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Judge signals Vick can expect a long stay in prison

Michael Vick can't say he wasn't warned.

The man with the little white dog did just that a few months ago when Vick stood before him and admitted that not only did he sponsor dog fights, but also killed some of the losers.

"You're taking your chances here," Judge Henry Hudson told him. "You'll have to live with whatever decision I make."

Vick won't have to wait long to find out what decision that is. A week from Monday he'll go before Hudson again and find out the price he will pay for crimes that horrified dog lovers everywhere.

Unfortunately for the disgraced quarterback, Hudson seems to be one of them.

"You may have thought this was sporting, but it was very callous and cruel," Hudson told one of Vick's co-defendants before sentencing him to 21 months in prison Friday.

Vick wasn't in the courtroom to see two friends sent away to prison. He's already in jail himself, nearing the end of his second week at the Northern Neck Regional Jail, where he enrolled just in time to catch the special Thanksgiving Day feast.

Word travels fast among prisoners, though. And Vick couldn't have been too happy when he learned Hudson apparently plans to live up to his reputation as a hard-line judge in the most famous case he likely will preside over.

Vick was never going to get the maximum five-year sentence, because first-time offenders never do no matter how famous. But Hudson, a bichon frise owner, signaled he won't err on the side of leniency, sentencing Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace to the upper end of federal sentencing recommendations.

Vick's attorneys did well in negotiating a proposed sentence of 12 to 18 months, with federal prosecutors agreeing to recommend the lower end. But the judge is not bound to accept that deal. With Vick already the poster child for animal abuse, you can expect he will be treated even harsher by the judge.

It's not just the prison time that will hurt Vick. The clock is also ticking on whatever chance he has of playing in the NFL again.

A few months could make a big difference for the 27-year-old's hopes. If he gets 18 months he could conceivably be out in time for the 2009 season, but a 24-month sentence would push a possible return date back another year.

Of course, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell likely will impose his own punishment and keep Vick out of the league even longer, but getting out of prison is the first step he must take.

Vick, meanwhile, has even more things to worry about as he ponders the reality of prison life. He faces a possible April 2 trial on similar charges brought in state court against he and his co-defendants, and his financial future is in the hands of another federal judge as he tries to hold onto nearly $20 million in bonuses that the Atlanta Falcons are trying to get back.

The good news is the dogs who once fought for him will now be enjoying the good life. Vick agreed earlier this week to demands from prosecutors to set aside $928,000 to care for the pit bulls seized from the dogfighting operation.

Vick isn't the only big star in trouble these days. Barry Bonds makes his first court appearance Friday on perjury charges, and there could be a number of star players who are dreading the imminent release of George Mitchell's steroid investigation that promises to name names.

But lying and using steroids is one thing. Beating and killing dogs is quite another.

The outcry by the animal protection groups was expected, and the people at the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals applauded Hudson's first sentencings loudly. Vick, though, has been demonized by even the most casual of fans who know little about quarterbacking but understand something about a dog's unconditional love.

Vick and his posse could have robbed and shot up a strip club and few would have cared much as long as he produced on the field. But even football fans have their limits, and electrocuting and drowning dogs crosses them.

It's been a quick and hard fall for Vick, who just seven months ago was more worried about adapting to a new coach than a new prison cell. Fairly or not, he's been made an example for being involved in a disgusting practice that it turns out isn't as rare as we might have hoped.

Someone else without a high-profile name probably would have been put on probation instead of being sent to prison. Someone else wouldn't have faced the possibility of losing their career and their money.

But fame and fortune bring with themselves a different set of rules.

Sitting in a jail cell in Virginia, Vick is finding that out.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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