More fans weigh in on Vick

As they walked through the door at the Modell's Sporting Goods on Snyder Avenue yesterday, the first sight to greet customers was the letters V-I-C-K, in white on a black Number 7 Eagles jersey.

John Calabro walked up and grabbed one of the replicas, holding it up to gauge whether the medium top with the controversial name on the back would fit his 12-year-old son.

"He'd be disappointed if I didn't get him one," Calabro said. "He didn't ask for one, but I know he'd want it."

Calabro and his son were watching the Eagles' preseason game Thursday night when word came that the team had signed Michael Vick, the quarterback who returned to football yesterday by participating in his first practice since serving prison time for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

As for buying a jersey bearing the name of a man now despised by many for his role in killing dogs, Calabro said that was an argument fueled by adults and did not concern his son.

There was no shortage of opinions, as Vick fans and critics weighed in on a debate revolving around two beloved facets of American culture - dogs and football.

Joanne Branco eyed the racks of green-and-black Vick jerseys and said she would never buy one.

"I don't like the idea that he was so cruel to the animals, and I don't think he should get a second chance," she said.

But her grandson Salvatore said he plays quarterback and loves to run with the ball - just like Vick.

"I love animals just as much as her. I don't think what he did was right, but I like him as a player," Salvatore, 12, said.

Would he want a Vick T-shirt?

"I would have to see how he did first," Salvatore said.

As for her vow not to buy Vick gear, Branco conceded, "he could probably talk me into it because he's my grandson, but I wouldn't be too happy about it."

Another shopper, Caprice Pulliam, said that if Vick was trying to "get his life together, you should give him a second chance."

Store manager Paul Usher said inquiries about Vick jerseys started coming in Friday, a day after he signed. By early yesterday dozens of his jerseys hung from racks, adult versions going for $79.99, youth sizes for $49.99. Vick T-shirts cost about $20.

Several customers and even a salesperson marveled at how quickly the merchandise got to the floor.

Meanwhile, outside the Eagles' practice facility, some fans wondered how quickly Vick could get to the end zone.

His supporters talked about second chances, forgiving mistakes and the Super Bowl.

"We know the guy did wrong, but we've got to give him a second chance, and he's a hell of a football player," said Bob Velez, who drove from Bethlehem to support the Eagles' newest player.

"True Eagles fans support him. I mean true fans," Velez said. He said many of the critics "don't know anything about football."

Brian Joell talked about the excitement Vick would bring to the team. He said he had two dogs and believed what Vick did was wrong. But he said Vick had been punished with time in federal prison and seemed sincere in his apologies.

"Now he's back. Let the man try to get himself together," Joell said.

Eight to 10 fans were out supporting Vick, including John McCann, who held a sign that read: "Let Hate Go Let Vick Throw."

Nearby, a similar number of protesters, some with their dogs, held signs, such as one reading: "Hide Your Beagle Vick's an Eagle" and "Too Many VickTims."

"Did those animals get a second chance? There's no way for them to get a second chance. They're dead," Angela Segal said.

Michael McCall was out with his pit bull, Kool, who wore an Eagles T-shirt with a line through the team name.

"We're just here to stick up for the dogs. They can't stick up for themselves," McCall said.

Mike Melograna was there with his mixed-breed dog, Nanook.

"What [Vick] did - it's inexcusable and unforgivable," Melograna said.

The protests outside the Eagles' practice fields were mild-mannered, with just a handful of supporters and detractors on either side. Once practice began, most dispersed.

Some fans tried to peek at the practice through a fence and foliage that ringed the field but were told to back off by Eagles security.

At least one person shouted, "Dog killer!" as he walked away.

 


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 609-989-9016 or jtamari@phillynews.com.

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