New game in the Vick case: waiting

RICHMOND, Va. -- The word of the day around the federal courthouse here in steamy Richmond on Friday is anticipation. Everyone is waiting now. The Michael Vick saga, it seems, is almost over.

U.S. Marshals indicated that Vick would not be making an appearance at the courthouse on Friday, and weren't setting up barricades for his arrival.

Of course, that didn't stop reporters from camping out in the deli across the street.

It could happen Monday. Maybe Tuesday. But regardless of if and when Vick chooses to accept a deal offered by the government, this much is clear: The endgame seems to have arrived. It's all over but the shoutin'.

Television crews are waiting for the end inside satellite trucks parked in front of the 200-year-old state capitol, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. Defense attorneys for the two co-defendants who pleaded guilty Friday morning ate lunch at the Richmond Marriott. The animal rights protestors are staying put, too, out in front of the building, holding blown-up photos of brutalized pit bulls in case Vick decides to make an appearance.

"We're just waiting and seeing what happens," said Dan Shannon from PETA.

Some reports had a Friday morning deadline being set by prosecutors for Vick to plead and avoid a more serious racketeering charge. That deadline came and went with no word. But one of Vick's attorneys was seen exiting the courthouse Friday morning. Larry Woodward, who was followed across Main Street by a posse of cameramen, declined to comment. But his presence spoke volumes. If the deal isn't done already, negotiations are under way.

On Friday, in a packed federal courtroom, two of Vick's co-defendants, including one of his best friends, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Both agreed to testify against Vick in a trial that seems more and more likely never to happen. Originally, there were four defendants in this federal dogfighting case. Now Vick stands alone. His friends have implicated him in the conspiracy, and as a participant in the killing of dogs.

Quanis Phillips, flanked by two attorneys, stood before judge Henry Hudson first this morning. He has known Vick since they were in middle school together in Newport News, Va. They've been almost inseparable since then. According to a source close to Phillips, he was more concerned that people would think he ratted out his best friend than with the prospect of prison. But after Tony Taylor became the first of the defendants to accept a plea deal, the chances of anyone else beating these charges diminished dramatically.

The judge looked down at Phillips and summed it up succinctly.

"End of the road once you enter a plea of guilty," he said.

Purnell Peace followed Phillips, also entering a plea of guilty. Both men are expecting a sentence of between 12 and 18 months, according to federal sentencing guidelines. However, Hudson has the discretion to make the punishment more lenient or severe. He said on Friday that he was leaning in the direction of severe. The gruesome details in the indictment seem to have horrified him as much as they've horrified many across America.

"There are aggravating circumstances in this case," Hudson said. "No doubt about it."

When it was over, Phillips was taken into custody, where he will remain until sentencing because of a recent failed drug test. Peace was free to leave the courtroom, so he and the two men's attorneys were escorted to a waiting white Ford pickup truck, which rumbled away down Main Street, leaving the crowd with nothing to do but wait on Vick.

Vick is the last man standing; and if the feeling here is correct, he won't be standing much longer. Clearly, he will be facing some time in prison. Then he'll have to see if he can ever play football again. Shannon said PETA is pushing for a ban from the NFL. He said the league is doing what most folks in Richmond are doing.

"So far, they've been pretty mum," he said. "It seems they're waiting to see what's going to happen with Mr. Vick."

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.