struggling, formative years, Michael formed a bond with these guys," says
James (Poo) Johnson, the assistant CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, who has
known Vick since he was seven. "They grew up together wearing the same
clothes, sharing bologna sandwiches and franks, doing everything
Vick often talked
about wanting to get his family out of Bad Newz, the nickname he gave his
hometown (and, later, his kennel and dogfighting ring), but for someone who
talked of escape, he returned often to the old neighborhood. As a student at
Virginia Tech, he drove home monthly, lured by the company of his friends.
"Some of them weren't bad guys," Johnson says, "but they were
opportunity came when Vick was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL
draft and given a contract worth $62 million over six years. (In 2004 he signed
a 10-year, $130 million deal that briefly made him the highest-paid player in
league history.) According to a Vick acquaintance, at times eight or more
neighborhood friends would be at Vick's mansion near the Sugarloaf Country Club
in Duluth, Ga., or at the home in Surry County. Not all lived with him, but a
few became such regulars that they assumed a wide range of semiofficial jobs
and roles. Harris, 35, was Vick's contact person for Nike and his driver in
Atlanta, responsible for getting him to appointments and practice on time.
Reamon, 33, handled Vick's endorsement deal with Atlanta-based airline AirTran
and chauffeured Vick whenever he was in Virginia. Taylor, 34, oversaw the dog
kennel and dogfighting operation in Virginia until 2004, when he was succeeded
by Peace, 35. Phillips, 28, accompanied his close friend almost everywhere. He
had free use of Vick's luxury cars—a Maybach, a Bentley, an Escalade, a
Mercedes—and often sported the same jewelry as Vick and similar clothes.
need to understand is that in a low-income community, you are going to always
have people looking to get a break by latching onto someone with money,"
says Aaron Brooks, the former New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders
quarterback, who is Vick's second cousin and grew up one row of apartments over
in the Ridley Circle projects.
A typical day for
Vick, according to several acquaintances, included being shuttled by Harris to
and from the Falcons' practice facility in Flowery Branch. After practice Vick
would engage his friends in marathon sessions of Madden NFL on PlayStation,
some lasting five hours or more. It was a routine followed not just in Vick's
rookie season, when he was 21, but also up through last season, his sixth in
the league. "Brenda [Vick, Michael's mother] used to tell me every time she
would go to Atlanta: He's got this big mansion down there in Atlanta, and
[Michael] ain't no cook or housekeeper," James Boddie, Vick's grandfather,
told The Washington Post last August. "So he's got a bunch of guys hanging
around all the time, the girls running in and out. So [Brenda] went down there
and cleaned house: 'Everybody just get out! Get out! Get out! You guys are just
sucking up my son's money. You're really not doing nothing for him.'"
But when Brenda
Vick left, the friends quickly returned. Vick became known around the NFL for
his sizable entourage, which accompanied him everywhere. They could be seen
spilling out of a massive limo before him or surrounding him as he moved
through a club, his own Ridley Circle of protection.
Some members of
Vick's entourage had checkered pasts. Davon Boddie had his drug arrest, for
which he received a five-year suspended sentence. Reamon was arrested in 2006
for carrying a Glock through security at Newport News Airport. (The case is
pending.) Taylor was arrested in 1996 for cocaine possession. (It was dismissed
after a year of good behavior and the completion of a substance-abuse
Harris was the
only member of Vick's inner circle willing to talk to SI about his relationship
with the ex--Falcons star. "I'm here to make a dollar for Mike and a dollar
for me," he said. "I've always been a friend first. Business came
second. My friendship with him has made me take more interest in his
friendships, however, also seemed to keep him from connecting with teammates.
Dan Reeves, Vick's coach in Atlanta during his first three seasons, took note
that Vick didn't bond with other players and warned him about his neighborhood
associates after two friends were arrested for drug trafficking in Newport News
in 2004 while driving a car registered to Vick. Karon Riley, a Falcons
defensive end in 2003 and '04, noticed the same and says teammates often found
it difficult to approach Vick. "I remember one day, we were hanging out and
he was real friendly, asking me how I was doing," says Riley. "But then
the next day, Mike walked past me and didn't even look at me."
mentor at the Boys & Girls Club, watched Vick surround himself with buddies
from his old neighborhood and grew worried. "I don't think Michael thought
about the ramifications of what he was doing."