In the past month or so, a lot of people have said or written that this Michael Vick mess, coming at the end of more than a year of raging player misconduct, is enough to make them swear off of the NFL for good.
It didn't seem possible, not for the Nonstick Football League. Swearing off Vick was one thing, but not swearing off America's favorite sports league. Yet with accusations as heinous as this, it was worth giving the benefit of the doubt.
Not any more. Long live the NSFL! And so long, Mike, see you in another life, or career.
Late last week, commissioner Roger Goodell, while at the Detroit Lions' training camp, said of the Vick affair: "I don't think it's overshadowing the season. I think our fans are excited about football, but I understand the interest in the story."
The comments were ripped straight from Chapter 1 of the Universal Commissioners' Textbook, repeated in various formats by every league boss in history when scandal breaks.
In this case, though, Goodell had evidence to back him up.
The fury of the nation has turned on Vick, and the NFL has completely eluded the heat. Right in the middle of the daily updates on Vick and his ready-to-snitch co-defendants, fans were slobbering over the start of the exhibition schedule - or, more accurately, accelerating the slobbering that began as the opening of training camps approached.
Atlanta, Vick's NFL home for the time being, is the burning-hot exception; with all the football and societal factors involved, the city might never stop engaging in this. Elsewhere, though, the NFL's offseason of discontent was reduced to a bunch of Pacman, Tank and Bengals punch lines.
And now, as we wrap up preseason Week 3, you can barely keep an argument about the personal-conduct policy, or the concussion problem, or the war between the union and retired players, going for more than a couple of minutes. Not while scrutinizing how the first-team offenses and defenses performed in their one series per game.
Think anyone at M&T; Bank Stadium tonight had to fight the urge to boycott the Ravens-New York Giants game because of Michael Vick?
It's business as usual. Nobody is holding the NFL responsible for the nefarious actions of so many. Not even Vick, even though you'd have to have extra-thick blinders on to believe that he's the only player rubbing up against the dogfighting culture.
Clinton Portis hinted at it, Deion Sanders wrote about it and they both got silenced faster than Frank Pentangeli at the Senate hearings in The Godfather, Part II.
It's not even clear that the NFL is checking into the possibility of dogfighting beyond Vick, the way the NBA is trying to backcheck its refs for gambling problems and baseball is sending former Sen. George Mitchell's investigators out on the trail for steroid cheats.
You can give the NFL some credit for moving relatively quickly to separate Vick from his team, and for otherwise giving the impression that it is doing its own detective work and will act only when his court case is resolved.
But it's not the first league to act this way. The NBA has done the same for years.
Yet if a prominent basketball player ran a stop sign this afternoon, sponsors would be pulling out, ticket orders canceled and columns condemning the league's "thug" mentality published by nightfall.
Not with the NFL. It will come out of this without a mark on its pretty face.
All the welts and scars will be on Vick. Yes, in this very space less than a month ago, it was suggested that if Ray Lewis' career can survive and thrive after what he was accused of, then Vick has a chance to bounce back.
That was before the idea of a plea bargain came up. It's his right to do it, and it might get him back on the field sooner for whichever brave owner takes him on.
But if he thinks this changes the perception of him for the better, he's going to get his feelings hurt badly.
It's hard to imagine what, other than complete exoneration in court (along the lines of, "Oh, it wasn't that Michael Vick, it was this other Michael Vick"), would get him off the hook in the eyes of the public.
What support he had was largely for the idea of giving him due process before the league and his endorsers fled from him.
Without as much as a jury being selected yet, it was possible to think that those allegations weren't true, that his "friends" and other witnesses were ready to lie to save themselves, that the government messed something up.
And, most of all, that a man with so much to lose wouldn't risk losing it all over something this stupid.
Hard to imagine who, under those circumstances, would be willing to accept from Vick, "OK, I did it, but it wasn't as bad as they made it sound, so please welcome me back in a season or two."
Good luck with that.
But if it happens, Vick will return to a league that won't even have missed him, and fans that might have forgotten he had ever been there. Life in the Nonstick Football League will have moved on.
Points after -- David Steele
Wonder if accused drug offenders all over America will start resorting to the Jason Giambi Defense? Judge: "How do you plead?" Defendant: "Guilty - of caring so much about the victims of Katrina that I'm presenting this check for $10,000 to the United Way!" Judge: "Case dismissed."
Too much of this plea bargaining is going to deprive us of an autumn's worth of good, quality criminal nicknames. No more "P-Funk," "Q" or "Baba." It would have been like flipping between The Sopranos and The Wire.
Suddenly, the New York Yankees' final three regular-season games seem sure to have enormous meaning. Those games are at Camden Yards. The Yankees haven't won a series against the Orioles all season. Hmmm ...
After all that drama, 25 years from now we'd better be sitting in a record crowd at Cooperstown wiping away tears during Matt Wieters' induction speech.