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The Rise And Likely Fall Of Plaxico Burress

A little less than a year ago, we saw New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress catch the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII, cradle the Super Bowl trophy in front of adoring fans and join his team for a visit with President George W. Bush at the White House. Earlier this week, we saw a handcuffed Burress escorted into a

New York police station by a small group of officers and booked on two counts of felony criminal possession of a weapon. Burress is expected to enter an official plea of innocent to both charges when he makes his next court appearance, which is tentatively scheduled for March 31. Burress, as you undoubtedly know, is recovering after he accidentally shot himself with his own .40-caliber Glock pistol while partying at a

Manhattan night club Friday night, Nov. 28. The wound was not life-threatening.

New York

law prohibits the possession of a concealed weapon, even if the weapon is licensed by another state, and requires a

mandatory three-and-a-half year prison sentence for anyone convicted of illegal weapons possession. In the meantime, the Giants have placed Burress on the Non-Football Injury list for the rest of the regular season while he recovers from the gunshot wound and a hamstring injury, which he had suffered on the football field. The National Football League Players Association has sued the league, demanding his reinstatement.

 

Burress is innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law – that is how our American system of jurisprudence works. Nevertheless, it looks like we will not see Burress wearing an NFL uniform again anytime soon. A close examination of his career reveals a pattern of unprofessional, destructive behavior that grew more extreme through the years and has led to the talented Burress’ apparent professional and personal downfall.

 

The

Pittsburgh Years

 

Plaxico Antonio Burress (born August 12, 1977 in

Norfolk,

Virginia) starred at

Michigan

State

University, setting many school and Big Ten Conference records. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Burress with the No. 8 overall selection in the 2000 NFL draft.

 

Plaxico Burress

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

REGULAR SEASON STATISTICS 2000 – 2004

YEAR

AGE

G

GS

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

LNG

2000

23

12

8

22

273

12.4

0

39

2001

24

16

16

66

1,008

15.3

6

43

2002

25

16

15

78

1,325

17.0

7

62

2003

26

16

16

60

860

14.3

4

47

2004

27

11

11

35

698

19.9

5

48

 

Burress’ rookie season was unremarkable on the field and uneventful off the field. The next season, he and then-teammate Hines Ward both topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark, becoming the first pair of receivers in Pittsburgh Steelers franchise history to log at least 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

 

Burress’ first notable run-in with the law as a pro happened in mid-May 2002. Police in

Virginia Beach,

Virginia, arrested Burress on a charge of public intoxication, which was a minor Class 4 misdemeanor. He had proclaimed his innocence and vowed to fight the charge. About two months later, a judge gave Burress probation, ruling that the public intoxication charge would be dismissed if Burress was not arrested again or charged with any other crimes within a year. He was not disciplined by the Steelers or the league.

 

On the field, Burress enjoyed an outstanding 2002 campaign, setting what are still career-highs in receptions (78) and receiving yards (1,325) to go along with seven touchdowns. During a November 10, 2002, contest between the Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons, which ended in a 34-34 tie after overtime, Burress hauled in nine passes for a Pittsburgh franchise record 253 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns.

 

Burress started to make his unhappiness about the

Pittsburgh offense known early in the 2003 season. Following a loss to the Tennessee Titans, Burress labeled the Steelers offense a “dink and dunk” attack and called on the team to open things up.

Pittsburgh had tried to build its offense around the passing game, but the results were disastrous. The club threw too many interceptions and allowed too many sacks, and the running game fell apart. After two consecutive strong seasons, Burress had regressed mainly because of dropped passes, poor route-running and mental mistakes.

 

Entering the last year of his contract in 2004 with no extension talks imminent, an unhappy Burress skipped spring workouts and minicamps without team permission. The Steelers suspended him for the missed practices. In the meantime, the

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported just before training camp that the Steelers front office had no plans to hold contract extension talks with Burress. A hamstring injury and his discontent led to Burress posting his lowest regular-season numbers since his rookie season. After the Steelers were blown out 41-27 by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, Burress, who caught just three passes for 37 yards in the game, publicly blasted the team for not getting the ball to him. A few weeks before free agency, the Steelers announced that they would not use the franchise tag on Burress, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.

 

The

New York Years

 

The number of free-agent suitors for Burress was very small, but that was hardly a surprise. Most teams had been scared off by Burress’ behavior in

Pittsburgh, and he was regarded by many as a player who was too high-maintenance. The New York Giants were the only team that had seriously pursued Burress during free agency. After initially breaking off contract talks with Burress, the Giants met with him and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, a second time and hammered out a deal. Burress agreed to a six-year, $25 million contract that included $8.25 million in guaranteed bonuses and an initial signing bonus of $5 million.

 

Plaxico Burress

NEW YORK GIANTS

REGULAR SEASON STATISTICS 2005 – 2008

YEAR

AGE

G

GS

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

LNG

2005

28

16

15

76

1,214

16.0

7

78

2006

29

15

15

63

988

15.7

10

55

2007

30

16

16

70

1,025

14.6

12

60

2008

31

9

7

35

454

13.0

4

33

 

Burress’ 2005 season was his most productive in two years, and he was earning a hefty salary. However, Burress still was not on his best behavior. Head coach Tom Coughlin benched Burress for a quarter in a September regular-season game, because he had been late to some team meetings. Burress also missed an end-of-the-season meeting with Coughlin following a 23-0 playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers, which caused Coughlin to publicly admit that was concerned about his star wide receiver’s attitude. Coughlin and Burress had a private meeting and supposedly smoothed things over.

 

In 2006, Coughlin and the Giants’ front office went public with their unhappiness about Burress’ preference to workout in

Miami during the offseason. Coughlin and Burress met privately before the regular season to discuss Burress’ absences, but Coughlin refused to publicly discuss what was said, declaring that the matter had been resolved. Burress publicly stated that he did regret missing the club’s 2005 season-ending meeting, and he should have showed up to support quarterback Eli Manning. Just before the start of the regular season, Burress complained about his frosty relationship with Coughlin, but Coughlin laughed it all off, claiming he is as approachable as anyone. Sometime during the first week of the 2006 regular season, Coughlin fined Burress $8,000 for missing a team meeting. Burress claimed he had told Coughlin that he would miss the meeting to attend his wife’s ultrasound screening for their then-unborn child.

During the 2006 regular season, Manning’s uneven play dragged Burress’ numbers down. However, Burress did manage to catch a career-high 10 touchdowns. The Giants, however, lost six of their last eight regular-season games. They still made the playoffs as a Wild Card but lost 23-20 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Burress torched the Eagles with five catches for 89 yards and two scores.

Buress started off the 2007 season by skipping voluntary spring workouts and training camps. This time, however, he had an excuse: Burress had undergone offseason ankle surgery. The 2007 offseason was quiet, compared to the 2006 offseason, which had resembled a soap opera at times. Burress was bothered the entire season by a torn ligament in one of his ankles, which forced him to miss almost all the team’s regular-season practices, but Burress still managed to lead the club in receiving. Despite playing with the bad ankle and a sore knee during the playoffs, he set a franchise record with 11 catches for 154 yards against the Green Bay Packers in the 2007 NFC Championship game. In Super Bowl XLII, Burress caught just two balls for 27 yards, but one reception was for the game-winning touchdown.

The 2008 season started the same way as Burress’ other seasons in

New York did: he skipped all voluntary workouts and minicamps. In fairness to Burress, he was recovering from ankle, knee, shoulder and other ailments that he had suffered during the 2007 season. On the other hand, it was hard to keep the injuries in mind when it became clear that Burress wanted to renegotiate his contract – even though he had three years remaining on his original deal. Burress, as you recall, had claimed that he was underpaid, but he did report to training camp, telling everyone that he truly wanted to stay with the Giants. Burress was fined $43,000 for missing five training camp meetings. He also missed several training camp practices, claiming that his ankle was still bothering him. Cynics, however, say his ankle ailment had something to do with wanting a new contract extension, which he eventually received in early September. It was a five-year, $35 million deal that the Giants right now undoubtedly regret.

Things really started to spiral downward for Burress:

The Giants suspended him for their Week 6 contest against the Seattle Seahawks and fined him two weeks pay ($235,294) for failing to report to the team Monday, Sept. 22 and Tuesday, Sept. 23. Burress claimed that he had “family issues” to deal with but admitted that he should have called the team. Rosenhaus, Burress and the Giants front office struck a deal to cut the fine in half, but the one-game suspension was not rescinded.

We learned that Burress had been fined by the organization at least 40 times for lateness and other violations during his time in New York, and that he had cursed at Coughlin when the coach asked him about being flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the club’s Week 7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Burress also had confronted the referees about the penalty after the game.

In late October, Burress was fined $45,000 for his conduct in the

San Francisco game. According to the league, Burress had made post-game comments about officiating (not allowed by league policy), verbally abused the head linesman and thrown a ball in the stands.

The Giants benched Burress for the first quarter of the team’s Week 8 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for missing treatment for a neck injury. Burress tried to play through a hamstring injury in Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals but took himself out of the game in the first quarter. Burress was ruled out for the Giants’ Week 13 game against the Washington Redskins. The night before the game, as mentioned, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg at the nightclub.

What Went Through Burress’ Mind At The Nightclub?

 

 

Unlike many of you, I refuse to accept the common wisdom that Burress or any athlete that gets into trouble off the field is ignorant and clueless. I think Burress, like many athletes, made some smart decisions to get where he is. At a few different points in his life, Burress had to have seen the big picture and made choices about how to live and how to behave. However, he obviously made a large number of terrible decisions this year. Why? Only Burress knows the answer. Did he feel “invulnerable” and “untouchable” after signing that huge contract extension? Perhaps. Burress’ behavior obviously pushed his relationship with the Giants to the breaking point. He repeatedly defied the team’s authority and disobeyed rules. The frustrated

New York brain trust also figured out that they could win without Burress, so why tolerate his distracting, unprofessional behavior any longer?

This is a man who had the drive, intelligence and experience to become a successful NFL receiver and a Super Bowl winner, and parlay his success into a $35 million contract extension, but Burress was not smart enough to avoid shooting himself in the thigh. During that fateful evening in a

Manhattan night club, he must have given his drive, intelligence and experience the night off. Only Burress truly knows what went through his mind when he made a very poor decision to visit that nightclub, armed with that pistol. If Burress didn’t feel safe at that nightclub, why did he go there? Only Burress truly knows the answer. Why has Burress jeopardized his NFL career and the financial security that a $35 million contract extension offers? Only Burress truly knows the answer. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Burress will not play another down for the Giants, and it is a safe bet that the franchise will try to recoup the extension money.

 

One last thought: If Burress, who is 31 years old (he will turn 32 in August) is convicted on the gun possession charges and serves just the minimum three-and-one-half year sentence, he would be 34 years old when he gets out of prison. Is there a strong market in the NFL for a 34-year-old wide receiver who has been out of the league for three-plus seasons?

 

 

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