Vick Hasn't Fallen As Far As Rose and Simpson

The Michael Vick dog fighting story, a tale of man's inhumanity, has incited the public like few other entries in the athletic story line, and it's a very snappily edited piece, too. We went al

Aug 29, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Jerry Dowling

The Michael Vick dog fighting story, a tale of man's inhumanity, has incited the public like few other entries in the athletic story line, and it's a very snappily edited piece, too.

We went all the way from the cops busting Vick's cousin for drugs to Vick pleading guilty of dog fighting charges in four months. That's only twice as long as The Bronx Is Burning. Vick will be at the judge's mercy before Billy Martin gets his contract extension.

Many are angry with Vick, but the facts are coming in so fast that one withholds outrage to contemplate a more immediate response to events, which is dumbfoundedness.

A young, handsome, athletic man making $13 million a year could have turned his game up a notch, taken the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl and won it, and then he would have owned Atlanta, the Deep South and all of America. Football people have waited for it to happen, wondered why it wasn't happening and sometimes even took jabs at Vick's slow progress as a pocket quarterback. Turns out he was too busy hanging dogs.

As falls from grace go, Vick's dog fighting case still is a long way short of the O.J. Simpson double murder saga or Pete Rose's banishment from baseball. But no one has died on the cross of keeping it real like Michael Vick, and that's why he couldn't make it real.

Unlike Rose or Simpson, Vick didn't rise nearly as high, nor will he fall nearly as low.

Rose won more games and knocked more hits than any player in baseball history, and now baseball is loath to mention his name. Since admitting that he bet on baseball, he isn't even a thorn in the commissioner's side.

Rose is a tragedy. For a guy who grew from legendary crudity to commanding presence of mind in front of cameras and journalists, he never thought through how seriously baseball takes gambling.

Figuring Rose spent about four hours per day in big league club houses 215 days per year during baseball season, times his 27 years, then dividing by 24 (the hours in a day), we come to 967 1/2 days, which means Rose spent going on three full years of his life inside big league clubhouses.

Every single one of those clubhouses hung a sign on a wall that said betting on baseball is career suicide. It just didn't compute. Then he made bookies wait for money and crossed his errand boy — and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, if you missed Simpson on Monday Night Football in the 1970s, you might have caught him later in the week on Here's Lucy. There he was running through the airport on a Hertz commercial. This guy really had it.

Simpson appeared in The Towering Inferno and Roots. No African-American athlete had ever been merchandized on such a large scale.

Simpson came on the new color TV set fully loaded for football glory and popular stardom, a generous blend of size, speed, balance, good looks and feel-good poise before the camera. No player ever won a Heisman Trophy with as little debate as Simpson in 1968, and no other NFL running back ever ran for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season.

Many days passed between Simpson's day in the sun and his day in court, when he introduced America to the dizzying effects of 24-hour cable news. From his freeway ride through Los Angeles in the white Bronco to the Hollywood cast of racist cops, lost souls and "Dream Team" defense attorneys at his trial, Simpson showed America a new window on the relationship between money and justice.

America became just a little more cynical. But no American is more cynical than Simpson, who escaped his criminal trial for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend and has since paid almost none of the civil damages awarded to their families.

Today he lives a pathetic, revulsive kind of freedom as a wandering playboy pariah on a protected NFL pension, utterly untouchable by any respectable enterprise.

Simpson has gone so far as to write a book entitled If I Did It, which is supposedly a first-person — but fictional — account of the double murder as it would have occurred had he done it. Public outrage convinced the publishers to destroy the books last year, but it's back under financial arrangements designed to benefit the victims' families.

Desperately committed to finding the real killer, Simpson followed the clues to Louisville on the weekend of the Kentucky Derby this year and sat down to dinner at Jeff Ruby's restaurant with a party of a dozen people. Ruby told him to leave, saying, "I'm not serving you." And Simpson left quietly, saying he understood.

Simpson fell from the leading celebrity and individual achiever in his game to unacceptable presence in a fine restaurant. Rose fell from certain Hall of Famer to forgotten man. Both met their demise in their forties.

Vick isn't even near the scale of Rose or Simpson. He never rose to athletic immortality, nor has he sold out his game or walked away from a double murder accusation.

Unlike Simpson and Rose, Vick stood up and said he did it. Based on the sentencing guidelines, he'll turn 30 about when his life restarts. He still has a chance.

Of course, Vick already had a chance and blew it. By the time the next chance comes along — and it will — perhaps he'll know how to make it real.

contact bill peterson: letters(at)