The sentencing of suspended NFL star Michael Vick brought closure to the Atlanta Falcons and their former quarterback on Monday.
Coaches and players are now looking forward to Vick getting back on a positive path.
``I'm just hoping that Michael can take that penalty and move forward and come back, recapture his career and his direction,'' Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy coach. ``It's really too bad because it's another bright figure in our game who is not going to be there for a while.''
Vick, who pleaded guilty in August, was sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy that involved gambling and killing pit bulls. He could have been sentenced up to five years by District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
``It's a very sad day,'' Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. ``It's a closure of a chapter for us in a relationship with a young man who's been a wonderful athlete, who is a wonderful athlete, and somebody who is important to the Atlanta Falcons and the National Football League.''
Dungy and Browns coach Romeo Crennel each said that the Vick case can be used to educate other players about their positions as role models and the ramifications that their actions can have on their family, friends and careers.
``You can point out to your players that you never know what's going to happen, which is why you have to be on top or your game, so to speak,'' Crennel said. ``You know that you represent yourself, your family and the NFL.''
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Eric Green, who like Vick played college football at Virginia Tech, said the case is a startling reminder of how quickly everything can be taken away.
``We can't really take anything for granted,'' Green said. ``That's why we have to be careful of what we do as professionals.''
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Vick remains suspended indefinitely, and the league would evaluate whether he is allowed to play again ``when the legal process was closed.''
Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace, who doesn't know Vick, hopes the quarterback is released early and can return to football. Although there is no parole in the federal system, rules governing time off for good behavior could reduce Vick's sentence by about three months.
``Sometimes you get a bad rap,'' Pace said. ``I know he does a lot of good for the community. It's just a shame that one mistake can kind of tarnish your reputation and your career. But it's just the world we live in as athletes.''
Animal rights groups who gathered at the courthouse in Richmond, Va., were far less supportive of Vick, but said his case has the potential to help their causes.
``People that are involved in this blood sport are on notice. You can throw your life away by being involved in this,'' said John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States.
Added Ed Sayres, president of the ASPCA: ``This is a significant moment in the history of animal cruelty prosecution, and sends a clear message to criminals everywhere - that this kind of gross and barbaric cruelty to animals will not be tolerated.''
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said Vick's case is simply one of ``a good person with a good heart who used bad judgment and made mistakes.''
``He understands that,'' Beamer said. ``What I think is good about today is we have a time frame for him to pay for his mistakes. Now, it's time for him to continue working to get his life back in order. I've got every hope and belief that's what is going to take place, and that we will have a successful end to this story.''

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