PHILADELPHIA â€” Michael Vick’s return to the NFL with the Eagles is getting a mixed reaction in Philadelphia. Some hardcore Philly fans who bleed Eagles’ green were seeing red Friday, a day after the team signed the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback to a two-year deal. Meanwhile, others credited the franchise for giving Vick a second chance after he was convicted for his role in running a dogfighting ring and served 18 months of a 23-month sentence in federal prison.
Opinions of those around Philadelphia were as diverse as Eagles fans themselves.
Because of the Vick signing, Maryanne Aros said her Eagles tickets will go begging this year.
“I’m a die-hard Eagles fan, I was born and raised following the Birds, I have pictures of myself, 3 years old, in an Eagles uniform, it’s the way I bond with my father â€” but I can’t,” said the 23-year-old who was dressed in red Phillies garb as she protested outside the Eagles’ practice facility following Vick’s introductory news conference.
“I can’t go to the games, I can’t watch anymore,” said Aros, who was holding a sign showing pictures of dogfights and asking “Why do (Eagles CEO) Jeffrey Laurie and (president) Joe Banner condone this?”
But a few steps away 33-year-old Christopher Cabrera, of Merchantville, N.J., had outfitted his 4-year-old pit bull Tyson with a makeshift Vick jersey.
“I’m in favor of him getting another chance,” Cabrera said. “What he did was wrong, but everybody deserves a second chance in America. And if everybody was persecuted for the skeletons we don’t know in their closets, everyone would hate everybody, and that’s not the way you’ve got to be.”
Throughout the city, Philadelphia area residents debated the surprise signing of Vick.
“I think he should be in jail,” said 26-year-old David Owens, who was strolling through tony Rittenhouse Square with 5 1/2-year-old Shiloh, a German Shepherd/Labrador mix. “I think he needs psychiatric help; I think it’s an illness. But he shouldn’t be playing sports.”
But 55-year-old artist Rich Bedenbaugh, walking a 2 1/2-year-old Shih Tzu in another part of the park, was more forgiving.
“He served time but he seems like he’s really sorry,” Bedenbaugh said. “He’s a good player. He might take us to the Super Bowl.”
The signing set off arguments on South Philadelphia street corners.
Giovanni Spadea, 63, standing with a group of men outside an Italian coffee shop, said pro sports figures used to be role models.
“Where is the ideal image for the young children today? There isn’t any,” he said. “And all the owners, managers, they should be thinking in the same line. Not everything’s about money, money, money, money.”
Dan Cardi objected, saying: “The guy made a mistake. He shouldn’t be hanged for it. He served his time. I think it’s OK. I love him in Philly.”
Fan reaction stretched far beyond the city limits.
Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue in the Philly suburbs, said the group will be renting three billboards near the Eagles’ stadium blasting the signing of Vick.
Smith said he was stunned while listening to Vick at the news conference.
“I’m really shocked that he’s coming to Philadelphia,” Smith said. “He kept talking about second chances. His dogs didn’t have a second chance. … There are a lot of people out there who deserve second chances more than Michael Vick.”
At least one fan was changing her team allegiance.
“I am horrified and I’m appalled â€” and I am now a New York Giants fan,” said Judy Fox, 49, walking 7-month-old Julius, a dachshund-bichon frise mix, in Center City. “My husband has been a staunch Philadelphia Eagles fan since he was born, and he’s been distraught the whole night.”
Outside the practice facility, Catherine Bordeaux, 38, of South Philadelphia wiped away tears as she imagined her own animals being subjected to the ill treatment.
“I have two pit bull mixes, and I can’t imagine them being electrocuted, tortured, mutilated, killed,” she said. “It’s just repulsive, and to celebrate someone who did that for fun and for money, for six years … It’s just a horrible crime.”
John Derenzi, at another table with a plate of fries, said he had no objection to a team signing Vick but did not think it was worth the grief for Philadelphia.
“It’s a controversy that won’t go away all year,” he said. “Football should be about sports, not politics.”
But Derenzi, who said his family has held season tickets for decades, acknowledged that he would still be at the games â€” and “if they win the Super Bowl, and he has a party, I’ll be cheering him.”
Copyright Â© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.