As Michael Vick appears in a Virginia court to answer state dogfighting charges today, he has reason to hope his aim of one day returning to the NFL could be realized.
Dozens of league-wide interviews conducted by The Associated Press in the last week found a commissioner willing to consider Vick's case and players who would welcome him back.
The trick may be finding a team ready to take a risk on the former quarterback.
'I hope they're prepared to face the dog lovers of America,' Kansas City Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson said of a team that acquires Vick. 'There are going to be a lot of problems. People love their pets, and particularly dogs. There will be protests, people expressing their thoughts - even though he's served his time.
'It will be interesting to see. He will have been out of football a long time,' Peterson added, noting he wouldn't have an interest in adding Vick.
The only NFL team for which Vick has played, the Atlanta Falcons, still has him under contract: He received a record-breaking, $130 million, 10-year deal in December 2004. But Falcons owner Arthur Blank made clear late last month the three-time Pro Bowl selection won't wear that team's uniform again. 'Not only have we turned the page, we've turned the chapter and closed the book,' Blank said.
The AP contacted all 31 of the other NFL teams over the past week to gauge their interest in Vick. While most refused to comment on the record, citing league tampering laws, a half-dozen did not shut the door on the possibility of acquiring him at some stage.
'We investigate everyone,' said Jerry Reese, general manager of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Two NFL front-office officials, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because Vick is still under contract to the Falcons, said some teams probably will consider him - but at a position other than quarterback. Vick's colleagues in helmets and pads are forgiving of him.
'Just like any other American citizen, he deserves a chance to work. I think that's first and foremost, and his employment was football,' Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks said. 'Whatever team decides to give Mike an opportunity, I think that team has to convince the commissioner's office that they have a system in place that's going to help him succeed and move past his mistakes.'
It seems clear that the 28-year-old Vick is counting on being able to persuade teams of two things: that he can play, and that his presence wouldn't be too toxic.
In a filing in bankruptcy court this month, Vick's attorneys wrote that he 'has every reason to believe that upon his release, he will be reinstated into the NFL, resume his career and be able to earn a substantial living.'
Still, Vick could face extra time away from the NFL because of a post-imprisonment suspension handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell.
'The good news is I don't have to make that decision right now,' Goodell said in an interview at his New York office. 'He hasn't finished serving his time, and the legal process isn't completed, and I said he was suspended until that process was completed. And at that point I will make a decision on his ability to play in the NFL.'
That process probably will include a face-to-face meeting with Vick, Goodell said.
As for the considerations that would go into a decision about whether to add to Vick's punishment, Goodell said: 'I'll put it this way: Has he rehabilitated himself sufficiently? Does he understand the consequences of his actions? What would be the impact on the NFL? All of those things.'
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is planning a demonstration for Vick's appearance at Surry County Circuit Court today, when he is expected to plead guilty to two felony counts in a deal with prosecutors that calls for a suspended sentence and probation. The plea would resolve his last pending criminal charges and, his lawyers hope, make him eligible for early release from prison and into a halfway house designed to ease his return to society.
According to the Bureau of Prisons Web site, Vick is scheduled to be released from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., next July 20 - 20 months since he reported in advance of his Dec. 10, 2007, sentencing to begin serving his time.
Vick was convicted of the federal charges in August 2007 when he admitted bankrolling a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in rural Surry County. He also admitted to participating in the killing of several underperforming dogs.
PETA, for one, does not consider Vick's case closed.
'We don't see any way people could cheer for him,' PETA spokesman Dan Shannon said Monday. 'Our view it he's got to do something and get as active fighting against dogfighting as he was participating in it. If he does that, we'll reconsider our position. ... That will determine not just how PETA reacts, but also how the public and the NFL and individual teams react.'
In supporting Vick, several current NFL players brought up other instances of players being allowed back into the league after various legal issues.
'All the opportunities Pacman Jones got, why can't Michael Vick? If a guy gets in trouble repeatedly - which crime is bigger? I don't know,' Dolphins defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. 'I think he should get an opportunity to have a second chance.'
Said former Falcons teammate Alge Crumpler, now with the Titans: 'Somebody's got to give him an opportunity. I've never thought Michael was a bad person. I've never thought he was a detriment to any team. ... He just made a stupid mistake.'
Given that the bottom line in the NFL is winning, if Vick can still play, he just might get that opportunity.
He was once, after all, among the league's most visible and exciting players after being chosen with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft.
'He's got so much talent, it would be a shame if he didn't play again,' Redskins running back Clinton Portis said. 'He can do it - guys miss a year due to injury and come back all the time.'