Vick completes one of the most precipitous falls any public figure has ever had, right alongside Mike Tyson.
Most of the celebrities who have been embroiled in such messiness - O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson - were years removed from the primes of whatever it was that made them famous.
Vick? Starting that night in the Superdome, he was the most visible, the most famous, the most renowned football player alive. The NFL wrapped so much of its present, and its future, around Vick's unique skills. All those carefully crafted blueprints lie rightfully in tatters and ashes now.
Even Tyson had already begun to fade in the boxing ring before sexually assaulting a beauty queen in an Indianapolis hotel room in July 1991. He'd already lost to Buster Douglas. He'd already begun to surround himself with shadows disguised as friends. He was never the same. You could argue that was the greatest justice of all.
Vick will meet the same fate now, and should. The NFL will suspend him officially for at least a year, but its member teams will all but surely extend that unofficially, maybe forever. What team will ever be desperate enough to explain away Vick?
Argue all you like about the fact that NFL teams have long welcomed back the likes of Leonard Little, of the Rams, who in 1998 killed a woman named Susan Gutweiler after driving home drunk from a birthday party.
It is a salient issue, but a separate one. From this day on, Vick's name is poison. It isn't just his freedom he'll soon forfeit. The court will decide when he goes in.
America will take it from there whenever he gets out.