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Vick protesters, fans draw a line outside Falcons camp

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -The road outside the Atlanta Falcons training camp was a dividing line of sorts over Michael Vick, who pleaded not guilty Thursday to dogfighting charges as his team opened up training camp.

On one side of the street were a handful of Vick supporters, wearing the quarterback's jersey and holding signs in support of him. A larger and more vocal crowd stood on the other side, many holding dogs on leashes and waving posters that urged the Falcons to cut ties with the player.

The allegations against Vick have sparked protests by animal rights groups and drawn fans and protesters outside the team's headquarters. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred the player from training camp while the league investigates.

By the start of practice Thursday, the crowd of Vick protesters had grown to about 60 people, many sporting dogs on leashes and gruesome pictures of dogfighting victims.

"I'm an animal lover. I'm a Falcons fan. I love football," said Jan McCord, a demonstrator. "I just don't like the mistreatment of animals."

An organizer with a bullhorn started chanting: "There's no excuse for animal abuse. Sack Michael Vick." Cries of "Let him play" erupted from the group of about 30 Vick supporters across the road.

"I think he's been thrown off the cliff," said Doug Weiss, who was holding a sign that said "Let Vick Play." "I don't care what he does when he's not playing. Let him play. He's not a role model to me; he's a football player."

Adam King, a 23-year-old Falcons fan, held aloft a handwritten sign saying: "Vick is the man."

"I hope he gets out of it. I hope they let him play," King said. "When he gets a sentence, then fine. Everyone's against Vick. He has no support."

The team tried to shield its players from the attention. A truck blasted music outside the practice field that drowned out the chants, and guards at the entrance gates restricted access to the complex.

But the airspace was another story. As the players warmed up, a plane circled overhead carrying a banner that read: "New Team Name? Dog-Killers?"

Some saw a chance for capitalism amid the protest.

Alan McKee, a sign maker who said he was disgusted with Vick, sold T-shirts reading: "Send Ookie to the Pookie," a play on Vick's nickname in the federal indictment. Another proclaimed: "Proud member of the Michael Vick Kennel Club," with the "proud member" part etched out.

"I'm a big Falcons fan, but I've never been a Vick fan. He is what he is," McKee said.

Still, his dislike for Vick wasn't enough to stop him from making a buck. He's also selling $10 shirts to Vick supporters.

"I was even going to make a 'Save Vick' shirt," he said.

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