Tuck: 'My heart kind of dropped'
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Plaxico Burress' decision to plead guilty to a weapons charge and accept two years in prison surprised his former New York Giants teammates, and left at least one claiming the Super Bowl hero was punished too severely.
Cleveland Browns receiver Donte' Stallworth served 24 days of a 30-day sentence in jail for running over and killing a man while driving drunk. Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick served 18 months in prison plus five months under house arrest for torturing dogs and running a dogfighting ring for years.
Burress shot himself in the leg, but he was illegally carrying a gun in a nightclub when he did it.
I think they wanted to set an example, which sucks. He did something to himself. He didn't hurt anybody else.” -- Giants receiver Steve Smith
"I think they wanted to set an example, which sucks," Giants receiver Steve Smith said Thursday. "He did something to himself. He didn't hurt anybody else."
Roughly 18 months after Burress caught the game-winning pass against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and nine months after accidentally shooting himself in a Manhattan nightclub, he pleaded guilty in state Supreme Court in New York City to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon.
Burress, who faced a minimum of 3½ years in prison if convicted at trial, instead agreed to a two-year prison term and must serve at least 20 months. Burress, who was released by the Giants in April, will be formally sentenced on Sept. 22.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has waged a long campaign against illegal guns, had publicly castigated Burress for carrying his .40-caliber weapon.
"You never think somebody who was at that magnitude would get time like this," Smith said. "I heard the mayor, whatever he said."
Burress' attorney, Benjamin Brafman, called the case "a perfect example about how bad judgment can have very serious consequences" and said Burress was treated more harshly because he is a celebrity.
"If Plaxico Burress were not a high-profile individual, there never would be a case," he said. "If he were just John Q. Public he could have walked out of the club and he never would have been arrested."
He was a part of the family and I know that a lot of players are hurting right now just thinking about it because he was a friend to them, but as I said I hope it's a wake-up call for some of them.” -- Giants chief executive John Mara
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Burress on Thursday afternoon, informing him that he is ineligible to sign with any team until he completes his prison term. Burress will be reinstated upon the completion of his sentence, the league said, adding it met with Burress and his representatives on Aug. 12 in New York.
Burress' former teammates clearly were not expecting him to face substantial prison time over the incident.
"My heart kind of dropped, obviously," Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck said after hearing of Burress' plea agreement. "I think sometimes you think about situations like that and it's bound to happen sometime, soon. But once it does happens, it catches you by surprise. Today, when I heard the news, my heart went out to him and his family."
Receiver Sinorice Moss seemed to be caught off-guard when he heard of Burress' plea while walking into the cafeteria for lunch between practices at the University at Albany. Moss started to talk about the past nine months, saying how tough they have been for the players and how everyone was concerned about Burress.
Suddenly, he stopped.
"I'm speechless, man," Moss said. "I can't think of anything to say right now, just hearing this. Plax is a good friend of mine and I've spoken to him a lot since his departure from the team. I just wish him the best. They made the decision on what he had to do, and I just wish him well."
Calling him a friend and great teammate and someone he won a championship with, quarterback Eli Manning wished the best for Burress and his family.
"It's just sad," Manning said. "I am disappointed and just feel bad for how this worked out and the circumstances he has been put through and his family. No one wanted this to happen, and it's a shame it did."
Linebacker Antonio Pierce, who drove Burress to the hospital after the accidental shooting, was unavailable for comment.
Giants chief executive John Mara called Burress' fall from the heights of a Super Bowl title to admitting his guilt in court a tragedy.
"He was a part of the family and I know that a lot of players are hurting right now just thinking about it because he was a friend to them, but as I said I hope it's a wakeup call for some of them," Mara said. "I hope they've all learned a lesson that making a bad choice and using bad judgment can cost you your career and can cause you having to go to prison.
"It's just a terrible situation when you think about what he threw away by doing what he did. All that talent and he had a brand new contract with a brand new baby, it just really is an American tragedy," Mara said.
Almost all of his former teammates believed Burress could make a comeback after prison, even at age 34.
"I am sure it would be tough, but Plax is a fighter and a man of God, and he is going to do what he has to do and serve his time," Moss said. "I am still sad to hear about this news. I just wish him the best."
Fellow receiver David Tyree had not even thought about Burress coming back. He was more concerned about Burress, whom he considers a friend. It was a thought shared by many former teammates.
"It would be a shame if he lost that," Tyree said. "It would be a mark on our character for people to turn their backs on him. He is a man who made a mistake and every person is worthy of redemption."
Former Steelers teammate Hines Ward called the latest turn for Burress a sad situation.
"He's a great talent, and you hate to see a talent like that end up [making] a bad decision," Ward said. "It's sad, and I hope he gets through it. Maybe he'll get another chance, we'll see."
Speaking at the Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa., Ward sounded more like the teammate who often led Burress by the hand.
"It's all maturity, growing up," Ward said. "I'm sure if he had it back, he'd make a different decision.
"But we'll always be there for him. He's still a great guy. It's a shame when a talent like that isn't in the NFL. It's an unfortunate incident and unfortunately he's no longer in the NFL."
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who was visiting the Giants on Thursday, wants to discuss the commissioner's disciplinary actions in the new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA will expire next season.
"The disciplinary system is something that, now that we're forced to come to the bargaining table, it'll be something I'm interested in talking about, because I have very strong feelings about the way the discipline system is now. And the players have equally strong feelings," Smith said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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