On Monday, Plaxico Burress was released from prison.
After serving nearly two years on a gun charge at Oneida Correctional Facility in central New York, the former New York Giants wide receiver enters the world a free man, but without a job.
In a game I’d rather forget as a native New Englander, Burress caught a 13-yard pass from Eli Manning with 35 seconds to play to give the Giants a shocking 17-14 win over the undefeated Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl. Just nine months later, Burress’ world crumbled. He and then-teammate Antonio Pierce went to a nightclub in New York City, but before he left home, Burress tucked a handgun tucked into his waistband. While at the club, the weapon slipped from his waistband and as he attempted to catch it, it went off and shot him in the thigh.
So not only did Burress shoot himself in the thigh, he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, to which he plead guilty and accepted the two-year prison sentence. He was released three months early for good behavior.
I have many opinions of what Burress went through. Let’s start with the obvious – what an idiot! He had everything going for him, why in the world did he feel the need to illegally carry a handgun into a night club? In one second – when he tucked that gun into his waistband – he fell from Super Bowl hero to prisoner 09-R-3260.
Secondly, I think the sentence was extremely – and unfairly – harsh. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has waged a long campaign against illegal guns and publicly reprimanded Burress for carrying his .40-caliber weapon. He wanted to make an example of a high-profile person in his war against illegal weapons. I think Burress deserved punishment for illegally carrying a weapon, but I think he should have been treated fairly – not more severely because of his celebrity status.
But that’s in the past, and Burress is again a free man and says he’s ready to play football.
Prior to his sentence, Burress was released by the Giants, and suspended by the league. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ruled that he was ineligible to sign with any team he completed his jail term, but said he would be reinstated in the league upon the completion of his sentence.
Making things more difficult for Burress is the lockout – he can’t even talk to teams (on the record at least) until the lockout has ended.
There are many other obstacles standing in his way: Burress has been out of football for three seasons; he will be 34 years old when football season begins (whenever that may be); he has to get into football shape, and that is utterly impossible to do on your own - and the longer the lockout lasts, the longer he will be forced to workout by himself.
But there are also things working in his favor: he is 6’5” and has great hands; that freakish athletic ability he possessed is still there – and that is intriguing to just about every NFL team; with the current NFL lockout, the field is more leveled for Burress – instead of the free agent market season opening in March and teams already having their roster needs filled, he will be entering the market at the same time as everyone.
It worked out for Michael Vick, but Vick was 29 when he re-entered the league after his prison sentence – five years younger than Burress.
In the end, I have little doubt that Burress will find a team - Terrell Owens proves that you're talented enough, you can always find an NFL team willing to carry your baggage. And a 6’5”, freakishly athletic wide receiver with loads of experience? That’s just too tempting for no team to pick up on.
The question is: will he be a factor? Only time will tell.