It's not over for Vick
By Rich Hofmann

BALTIMORE Nearly 100 of them were out there, yelling, carrying signs. More people protested against Michael Vick on the night when he was one of 32 NFL players receiving an Ed Block Courage Award than at any other single event during his season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Almost all of the signs were printable.

Vick's Sick

Not Courageous

Shame on the Eagles!

Michael Vick has no courage!

Electrifying Dogs

Drowning Dogs

Dog Fighting

Since when is this courage?

You get the idea. The lesson is that this is not over. Even after a season with the Eagles, after all the emotions the town experienced at the time of his signing, after everybody got used to seeing him play, after the season wore on and he ended up doing a couple of good things (but only a couple), it is not over.

You look at those people, and you hear the cars driving by and honking in support, and you wonder whether it ever will end.

Vick's response, at a short news conference before the dinner, was an elongated blah, blah, blah. He is "very humbled," but thinks he deserves the award because his teammates thought enough of him to vote for him which pretty much is what he said when the announcement was made. He wants to be a starter in the league next season, and the Eagles know it. He's glad the team is paying him the $1.5 million bonus due him this week and, well, "We'll see what happens."

As they say in court, "Asked and answered, your honor." Or not answered. And blah, blah, blah.

Vick also was on the radio this week in St. Louis, trying to drum up interest there with the Rams, just as he did the other day with the Carolina Panthers. What you are beginning to smell is more than a whiff of desperation. But that's business.

Much more interesting, and unknowable, is what he feels in his heart, what it felt like in his gut when he drove up and saw those people waving their signs and yelling in the street next to the catering hall where they hold this annual function, a banquet to raise money for abused children. It has to be exhausting, the unrelenting negativity he brought upon himself.

What we learned here was that Vick's next team, wherever it is, still will be dealing with protests. The lesson on this night was that any team that takes him on still will need to wrestle with the baggage. The Eagles proved that the problem can be contained and handled, but don't kid yourselves they sweated it and committed untold organizational man-hours to it.

And now they cannot even pretend to tell potential suitors that the problem has vanished with time assuming, of course, that they can find somebody to take Vick off their hands based on the football end of the equation, which still is filled with variables.

From the December day this award was announced, it has been more fascinating than outrageous. His teammates did the voting, after all. (In San Diego, the players voted for Shawne Merriman, he of the steroid suspension, so it isn't a perfect message everywhere.) But in Vick's case, the process has always said more about his teammates than about him, about how they think he has been treated, about their opinion of the severity of the penalties in prison time and in lost millions that he has had to pay for being a confessed dog killer.

Accepting the award was the normal, gracious thing to do especially, again, when you consider that it came from his teammates. Actually attending to the banquet, though, wasn't the best idea. Vick's presence forced organizers to put on a whole extra level of security and also to end a long-standing tradition of having the award winners from each team mingle with the fans before the banquet and sign autographs.

In addition, there was the sideshow outside in the street, either detracting from the event or just distracting everyone for a minute, depending on your perspective but absolutely reminding everyone of Vick's problem with a certain portion of the public.

Most years, the majority of players honored fall into two categories players who overcame great odds to play in the league or guys receiving lifetime NFL achievement recognition from their teammates (such as Brian Dawkins this year from the Broncos). The organization and its cause, named for the former trainer of the Baltimore Colts, are first-rate and the whole thing naturally tends to be all feel-good, all the time.

This year is different, though. It is different because of one man, Michael Vick, and his continuing attempt to rise above infamy. And what was it that Churchill said about this not being the beginning of the end, but maybe only the end of the beginning?