The judge who put Michael Vick behind bars seems to have become an admirer.

"He's having a terrific season. I'm very happy for him. I wish him the best of success," U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson told the Washington Post.

"He's an example of how the system can work," he said.

Hudson was back in the news because, this month, the Republican nominee could become the first judge to rule on the constitutionality of the federal legislation to revamping the nation's health-care system.

Vick has been in the limelight for his sensational play as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed him after his release from prison in 2009.

Three years ago tomorrow, though, Hudson had harsh words for the suspended Atlanta Falcon before sentencing him in a Virginia courtroom for running a dog-fighting ring:

"You were instrumental in facilitating, putting together, organizing and funding this cruel and inhumane sporting activity," Hudson said. "While you have acknowledged guilt and apologized, I'm convinced it was not a momentary lapse of judgment on your part. You were a full partner."

The judge cited a failed marijuana test and lies to investigators.

"Yes, sir," Vick replied, after Hudson said, "You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you."

The sentence: 23 months in federal prison.

Before the sentencing, Vick had sent a letter to Hudson, appealing for leniency.

"I am not the bad person or beast I've been made out to be," Vick's five-page handwritten letter said.

"I've lost everything - my good name, job, endorsements, and now my freedom. So, sitting here today I can say I've learned a valuable lesson," he wrote.

"I take full responsibility for my actions and am ashamed that my actions hurt animals and allowed animals to be hurt and killed," the letter also said. ". . . Your Honor, I just ask for a second chance."

Included were notes of support from baseball legend Hank Aaron, former heavyweight champ George Foreman, and Vick's mother.

Vick served 18 months in prison, followed by two months of home confinement.

Now he leads all NFL players in fan balloting for the Pro Bowl.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.