Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Super Bowl hero to prison inmate: The rise and fall of Plaxico Burress

In February 2008, it was Plaxico Burress' game-winning touchdown catch with 35 seconds left that lifted the New York Giants to a 17-14 victory over the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIII. Just 18 months later the tides have turned on Burress, who pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and will serve two years in prison.

Burress was indicted on two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment in early August and faced a minimum of 3 and 1/2 years if convicted. By taking a plea bargain that may only require him to serve 20 months, Burress would be out of jail in time for the 2011 season, when he will be 34 years old.

Unlike Michael Vick, who was 27 when he went to jail, Burress is on the wrong side of 30 entering his incarceration. It will be difficult enough for Vick to make it all the way back at age 29, but at 34 it was be nearly impossible for Burress to resume his playing career after two seasons away, let alone be an elite receiver. There have also been rumors of an NFL lockout before the 2011 season, which would further hinder Burress' prospects of returning to the NFL.

Burress had arguably his best season in 2007 when the Giants won the Super Bowl, catching 70 passes for 1,025 yards and a career-high 12 touchdowns and easing the maturation process of now-overpaid quarterback Eli Manning. After catching 10 balls for 133 yards in last year's season opener, Burress managed just 25 receptions, 321 yards and four touchdowns in the following nine games. But his declining performance was only the beginning of Burress' troubles in 2008.

Burress concealed a loaded handgun in his waistband at a Manhattan nightclub and shot himself in the thigh when it slid down his leg, nearly shooting a security guard in the process. He was with teammate Antonio Pierce at the time and Pierce, who took the unlicensed gun to his own home to protect Burress, was later cleared of any wrongdoing. But the damage had been done to Burress, the Giants' season (they finished 2-4 without Burress, including an opening-round loss to the hated Eagles) and now, Burress' NFL future.

This is just the latest in a string of legal issues involving NFL players. Michael Vick has gotten a second chance with the Philadelphia Eagles, while Donte Stallworth has been suspended without pay for the 2009 season after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter and serving 24 days in prison.

Vick served his time in prison for killing dogs and Burress will serve his too. Whether Burress deserves to spend two years in prison is another debate. It seems like an example is being made out of Burress due to his celebrity status, especially after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out and asked prosecutors to "throw the book" at Burress. He was stupid, but stupidity alone is not a crime deserving of two years in prison.

Stallworth committed possibly the most egregious crime of the three in taking a human life while driving under the influence and the fact that he got away with just 24 days in prison is a joke, especially in comparison to the punishments Vick and Burress received for their crimes. But I digress.

It seems unlikely that Plaxico Burress will return to the NFL when he gets out of prison, considering his advanced age and declining performance in 2008. If he does return, one can only hope that his next shot will be nowhere near his own leg.

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