The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback could have been sentenced up to five years by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. Vick, who turned himself in Nov. 19 in anticipation of his sentence, was wearing a black-and-white striped prison suit.
After Vick apologized to the court and his family, Hudson told him: "You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you."
"Yes, sir," Vick answered.
The 27-year-old player acknowledged using "poor judgment" and added, "I'm willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions."
Although there is no parole in the federal system, rules governing time off for good behavior could reduce Vick's prison stay by about three months, resulting in a summer 2009 release.
"You were instrumental in promoting, funding and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity," Hudson told Vick.
The judge is a former prosecutor, with a reputation for tough sentences from the bench with photographs of his own dogs hanging in his office, says CBS News chief legal analyst Andrew Cohen.
"You add all that up and you get what Vick got: A tough sentence," says Cohen.
Before the hearing, Michael Vick's brother, Marcus Vick, sat with his right arm around their mother, comforting her as she buried her head in her hands and wept.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank called the sentencing another step in Vick's "legal journey."
"This is a difficult day for Michael's family and for a lot of us, including many of our players and fans who have been emotionally invested in Michael over the years," Blank said. "We sincerely hope that Michael will use this time to continue to focus his efforts on making positive changes in his life, and we wish him well in that regard."
Vick was suspended without pay by the NFL and lost all his lucrative endorsement deals. The league had no comment Monday on the judge's ruling.
One of Vick's attorneys, Lawrence Woodward, asked for leniency. He said Vick "grew up on some of probably the meanest and roughest streets in this commonwealth," but had never been in trouble with the law and had done much for charities.
Vick was denied any credit for taking responsibility for his crime. Hudson agreed with a federal probation officer's finding that Vick had lied about his hands-on killing of dogs and about his drug use. Vick tested positive for marijuana Sept. 13, violating conditions of his release while he awaited sentencing.
Hudson recalled that Vick at one point said he only handed over two dogs to co-defendant Quanis Phillips, who killed them. On another occasion, Vick said he dropped a dog after Phillips tied a rope around the animal's neck, the judge added.
"I'm not convinced you've fully accepted responsibility," Hudson told Vick.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 18 months to two years. Federal prosecutor Michael Gill asked for a sentence at the high end, meaning Vick would get more time than either of the two co-defendants sentenced last month.
"He did more than fund it," Gill said, referring to the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting operation. "He was in this thing up to his neck with the other defendants."
Outside court, Woodward said Vick didn't want anyone feeling sorry for him.
"He just wants a chance to prove himself when all this is over," he said. "But the other thing he said to me, which I also think is important for everyone to know, is that he understood that some of the things he was doing in life and off the field were dangerous, and he told me he feels lucky that he's alive and not hurt and now it's all about the future."
U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg sounded a similar theme.
"This was an efficient, professional, and thorough investigation that well exposed a seamy side of our society," he said in a statement. "I trust Mr. Vick learned important lessons and that his admission of guilt will speed his rehabilitation."