By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
August 22, 2007
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- Alge Crumpler walked into the crowded room, looked around at all the media and quipped, "We do this once again."
And again and again and again.
The Atlanta Falcons are caught in their own version of Groundhog Day. And, thanks to Michael Vick, it's not likely to end anytime soon.
What happens if Joey Harrington has a poor game? What happens if the Falcons get stuck in a losing streak? What happens if Matt Schaub plays well for the Houston Texans?
All those scenarios lead back to Vick, whose stunning fall from grace has left his one-time teammates facing a season's worth of questions and no chance of scrambling away, as their former quarterback did so many times when faced with a would-be tackler.
"I'd be lying to you if I said we don't watch TV," Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said Tuesday. "I mean, you can't turn the channel without hearing about it."
Even if Vick, as expected, never plays another game for Atlanta, his decision to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges will hang over this franchise all season -- and perhaps for years to come.
Instead of having one of the NFL's most dynamic players, the Falcons must turn over the quarterback position to Harrington, a flop in both Detroit and Miami. There are the inevitable questions about the wisdom of trading Schaub, a highly regarded backup, just weeks before a dogfighting operation was discovered on Vick's property. Finally, there will be major salary cap issues to address as the Falcons deal with the leftovers of Vick's $130 million contract.
"This is unprecedented," Brooking said. "It's never happened before. For us to sit here and try to reconcile that or try to figure it out from Mike's perspective, it's very confusing."
At least the uncertainty is gone. The players who once lined up with Vick know he's gone -- and probably never coming back.
"He's not on the team," running back Warrick Dunn said. "That pretty much makes him an ex-teammate."
Coach Bobby Petrino addressed the situation with his players, gauging their feelings and trying to get a handle on how they wanted to express it.
Some wanted to talk. Some didn't.
"They've got me under a gag order," said outspoken cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a teammate of Vick's at both Virginia Tech and with the Falcons.
Petrino said any gag orders were self-imposed.
"I told them there would be a number of guys today that spoke with the media," the first-year coach said. "Some guys didn't feel like they wanted to. That's fine. I have no problem with that."
Crumpler seemed most passionate about Vick's predicament. They came into the league the same year, and Crumpler quickly emerged as the quarterback's favorite receiver. Now, it looks as though they'll never hook up on other passing play again.
Vick is likely to be sentenced to at least a year in prison -- and perhaps longer -- after he enters his guilty plea next week. He also faces certain punishment from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell under a tougher personal conduct policy that went into effect this year. Vick is expected to miss at least two seasons before he can even think about a comeback.
"Mike is very human," Crumpler said. "I think this whole ordeal has kind of dehumanized him for the last couple of months. But he's hurting. I do know that. That's a fact. He is hurting."
Vick is only 27 and likely to miss some of his best years, but his young age leaves open the possibility that he'll be able to resume his career, even if it's with another team.
His Atlanta teammates hope he'll learn from his egregious mistakes and come back a stronger, better person.
"Michael is loyal to a fault," Crumpler said. "I think that really hurt him in this situation."
The Falcons won't be making an immediate decision on Vick's future, having been asked by the NFL to hold off until the league gets a report from its own investigator.
That hasn't stopped some players from trying to reach out to Vick, offering support as he faces the possibility of a lengthy prison term. Crumpler and offensive tackle Wayne Gandy have both been sending frequent text messages, trying to let the quarterback know that he's not alone.
"It's kind of hard," Gandy conceded. "You don't really know what to say."
"I try to send him a positive note every day," Crumpler added. "I want to make sure he keeps his head up."
Still, there's no getting away from the lurid allegations in the indictment: dogs being electrocuted and drowned when they didn't show enough fighting spirit, some of them reportedly killed by Vick himself.
"It's disturbing, obviously," Dunn said. "That someone of his caliber would be associated with that -- that's the troubling part."
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey