THERE WERE NO protesters outside the Eagles' practice facility on the second day that Michael Vick practiced. A beefed-up security presence appeared to be a little less beefy. But it is early yet. The Eagles know this well.
After the initial storm, there has been some time now for reflection. There would appear to be three ways that the Vick experiment could fail:
One, if Vick disgraces himself off the field, or does not successfully engage in the process of building a relationship with the animal-rights community so that he might use his notoriety for good - a notoriety forever etched in the public consciousness by his guilty plea to charges of killing dogs and bankrolling a dogfighting operation.
Two, if Vick is an ineffective player on the field. This is about football, after all, and everyone knows it. All of the rhetorical pretzels that were twisted last week were because the guy is presumed to have a special ability. And, well, he had better.
Three, if the opponents of this move put so much public pressure on the Eagles' corporate sponsors that the financial implications are such that the team decides it cannot afford to continue.
The first two ifs will remain that way for a while. The first test will be financial - specifically, how much pressure might be put on the Eagles' sponsors. The club Web site lists 44 "corporate partners," including the Inquirer and Daily News. That list was briefly removed from the site, it was reported on Saturday, but it has returned. Club president Joe Banner said yesterday that he has no idea if or why the list came down, however briefly.
"I would say that about a half-dozen sponsors called on Friday," Banner said. "One thing they wanted to do was find out what our thinking was. Another thing they said was that they wished we could have given them a heads-up so that they could have prepared their corporate communications people.
"We will continue to talk to our corporate sponsors. We will reach back out to them. A couple have issued statements so far. As far as I know, nobody was angry and nobody threatened to cancel. But some did want to understand our thinking, and we spent some time with them."
Banner said that, overall, the team is encouraged by the response it has received from fans. But he would only be guessing about what might be coming.
The fan base is divided on the issue - that is undeniable. But the Eagles' experience mirrors that of a nonscientific poll that was prominently played on Philly.com for about 20 hours after the signing of Vick was announced. The votes, more than 35,000 of them, were almost exactly split, for and against the move - but Vick's numbers improved throughout Friday, after he spoke at a news conference along with Andy Reid and Tony Dungy, and followed later by club owner Jeffrey Lurie.
"I would say that the e-mails and voicemails and phone calls to the ticket office were about split - a lot for and a lot against," Banner said. "Since Vick spoke, since Jeff spoke, since Andy spoke again on Friday, the reaction did turn. There has been a very dramatic sense of, 'Let's see. Let's give it a chance.'
"As of the other day, a total of three people - between all of the season ticketholders and club-seat holders - asked for refunds. We asked them to let things settle down for a few days, and to give us a call back if they still feel that way."
But it has all just begun. There are people with the team who are anticipating the possibility of some kind of demonstration at the Eagles' exhibition game Thursday night in Indianapolis. After that, Vick could play in his first game on Aug. 27 at Lincoln Financial Field. And on from there.
How big will it be? No one knows. But Banner is a financial guy and he said yesterday that he did think about the negative financial implications of a Vick signing before the move was made.
"We went into it knowing that there would be no guarantees here," Banner said. "That's one of the ironies, because of the way some people perceive us [as being cheap]. Because we know that, if anything, financially, this could be a losing move. Maybe it will be neutral - that's what we hope. But it will not be a winning financial move.
"So far, our hope - that it would be neutral - has a good chance of coming through," he said. "But I fully realize that this is early. This situation is not nearly over - and we made the decision knowing that it was part of the risk."
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