About half an hour before kickoff last night, J. Whyatt Mondesire, the head of the local NAACP, stood outside Lincoln Financial Field and waited for TV, print and radio reporters to surround him. It didn't take long.

Moments after he arrived - decked out in a white cowboy hat, cowboy boots, white pants and a blue pinstripe jacket - Mondesire was quickly swallowed up by the media horde. He didn't seem to mind. One reporter from ESPN immediately tried to ask a question, but Mondesire made him wait. Mondesire said he wanted everyone to be present for what turned out to be a clumsily choreographed news conference. When the reporter objected, noting he had a deadline to meet, Mondesire told him not to worry and promised to give the journalist everything he needed with time to spare.

That's the kind of sad, wag-the-dog scene it turned out to be before the Eagles' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A large group of reporters - at least 30 strong, with six camera trucks - ended up being used and manipulated by a handful of flaccid "protesters." It wasn't our finest hour.

"The [Michael Vick] dialogue here has been all one-sided," Mondesire bellowed, trying to explain why the NAACP had turned out. "We can't let that go on."

No, no, of course not. Can't let the other side - which, by the way, didn't really show up, but we'll get to that - hog the spotlight.

Mondesire said the NAACP was joined by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, and that both organizations want people to understand "Mike has a lot of support." When I asked Mondesire how many people were part of his protest, he quickly glanced around and said "30." I'm not very good at math, but I counted about 15 people with him - tops. But, hey, if you want to call it 30, go nuts. I'm still not sure how that qualifies as "a lot" of support for No. 7. And it certainly wasn't the "massive protest" that Mondesire promised ESPN.com the day before.

The anti-Vick crusade was similarly emaciated. Three women holding a "murderers are not role models" sign were swarmed by a pack of salivating reporters, as was a nice lady trying to raise money to rescue dalmatians in Southwest Virginia. Someone asked her if she hated Vick, and she said no. She thought he deserved a second chance. She was just there for her charity. But she had a piece of poster board with dogs on it, and that was good enough for us.

I was standing outside the stadium for about an hour and a half, and those were the highlights. If you added up all the protesters on both sides of the argument, they were far outnumbered by the reporters who were present. An Eagles spokesman said the media turnout more closely resembled a "heavy regular-season game." The team estimated that it issued approximately 20 percent more credentials than it normally would for a preseason matchup.

At the very least, you have to give Mondesire and the dog ladies credit. They played us perfectly. So did one lonely guy who was talking to a knot of reporters not far from Mondesire. He was ranting about how big stadiums like the Linc are the reason that schools don't have enough funding. When he was asked what that had to do with Vick, he said nothing - he simply showed up because he knew the media would turn out in force. Good guess.

Initially, the uproar over Vick here in town - both pro and con - was genuine and organic. Not anymore. He's nothing but a prop now, a puppet to be exploited by different organizations in order to advance their respective positions and predetermined agendas.

See, you thought Vick was a quarterback and a convicted felon and a dog-killer. And he is. But, more than that, what he has really become is an excuse - a pretext for various groups to battle each other in a transparent attempt to get attention. That's bad enough. Even worse, we gave them exactly what they wanted free of charge and never blinked.

When the Birds signed Vick, owner Jeffrey Lurie said he hoped the newest Eagle would create social change. What about pointless, disingenuous public posturing? Will that do instead?

We've been held hostage by the Great Vick Debate for two weeks, but at least the madness was real in the beginning instead of manufactured. People are still taking sides and shouting, but it is lame sound and fury signifying that principles don't really matter as long as the media give you the 15 minutes you desperately crave. Who needs courage or convictions when there are soapboxes to stand on and bullhorns to shout into and spotlights to court?

It's all so reflexive now with Vick. Love him. Hate him. Doesn't matter. Just make sure you're loud about it and you have a captive audience when the screaming begins.

Sly and the Family Stone were right. We've been sitting for far too long. We have a permanent crease in our right and wrong.