The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
For sale: The house that Michael Vick built
DULUTH, Ga. - For sale: the remains of an American success story gone horribly wrong.
On a peaceful cul-de-sac in Atlanta's prosperous northern suburbs, a behemoth of a home sits empty and lifeless at 2927 Darlington Run. Four towering columns greet those who enter through a double set of thick, wooden doors. Out back, an idyllic lake laps at the edge of the yard. Within the walls, all the telltale signs of wealth and luxury - a pool room, a movie theater, an indoor golf range, assorted-sized statues of black panthers throughout.
This was Michael Vick's abode, a stucco-and-gated-community testament to his amazing rise from the rough streets of Virginia to NFL superstar.
But Vick's spectacular career was sacked by a dogfighting scandal. While he sits behind bars, serving out the remainder of a nearly two-year sentence, his three-storied former house - now eerily quiet - is about to go on the auction block.
The proceeds from Tuesday's sale, which requires a minimum bid of $3.2 million, will help pay down the quarterback's gargantuan debts. That's the cold, hard business of bankruptcy.
But before the title to eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and a four-car garage passes off to a new owner, it's worth taking one last look at a most tangible monument left by this former star, a once-in-a-generation athlete who had it all before hubris brought him down.
Come on, let's show you around.
The first impression is stunning. Two curved staircases bend gently along the walls on each side of the enormous foyer. A glistening chandelier - which, real estate agent Lance Hempen points out, can be lowered on a winch for cleaning - hangs from beneath a domed ceiling.
It looks like something out of "Gone With The Wind," with a dash of Versailles thrown in for good measure.
"One thing you'll notice is the detail of the trim work and tray ceilings throughout the whole house," said Hempen, who works for Funari Realty. "They really did some great work in here."
The foyer empties into an even larger living room, which has a flat-screen television mounted above the fireplace and three rows of windows, stacked one on top of the other, providing a view of the lake where Vick and his buddies once fished, or used as the target for striking golf balls.
Step to the left into another living room (c'mon, no self-respecting millionaire would have only ONE formal living room), which empties into a large kitchen with all the expected conveniences. Top-of-the-line appliances such as Thermador, Bosch and Sub-Zero. Those little extras, too, including a warming drawer and vegetable steamer. Not that cooking was Vick's thing.
"The kitchen is not the biggest and best gourmet kitchen," said Hempen, almost sounding apologetic. "It's got everything you need, but it's not a cooker's kitchen, per se."
But the "board room" - a two-storied, dark-wooded enclave - looks as though it's ready to host a Fortune 500 meeting. There's a large conference table in the middle, and two full floors of intricate bookcases. This is where Vick kept his sporting prizes.
Now, the shelves are barren.
"I remember coming in here for the first time," Hempen said. "We met with his associates here at this table. It was quite an experience. At that time, all of this room was decorated with his sports memorabilia. ... It was kind of neat seeing all that stuff. He had balls signed by a lot of different sports stars.
The master bedroom is also on the main floor, featuring a huge sunken tub, a shower that doubles as a steam room, a small closet devoted strictly to Vick's shoes, and a massive two-room closet where he kept the rest of his attire.
"His girlfriend had a small corner over here," said Hempen, stepping inside. "But everything else was his."
The triple-tray ceiling is adorned with recess lighting that creates a mesmerizing effect after dark. There's also a double-sided fireplace facing both the canopied bed and a small sitting room that apparently was very popular with Vick and his buddies. This is where they hung out, playing video games and watching TV with the lake at their back.
"He had a piece of furniture in here that was one of the ugliest things I've ever seen," Hempen said. "It was a giant elephant table."
That particular piece has been shuffled off to a closet downstairs, so as not to scare off potential buyers, but the thin-legged chairs that used to surround it left behind permanent pocks in the carpet, thin grooves that look as though - could it be? - they were made by scratching dogs.
"Yep, I've gotten that question," Hempen said. "But that's not it."
Upstairs, there are four large bedrooms, each accompanied by its own bathroom. One is decorated for a child, a Minnie Mouse doll still resting on the small bed. This is where Vick's young daughter slept, a sobering reminder that even those who had nothing to do with that grisly dogfighting operation up in Virginia were affected by the case.
And the rest of those rooms? Hotel Vick apparently had few vacancies.
"There was a crew, an entourage," Hempen said. "These were their rooms."
Getting tired? There's no stopping now. The bottom floor is a must-see, and you can save some energy by hopping on the elevator that stops at all three floors.
"You've got to have an elevator in a house this size," Hempen pointed out. "It only costs about $30,000 to put one in. If you're buying a million-dollar-plus home, $30,000 is not going to hurt you."
The bottom floor is known as a terrace - "We don't call them basements anymore," the agent said - and it's the place where Vick apparently spent most of his time and left behind a sense of his decorating touch. Only one room had been completed when he bought the place for $3.2 million, so he added another half-million dollars to the loan to finish off the rest in style.
The carpet of one room has a giant "7" right in the middle - Vick's number. Another room is completely swallowed up by a simulated golf game, in which the quarterback could strike balls into a padded video screen that showed what looked to be an actual course. Hundreds of sensors hooked to a computer accurately gauged the strength and accuracy of his swing.
There's also a weight room, where Vick worked out, and a mini-theatre where movies and games could be watched in plush, reclining chairs. The sound system is top of the line - in fact, Hempen said, the entire house is wired with an elaborate electronics package worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Vick also converted a bathroom into his own personal barber shop, complete with a chair and hair-washing station.
A custom-made bar has four lion heads carved in the wood, looking out on an ornate pool table, an old-school Pac-Man video game (hmmm, wonder if "Pacman" Jones ever stopped by?) and yet another area devoted mainly to watching a massive flat-screen TV. Unfortunately, there's only a bracket on the wall - one of Vick's cohorts snatched the television on his way out, claiming it belonged to him.
Still, it gives a sense of how Vick lived away from the field.
"You can imagine having a Super Bowl party in here," Hempen said. "You've got a group over here watching TV, another group over there at the bar, another group playing pool, another group playing golf."
As an added bonus, the Sugarloaf Country Club neighbourhood includes a championship golf course that once hosted Atlanta's PGA Tour event. Vick's home isn't far from the 18th hole.
Vick was only in this house about two years. He moved in during 2005, about the same time he landed what was then the richest contract in NFL history. By October 2007, when Hempen's company got the listing, he had already moved back to Virginia. Shortly after that, the fallen star was sentenced to prison.
Now, the home that once epitomized Vick's good life will be handed off to another owner, assuming someone steps forward in a brutal economy to at least meet the minimum price.
Out in the garage, where Vick once parked his luxury cars, some of his more personal items are boxed up and largely hidden from view. A picture of Bob Marley smoking a joint. Another photo that shows Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston. Several radio-controlled toy cars. A child's car seat. A gumball machine.
Hempen's company, which has been trying for a year and a half to sell this house, tried to make sure it wasn't too obvious who once lived here.
"We didn't want this house to scream Vick at somebody," he said. "I'm not saying we would ever lie or hide the fact. It's public knowledge. But we're not going to advertise it, either. We want the home to sell itself."
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