Len Pasquarelli on the indictments coming down yesterday …
Still, whether it was natural arrogance or the misperception he was beyond the reach of the investigation, Vick was blindsided by Tuesday's news, as was his coterie of advisors. Only 10 minutes before the news of the indictments broke, we were on the phone with a Vick confidant who didn't know what was to transpire. "This is going to be a test for Michael, that's for sure," the person acknowledged later in the evening.
But not only for Vick.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank, still out of the country Tuesday, faces a test of loyalty. Vick has been at times like a surrogate son to Blank, who has been often criticized locally for what is perceived as preferential treatment of his quarterback. But there came a point, perhaps when Blank awarded Vick a record $130 million, when the tenor of the relationship changed. Blank is all about image and, more than the dollar sign attached to Vick, it is the stigma his star could
potentially carry that may concern him most.
Goodell certainly faces a litmus test, given the sanctions he has already levied against players such as Tennessee cornerback Pacman Jones, Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry and former Chicago defensive tackle Tank Johnson. It should be pointed out, however, that, unlike the players suspended by Goodell to this point, Vick is not a repeat offender in the eyes of the NFL. His actions at times have been offensive, but have never earned him a demerit under Goodell's stewardship. So the Tuesday indictments, in and of themselves, may not be grounds for action by the commissioner.
That said, Goodell will be under intense pressure from many quarters, given the unsavory nature of the charges, to do something. It's hard to fathom that a player who has been a poster boy of sorts for the NFL, certainly the face of professional football in this city, might now be rendered the subject of a mug shot.
But make no mistake, guilty or not, Vick is a marked man in the eyes of many. Already the most polarizing sports personality in the city, sometimes along racial lines, he figures to be a divisive figure and an easy target even at homes games now. The notion of dogfighting stirs repulsive passion even in those who don't carry a PETA or Humane Society membership card around. The electrifying Vick is soon to be zapped by the catcalls of those who have already made up their minds about him.
His arduous offseason issues aside, the 2007 season figured to be a tough test for Vick, who will be playing for a new, more demanding coach and in a new offense in which the standard is a 65 percent completion rate. That's a lot to heap on a guy who has yet to evolve into a complete quarterback, who doesn't handle change well, and who owns a career completion mark of less than 55 percent.
But all of those elements combined don't equal the kind of pressure Vick will now confront under the scrutiny of federal officials and fans who believe the legal authorities unearthed more than just dog carcasses as part of their investigation.
Able to stay above the fight to this point, Vick is suddenly at the center of it, and he will be battling not only for his career but also for his reputation.
John Clayton has more …
The Falcons put all of their hopes for 2007 in the hands of Michael Vick. Despite Tuesday's indictment of Vick in a Virginia dogfighting probe, the Falcons have no choice but to stand by him. The reason: Atlanta traded Vick's possible replacement, Matt Schaub, to Houston. At the time, it seemed to be the wise thing, and an indictment doesn't necessarily make that situation any different.
Owner Arthur Blank hired Bobby Petrino to make Vick a better quarterback. The owner believes Petrino's imaginative college style could be creative enough to make Vick a more accomplished thrower. Vick's dedication in spending extra time working at the team facility this offseason gave Blank hope that his plan was correct.
The problem facing Vick and the Falcons now is the case, which could consume most of the season, and could bring down the team. Blank must presume Vick is innocent and let the legal process take its course. Commissioner Roger Goodell must do the same. Vick must be treated as a first-time offender in the league's new conduct policy, so he must be found guilty or admit guilt before the commissioner can suspend him.
While standing by Vick appears to be the short-term solution, there should be no doubt 2007 is the beginning of the end of the Vick era in Atlanta. Blank is a businessman who espouses high principles. Vick is the face of the franchise and a sports icon in the Southeast. Whether he's guilty or innocent, Vick would have to prove the federal government made a major mistake in indicting him to salvage his reputation throughout the area.
Cases such as these are hard to prove. Nevertheless, whatever evidence is presented against Vick is going to cause permanent damage. Dogfighting is an illegal and disgusting sport. A sports star can't be linked to such activity. Watch how fast sponsors and advertisers bail on Vick now.
From the football side, though, Petrino and Blank must let Vick report to training camp and be the starter for this season. Joey Harrington is the backup. While Harrington did some good things in resurrecting his career in Miami, he is not going to make the Falcons a playoff team, and Blank and Petrino aren't going to accept anything less than a playoff trip.
With the indictment hanging over him, though, Vick can't go into seclusion. He'll be asked questions about the case at every news conference. For now, the 2007 season belongs to Vick. But one gets the feeling it's going to be an ugly ending to an era in Atlanta sports that started with so much promise.
Rangers Win Again …I am not joking. They just keep winning!
The Rangers are climbing out of the cellar on the backs of the Athletics.
After Texas' 11-4 whipping of Oakland on Tuesday night, just 2 1/2 games separate the two teams in the American League West standings going into today’s third and final game of the series at McAfee Coliseum.
Tuesday, the Rangers pounded out 15 hits -- five of them by Michael Young, who also drove in three runs -- and took advantage of eight walks issued by the A's and two Oakland errors.
“We did a lot of everything tonight,” said Mark Teixeira, who reached base five times on four walks and a hit by pitch. “We got some big hits when we needed to. They helped us out, definitely -- they walked too many guys and didn’t make some plays, but we capitalized.”
Young was the most conspicuous member of an offense that seemed to generate base runners at will Tuesday night. He doubled twice, giving him three extra-base hits in two nights after he went a month without one.
“I like to get as many hits as I can obviously, but the fact that it came in a win where everybody really contributed is the most important thing,” Young said.
The Rangers have won 18 of their last 28 games, and the A's have lost nine in a row. Young and Teixeira both said they wouldn't take any special satisfaction in moving into third place.
“I'm pretty sure if you ask the A's, 'How does it feel to be in third?'” Young said, “they're probably not very happy about it. I'm not going to say we're going to take any joy in being in any spot other than first, and I'm pretty sure all four teams in the division feel that way.”
Dumbest premise for a column all day? Try this one:
Chicago Columnist is down on Cuban buying the team because he is a Pirates fan? …And then compares the Pirates-Cubs rivalry to Packers-Bears? Wow. I am embarrassed for him.
Next season, if Cuban really does own this team, Kendall could be one of the few Cubs he could name.
Do you fans still believe Cuban is your man? The same Cuban who on July 15, 2005, said: "It absolutely killed me to sing 'root, root, root for the Cubbies.' I asked the broadcasters if anybody had ever put in the other team."
Of more than 22,000 readers who voted in a Tribune online poll, roughly 75 percent said this is the guy they would like to buy the Cubs next.
A guy whose favorite team is a rival team in the Cubs' own division.
"I am a huge Pirates fan," Cuban told reporters after leaving the TV booth at Wrigley that day. "I'm a Pittsburgh fan."
Len Kasper was one of the Cubs' broadcasters at that game. He can't recall Cuban saying any of this.
"I just remember that he was a great guest," Kasper said before Monday's game at Wrigley.
Ron Santo, as die-hard a Cubs fan as you can find, was asked if he cares if the Cubs are sold to someone who doesn't care about the Cubs.
"No," Santo said. "My feelings on this are very simple. The commissioner, Bud Selig, is the best I've ever seen. He knows how important the Cubbies are. There are going to be quite a few bids on this ballclub, and he'll make the right decision."
Suppose the high bidder is some fellow who doesn't follow the Cubs at all but is interested in them strictly as an investment or a hobby?
"That's what it is when you're talking about a billion dollars," Santo said.
Right you are, Ronnie, but just the same, let's run that Tribune online poll one more time, OK?
This time, word it this way:
Question: "Should the Cubs Be Sold to a Man Who's Not a Cubs Fan?"
Would you want the Bears to be sold to a Wisconsin billionaire who is a rabid Packers fan?
How should/would Cubs fans handle a Bonds record-breaking Home Run ball? …
Here is the decision confronting every roof-dweller, ballhawk and bleacher bum this week: keep a historic home run ball hit by a disliked opposing player, or keep with Wrigley Field tradition and throw it back?
Opinion is divided along the stadium’s back wall. On one side of that wall are the bleacher bums who say they would throw a Bonds home run ball right back in his face. And on the other side are the ballhawks who say they would treasure it for life.
The hawks and the bums make up two different breeds of Cubs fan. The bums are loyal to the team first and the home run balls second. The hawks are just the opposite. They are here for the souvenirs, and if the team wins, it is simply a bonus.
While the bums lounge in the outfield seats, with sunscreen and Budweiser, the hawks camp out on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, with mitts and transistor radios. They change position based on wind patterns, pitching matchups and hitters’ tendencies.
When the Giants came to town Monday, the ballhawks made out their scouting reports on Bonds. They took into account that he had been stuck on 751 home runs for two weeks and was nursing sore legs, which kept him out of the starting lineup in the first two games of the series.
“I’m playing him to left-center field,” said Dave Davison, one of the lead ballhawks. “He’s been in a slump, so I think he’ll try to go the opposite way a few times.”
Davison said he had caught 109 home run balls, including one from Bonds, and had not thrown any back onto the field. To escape the wrath of the bleacher bums sitting above him, he always carries an extra ball, which he fires back in place of the real one.
“Sometimes they know it’s a fake,” Davison said. “They’ll cuss you out for a few innings. They’ll throw beer at you. But giving away a home run ball is foolish.”
Occasionally, the ballhawks do cross over and actually watch a game inside Wrigley Field. Last season, when the Giants came to town, a noted ballhawk named Wes Wagner scored tickets in the first row of the bleacher boxes in right field.
Wagner did not catch a home run ball from Bonds, but someone in his section did. As the bleacher bum wound up and started to launch the ball back onto the field, Wagner grabbed his throwing arm. “Stop!” Wagner said he yelled. “You can’t do that!”
Wagner pulled another ball out of his pocket and let the bum throw it on the field instead, allowing him to save face in front of his friends. “You’ve always got to have that other ball on you,” Wagner said. “Otherwise, you’ll have a thousand people booing you.”
Of course, to the truly dedicated bleacher bums, throwing back the wrong home run ball is equivalent to treason. Standing at the top row of the left-field bleachers on Monday night, Randy Larson tried to envision catching Bonds’s 752d home run.
“I could not keep that,” Larson said. “I’d throw it right back on the field.”
At the top row of the right-field bleachers, the response was basically the same. “If it was the record home run, 755, it might be different,” Kurt Ahrens said. “But for 752, I’d probably either throw it back or I’d throw it at those Giants fans over there.”
Tomorrow, the Open opens…. Bill Nichols looks at Carnoustie …
Phil Mickelson arrived at Carnoustie Golf Links early enough to get in three practice rounds before playing last week's Scottish Open. He and coach Butch Harmon devised game plans based on three wind directions.
Masters champion Zach Johnson always plays the John Deere Classic the week before the British Open, so he is usually scrambling. He got here in time to play a practice round Tuesday, but his clubs missed the connecting flight at London Heathrow. He used a replacement set until they arrived.
While at home in Florida, Tiger Woods practiced low shots and worked on moving the ball left to right and right to left.
"You're trying to get where your mechanics are very sound and you can maneuver the golf ball either way in any trajectory you want," Woods said.
Americans have won 10 of the last 12 British Opens, including three by Woods, who is going for his third straight.
But the British Open is the most difficult major for them to prepare for. Course conditions are much different and require playing different types of shots than on the PGA Tour.
Also, the rotation of courses doesn't allow much familiarity. For instance, it has been eight years since Carnoustie's last Open.
Brit journalist examines how Beckham and his mates are getting along …
Much has been made of whether the former England captain would settle to life in Los Angeles, though it remains to be seen whether the Galaxy are ready for the Beckhams. The 32-year-old was presented to a wide-eyed dressing room at the Home Depot Center last Friday. Since then an ankle problem sustained in Spain has limited Beckham's ball-work to close-range kickabouts with the other players recovering from injury. "I got to work with him and he's a really down to earth guy," said Kyle Veris. "It's nice to have him as part of the team."
Veris is in his final year as a developmental player with the Galaxy, a rookie who joined the club straight from Ohio State university as the equivalent of a British YTS scholar. Beckham is guaranteed some $6.5m (£3.2m) over his first year in the MLS. Veris, a powerful central defender, has represented the first-team regularly and earns $17,700-a-year (£8,600), $100 less than his new team-mate collects in a single day. Indeed, he has found himself having to seek financial support from his parents as he waits on his pay cheque.
"We accept him for what he is, and it's just an honour to play with the man," said
Veris. "It's all jokes in our locker room. Nobody takes anything too seriously. We want to gel and become like a big group of friends, to have a few barbecues and all just hang out to become a nice group, so the wage thing is not an issue. There's no jealousy. I've been watching him from his young days at Manchester United so, for me, it's just an honour to be in the same team."
"I don't go to my parents as much as I could. It's really more about budgeting, but the [Galaxy] organisation also helps me with paid appearances around the city. Going to my parents is my last resort if I'm stretching it before the next cheque, but this is my last year on a development contract so I'm just trying to keep playing and stay healthy."
"Nobody cares about the money," said Landon Donovan, whose locker is next to Beckham's in a part of the changing room now christened "Rodeo Drive". "When he shows up and plays, and does what we know he can do, nobody will care."
The Galaxy players have been anticipating Beckham's arrival for five months. Now that he is here, they have been surprised by the superstar in person. Veris described him as "very humble". Peter Vagenas apparently felt encouraged enough to stride up to his fellow midfielder and ask: "Who are you again?"
Michael Vick Comedy