Plaxico Burress is one of the greatest wide-receivers to have ever played the game of American football. Indeed, had he not made a number of criminal mistakes during his long, distinguished professional career, as he himself acknowledges, he would still not be playing the game after sustaining so many injuries. An All-American high school player and an impatient star turn at Michigan State University, he quit college after two seasons. Burress was drafted eighth by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000 before moving on to the New York Giants (2005-2008), the New York Jets in 2011 and finally back to the Steelers.

Burress’s best season with the Steelers came in 2002, when he set career highs for receptions (78) and yards (1,325). Burress’s 1,008-yard season in 2001, combined with the 1003 receiving yards run by Hines Ward, made them the team’s first ever pair of 1,000 yard receivers. A record they repeated the next season. Yet, jealousy, the green-eyed monster ruined their relationship as Burress questioned the amount of money Ward made, the commitment of his own agent and the amount of respect his coach, Bill Cowher, had for him. This became a sort of trope that would repeat itself throughout his career.

Then on January 23, 2005, after a playoff defeat, Burress announced his intention to leave the Steelers. On March 17, he signed a six-year, US$25m contract with the New York Giants. In his first season Burress caught 76 passes for 1,214 yards, helping the team earn an 11–5 record, good enough for The NFC East’s first place. In the 2006 season, Burress had a career high in touchdowns with ten but struggled with a groin injury. In 2007, Burress was the Giants’ top receiver with 70 receptions for 1,025 yards, despite refusing to practice all season because of an ankle injury. Burress argued relentlessly with the team’s coaching staff while simultaneously setting a franchise playoff record in the NFC title game in Green Bay with 11 receptions for 154 yards to go to Super Bowl XLII. A surprise winner over the Patriots, Burress played ‘hurt’ and despite suffering from what he told the press was a “Serious leg injury,” Burress caught the game-winning touchdown pass that made the score 17–14 in the Giants’ favor after having boastfully predicted for weeks to the media that the Giants would indeed win the Super Bowl.

Plaxico Buress
Plaxico Buress not smiling for the camera

Just before the start of the 2008 Giants season, upset with his contract, Burress went on strike. The team announced that Burress would be suspended for the game on October 5 for violating team rules. Bad turned to worse on October 24th, however, as Burress was fined $20,000 for making “inappropriate comments” about the officials during a game, $20,000 for abusing a linesman during another game, $5,000 for tossing the ball to a fan in the stands and $15,000 for slapping a referee in the face, to make a grand total of $60,000.

Then, cranked up on what a former teammate Lawrence Taylor told WFAN radio was a cocaine and steroid-fueled jag that began in August and lasted until December of 2008, Burress’ life took a turn for the berserk. Firstpolice responded to two domestic disturbance calls from the Burress household in New Jersey. After each incident, temporary restraining orders were issued but then dismissed by state authorities. Then, on November 28, 2008, Burress suffered an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh at L.Q., a New York City nightclub, when the Glock -38 automatic pistol he had tucked into the waistband of his pants accidentally fired. The injury was embarrassing, but not life threatening. Two days later, Burress turned himself in to police to face charges of criminal possession of a handgun. It was later ”discovered’ that New York City police learned about the incident after the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg – a fanatical anti-gun-rights advocate – saw the story on the television.

The case became politicized then. Having bought his way out of other messes with the help of the Giants owner, Jim Mora, Burress was now on his own. The New York Presbyterian Hospital which fixed his wound, was prosecuted by the city for not calling the city police as the local laws prescribed.  Bloomberg also urged that Burress be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, insisting that any punishment short of the minimum 3½ years for unlawful carrying of a handgun would be “a mockery of the law,” according to the New York Times.

On December 23, 2008, a Manhattan D.A.-inspired raid of Burress’ New Jersey home turned up a 9mm handgun, a rifle, and thousands of slugs. Almost a year later, a cleaned-up Burress was indicted by a grand jury and accepted a plea deal that put him in prison for two years and an additional two years of supervised release. Burress was released by the Giants on April 3, 2009, when it became apparent his court case would take longer than expected to resolve. Burress then served his time and was released on June 6, 2011.

Meanwhile, in a civil lawsuit, filed on December 8, 2008, in Florida, a woman claimed that his $140,000 Mercedes collided with the back of her car. Uninsured at the time, Burress was found liable for causing permanent injuries to the woman.  A month later, Burress was the defendant in another civil suit filed by a car dealer who claimed he gave the famed wide-receiver a new automobile upon his signing of an agreement to make a certain number of appearances at the dealership which he failed to show up for. Burress lost the case and, after papers were filed by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information act, it turns out Burress had been sued at least nine separate times since he joined the NFL in 2000.

In July of 2011, a newly revived Burress agreed a one-year contract with the New York Jets. After an average season, however, Burress returned for a second stint with the Steelers. Having torn a rotator cuff in Summer Training camp, Burress is out for the season. What happens next season is anybody’s guess.

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