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A boss betrayed

Falcons' Blank deeply saddened by Vick's demise

Posted: Monday August 20, 2007 8:57AM; Updated: Monday August 27, 2007 12:42AM
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Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said he believes Michael Vick lied to him about involvement with dogfighting.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said he believes Michael Vick lied to him about involvement with dogfighting.
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Here I am with one of the richest men I've ever met, and I almost feel sorry for Arthur Blank. Almost. Not quite, but almost.

At halftime of the Bills-Falcons game on Friday night, I got an audience with Blank to talk about the circus known as Michael Vick. Now, you can blame Blank for a few things in this saga. He should have investigated Vick's background more thoroughly before handing him a $130 million contract two years ago. He shouldn't have been wheeling Vick around Texas Stadium in a wheelchair when he had a broken leg bone three preseasons ago. He should have been more skeptical about Vick's claims he had nothing to do with dogfighting when he confronted his franchise player earlier this year.

But Vick was the star of the show, and Blank ate it up, even when the star did some embarrassing things. Blank -- if you gave him sodium pentathol this morning -- would probably admit he hero-worshiped a little too much with Vick and took his word blindly, when deep down he probably had some of the same suspicions the public had about Vick.

Here's why the Home Depot founder (who, according to Forbes, is worth $1.3 billion) gets a sympathetic ear from me: He did everything for Vick and got kicked in the groin.

"It hurts,'' he said, standing in the back of his owner's box at Ralph Wilson Stadium and looking legitimately hurt, not just giving some somber look for the cameras, of which there were none at the moment. "I'm very distressed. We're all very distressed.''

When Blank bought the Falcons five years ago, he inherited Vick, the first pick in the 2001 draft. He tried to make the team better, signing Warrick Dunn for insane money that first offseason and telling Dunn he intended to help him as much as he could with the player's numerous charitable ventures. The Falcons have been free-agent leaders of the pack ever since Blank took over.

Around the Falcons facility in the spring, when it's free-agency season, Blank is known as The Closer. In 2004, he went to dinner with Raiders' free-agent Rod Coleman in Atlanta as the defensive tackle mulled free-agent options. Coleman is from Philadelphia. He told Blank he was probably going to sign with the Giants, and, in fact, he'd very nearly finished the deal with them that afternoon in New Jersey. He'd be a two-hour drive from home, Coleman explained, after being on the West Coast for the first five years of his career.

Blank knew this was going to be a part of the recruitment. "Let me show you something,'' Blank said, whipping out a flight guide. See? Blank said. There are 22 nonstop flights from Atlanta to Philly every day; you'll be home from Atlanta just as fast as it'd take you to drive the two hours from Giants camp to the Ben Franklin Bridge." Blank outbid the Giants anyway, and Coleman signed.

In 2005, Blank built a five-building complex -- four dormitories, one common building with a pool table, video room and other big-kid fun things -- to house the team during training camp at their 50-acre training site 40 miles north of town. "The guys should be comfortable at camp,'' he said. Each unit had huge beds, Internet access, cable hookup, a small kitchen, big couches. This was not your father's training camp. I remember talking to Vick the day I toured the place. He told me how much the players appreciated Blank going the extra mile for them in building the housing.

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