RICHMOND, Va. – Following an appearance in federal court Monday during which he pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge, suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick said he took responsibility for his actions and apologized to his teammates, fans and bosses within the Falcon's organization and NFL.
"I apologize for all the things I've done and allowed to happen," Vick said during a press conference about an hour after he entered his guilty plea. Admitting to being uncomfortable with public speaking, Vick said he was "speaking from the heart."
In a separate press conference in Atlanta later Monday, the Falcons said they would not cut Vick immediately because of salary-cap issues. The team intends to pursue the $22 million in bonus money that he already received in a $130 million contract signed in 2004.
"We cannot tell you today that Michael is cut from the team," owner Arthur Blank said.
Capping one of the most rapid and startling falls from stardom in U.S. sports history, Vick made official the agreement his attorneys worked out with prosecutors.
Repeatedly saying that he would "not point the finger" or blame others for his predicament, Vick said he had "not been honest or forthright" in discussing his involvement in dogfighting with his teammates, Falcon's owner Arthur Blank, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because he had been "ashamed" and "disappointed in myself."
Vick also repeatedly apologized to his young football fans, saying his behavior was "immature."
"I apologize to the young kids for my immature acts," Vick said. "What I did was immature and I need to grow up," he said.
"I'm more disappointed in myself more than anything for all the young kids out there who looked at Michael Vick as a role model," he said. He said he wanted to become a "better Michael Vick," and would have "a lot of downtime to think about what I've done."
Asking for "forgiveness and understanding," Vick said he would "turn my life over to God. That's the right thing to do right now."
"Dogfighting is a terrible thing and I reject it," he said.
Vick appeared Monday before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, who asked Vick whether he knew what evidence the government had against him and whether he had gone over the facts of the case with his legal team.
"You're taking your chances here. You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson said.
The plea agreement calls for a sentencing range of 12 to 18 months. But Hudson, who is known for handing down tough sentences, reminded Vick during the hearing that he is not bound by any recommendation or federal sentencing guidelines and could sentence Vick to as much as five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10.
"A first-time offender might well receive no jail time for this offense," U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement. "We thought, however, that the conduct in this conspiracy was heinous, cruel and inhumane."
Part of Vick's punishment will include paying for the care of dogs rescued from the dogfighting ring.
Vick entered a written plea filed in federal court in Richmond, Va., on Friday. He admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He says he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings.
Vick is one of four defendants in the case. The first defendant to plead guilty left the conspiracy in 2004 and is not as culpable, Rosenberg said.
The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's rural Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
A federal indictment issued in July charged Vick, Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach, Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Tony Taylor of Hampton with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. Taylor was the first to change his plea to guilty; Phillips and Peace soon followed.
The details outlined in the indictment and other court papers fueled a public backlash against Vick and cost him several lucrative endorsement deals, even before he agreed to plead guilty.
The NFL suspended Vick indefinitely and without pay Friday after his plea agreement was filed. Merely associating with gamblers can trigger a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.
Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states and a felony in 48 states. About 600 cases have been prosecuted over the past five years.
FOX News William La Jeunesse contributed to this report.