Commentary

Want Plax? Careful what you wish for

Troubled wideout deserves chance to play, but teams shouldn't assume he's changed

Updated: June 6, 2011, 11:16 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

The Monday morning schedule says Plaxico Burress will be offered a breakfast of apple juice, cinnamon oatmeal, toast, milk and coffee. He will be escorted from his housing unit inside the Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, N.Y., to an area where he can change from his prison uniform into his street clothes, and he will be given 40 bucks and any cash remaining in his jailhouse account.

Burress will then leave the prison in possession of all his personal property, completing a Baggie Day unlike any he experienced as a Pittsburgh Steeler or New York Giant.

The wide receiver will be a free agent transitioning from lockup to lockout, waiting for a resolution to the NFL's labor conflict before auditioning for interested teams. According to Linda Foglia, a corrections system spokeswoman, Burress' parole will be transferred to the state of Florida, where he maintains a residence, and where he'll be charged to undergo substance abuse testing, adhere to a curfew, support his dependents and attend any counseling deemed necessary by Florida officials.

Oh, and the terms of his parole require something else: Burress needs to seek, obtain and maintain employment.

Meaning Burress is strongly encouraged to return to the NFL.

Meaning Rex Ryan is likely drawing up fly patterns in the dirt and coming up with ways to explain why Burress is yet another New York Jet who deserves a second (or is it a seventh?) chance.

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesAfter two seasons away from the NFL, Plaxico Burress deserves a chance to resume his NFL career.

Maybe the Jets will take a pass on this one, and you can bet the house that the Giants will do the same. Burress already blew up their shot at a second consecutive championship, perhaps even a dynasty, when the loaded and unlicensed Glock he carried into the Latin Quarter that fateful November 2008 night went off and blew a hole in his leg.

John Mara and Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin aren't about to give a do-over to a Giant caught with a smoking .40 caliber gun. But some owner and some general manager and some coach will take a chance on Burress despite the fact that he turns 34 in August and hasn't played an NFL down in 2½ years.

Burress has talent, you see, lots and lots of talent. Professional sports franchises always gamble on talent, even if the athlete involved is a proven Plax-cident waiting to happen.

But in the case of Burress, let the buyer beware. Just because Michael Vick made a successful transition -- so far -- from prison to stardom with the Philadelphia Eagles doesn't mean Burress will travel the same game-day path.

This isn't about just Burress' choice to pack heat that night in Manhattan, when he unraveled over the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend a year before Tiger Woods did the same. Although Vick has admitted to poor work habits during his time in Atlanta, he was never the monument to insubordination that Burress came to be.

The Giants receiver was fined dozens of times for being late to meetings and practices, leaving Coughlin desperate enough to consult Tiki Barber on how to handle it. When Burress was finally suspended for missing work without explanation, he returned to declare, "I enjoyed my week off," before later berating his coach in a sideline rant captured on TV.

Burress was just as irresponsible off the field, where court records tell a tale of a citizen and motorist who showed little regard for the law. It all caught up to him in the Latin Quarter with a twisted turn of fate. The gun he was hiding in his sweatpants accidentally went boom, and neither Burress nor the then-defending champion Giants have been the same since.

No, Plaxico didn't deserve the two-year sentence he received for his crime. He didn't deserve Mayor Michael Bloomberg's overheated claim -- after Burress pleaded not guilty to the charges -- that "it would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain, and make their living because of their visibility. They are the role models for our kids."

The penalty for a receiver who makes the winning catch in an epic Super Bowl after predicting the long-shot victory should be the same as the penalty for a banker, teacher or landscaper.

As it turned out, Burress served 21 months on a 24-month term that should have been half as long on common sense grounds, a truth that compelled the Giants to call the receiver's pending release from prison "long overdue."

Burress got three months off for good behavior, even though he reportedly was disciplined three times for minor infractions, including one lie about getting permission to make a phone call that wasn't granted.

So is Plax redeemed or not? As a college kid at Michigan State, Burress wrote a letter to his former football coach at Virginia's Fork Union Military Academy, where Plaxico forever struggled with the 6 a.m. wake-up calls and the shrieking voices of pint-sized superiors barking at him to polish his shoes and make his bed.

"Hey Coach," Burress wrote John Shuman, "I've improved so much as a man."

Only Burress would ultimately display a staggering immaturity as a pro. The Giants kept giving him chances and kept enabling him, Reese said, "because everybody would like to have a big Spiderman out there that you can throw balls up to and he can bring them down."

Burress almost single-handedly won the 2007 NFC title game in subhuman conditions in Green Bay, and then beat the unbeaten Patriots on a bad ankle and a knee injury severe enough to require an injection and to inspire Plaxico to pray for divine intervention at his pregame locker.

That's why a few teams will offer Burress fairly lucrative deals to help their passing games. They will explain the offers in a simple, logical way: The receiver has paid his debt to society and deserves an opportunity to resume his NFL career.

All true. But caveat emptor to the owner, GM and coach gambling that Burress has learned his lesson for good.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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