This story appears in the Sept. 5, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
The Mag's Confidential team interviewed 44 NFL players about Michael Vick, promising anonymity in exchange for candor. Our first question: Do you like Vick? The response: a unanimous yes, the first 100 percent answer we've ever received. Says one player: "I love that he's turned everything into a positive." But not every question was answered with such clarity.
HOW MANY GAMES WILL THE EAGLES WIN?
Vick's colleagues like Philly's odds. The average was 10.4 wins in 2011 -- and that was before the Eagles' free agent spending spree. Many cited Vick and the offense, but a surprising number of respondents went out of their way to mention the Eagles' D. "They'll score points and will probably finish 11-5," a Pro Bowl cornerback says. "But that defense is going to be better than expected. Asante Samuel might be the best player on the team, period."
BIGGEST AREA FOR VICK TO IMPROVE?
Seven players said Vick has no weakness; seven more picked his pocket-passing ability as most improvable. But the top choice, with 21.6 percent of the vote, was that Vick should practice sliding. "The only bad thing you can say about how he plays is that he has to avoid big hits," says a linebacker who's tackled Vick. "Once in a while he stays on his feet too long when it's clear he should have gotten down."
IF VICK HAD APPEARED ON THE COVER OF MADDEN NFL 12, WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN GOOD OR BAD FOR THE NFL?
The league avoided some heat when fans chose Peyton Hillis over Vick for the Madden cover. "That would have been bad," says one AFC QB. "He's not a role model for kids." But most players (76.7 percent) voted "good," saying it would have shown that redemption is alive and well for troubled players. One player had a more bottom-line approach: "Vick would have sold more copies."
AT ONE POINT, VICK SPENT ABOUT $30,000 A MONTH TO SUPPORT FRIENDS AND FAMILY. IS THAT COMMON AMONG NFL PLAYERS?
The short answer is yes (59.1 percent). "A lot of us have people who helped us get to where we are today, so it's no big deal," says one grateful Pro Bowler.
HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU LEND PEOPLE EVERY YEAR?
Average amount: $17,964
WHAT PERCENTAGE WAS PAID BACK?
Players put that number at 10.6 percent, with many saying they've learned that loved ones have a loose definition of a loan. "I used to keep track of all the money I handed out to friends and family," says a veteran AFC safety. "Now I just assume it's not going to be repaid."
GRADE ROGER GOODELL, A+ TO F, ON HOW HE'S HANDLED THE VICK SITUATION.
There weren't a lot of A's (five) or F's (four). The average grade: B-. "I think he did the best he could," says an AFC quarterback, who assigned a B+. "The whole situation was difficult." Another player, an NFC wideout, went with a C. "They made an example of him," he says. "If that had happened with Brett Favre, would the punishment have been the same? I don't think so."
WAS VICK'S 18-MONTH PRISON STAY JUST RIGHT, TOO LONG OR NOT LONG ENOUGH?
The vast majority (58.1 percent) thought Vick was treated unfairly. Five players even pointed to a recent case as supporting evidence: "Look at what happened with Casey Anthony," says a Pro Bowl running back. "I feel like Mike went to prison because he made PETA mad, while other people get away with worse stuff. It's ridiculous."
IF VICK WERE WHITE, WOULD PUBLIC PERCEPTION BE THE SAME, WORSE OR BETTER?
A large number of voters (42.9 percent) felt skin color didn't matter. But an even larger number (57.1 percent) thought it mattered a great deal. "The public's tendency is to want to put black people back where they came from," says an All-Pro DB. "And it was probably a little more so because it was a black QB."
DOES THE NFL HAVE TOO MUCH CONTROL OVER PLAYERS' LIVES?
Almost half (47.7 percent) admit to feeling Big Brothered. "If your bosses can make you pee in a cup anytime they want, that's controlling," says a wideout. The other 52.3 percent were fine with rules, regulations and pee cups. "I get paid enough that they can tell me what to do," says one defender. "That doesn't mean I'll do it. It just means I won't complain."
TRUE / FALSE: DOGFIGHTING IS A BIGGER ISSUE FOR THE NFL THAN PEOPLE REALIZE.
Some players (7.1 percent, to be exact) answered "true." But 92.9 percent said they were as stunned as the rest of the world when Vick was busted -- including one former teammate, who calls himself a friend. "I'd never heard of a football player being involved with dogs like that," he says. "I still have a hard time believing Mike was doing it."
By Anna Katherine Clemmons, Louise K. Cornetta, Jeff Martin, Eddie Matz, Kimberly O'hara, Joe Person, Stacey Pressman and Alyssa Roenigk