Burress pays hefty price, earns 2nd chance

Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh and his career in the

foot.

It doesn’t have to be a fatal wound.

The former Super Bowl star walked out of prison Monday after

serving nearly two years behind bars on a weapons charge. He’s

ready to put his life back together and shouldn’t be denied a

chance at redemption in the NFL, having served an extremely harsh

penalty – too harsh in my view – for carrying an unlicensed gun

into a nightclub in 2008.

Talk about a fall from grace. Nine months before the shooting,

Burress was the toast of New York after he predicted an upset over

the undefeated New England Patriots, then backed up his bravado by

hauling in the winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the

Giants’ stunning 17-14 win.

But as Michael Vick proved, Burress’ time away from the game

could turn out to be a blip in his career. He says he worked out

four times a week in that New York state prison, and he sure looked

in game shape when he emerged through a gate topped with barbed

wire in a Phillies cap, black hoodie, shorts and sneakers, pulling

a single suitcase.

Burress surely is lugging a lot more baggage than that, but look

at it a different way: Prison saved two years’ worth of wear and

tear on a soon-to-be-34-year-old body. Plus, he must have gained

some much-needed perspective on the life he was leading before that

fateful night of clubbing in Manhattan.

Seriously, which receiver would you pick from this group of

aging controversy magnets: Burress, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or

Chad Ochocinco?

That’s an easy one – Burress all the way.

”He’s going to be a top free agent,” predicted his agent, Drew

Rosenhaus, who leaped into his client’s arms outside the prison.

”There are going to be multiple teams interested in signing him. I

expect him to get a good contract. I expect him to absolutely be

playing.”

There’s still that little matter of the lockout, of course. As

soon as it’s settled, Burress insists he’ll be ready to start

catching passes.

He’s certainly earned a second chance, spending longer in prison

for accidentally shooting himself than some criminals get for more

heinous acts against others.

”If Plaxico was not a high-profile professional athlete, he

would not have received the two-year sentence,” said Tim Newman,

an associate professor of sports management at York College in

Pennsylvania. ”However, that comes with the territory of being a

professional athlete. Sometimes you are treated differently than

the average person, both good and bad.”

If Burress thinks he got a raw deal, he sure didn’t show it once

he removed himself from Rosenhaus’ embrace long enough to make a

brief statement to reporters. He thanked ”God for bringing me

through one of the most trying times of my life.” He gave a

shoutout to thousands of fans for their letters, prayers and words

of encouragement. He called it a ”beautiful day” and said he

looked forward to being reunited with his wife and two children –

the youngest born while he was locked up.

Then, before driving away in a black Range Rover, he touched on

his work plans.

”As far as football is concerned, if and when everything gets

settled and when they get back on the field,” Burress said, ”I’ll

be ready.”

Let’s not make this guy out to be a saint. Burress had been in

trouble – on and off the field – before he made the ill-advised

choice to tuck a handgun into his waistband before a night on the

town.

He ran afoul of the Giants and his previous team, the Pittsburgh

Steelers, when he didn’t bother showing up for practices and missed

meetings. Some thought he feigned injuries to get out of practices

he did attend. There were domestic disturbances and civil lawsuits

on his pre-shooting blotter.

Now, Burress says he’s ready to start the rest of his life –

just one tweet he sent not long after clearing the prison gate.

Calling Vick might be a good start.

No. 7 was even more reviled than Burress after Vick’s affinity

for dogfighting came out. But the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a

second chance, and Vick sure took advantage of it. This past

season, he claimed the starting job, led his team to the playoffs

and was selected to the Pro Bowl, as well as winning the Comeback

Player of the Year award.

Vick, however, was nearly 5 years younger than Burress when he

rejoined the league. The receiver can’t afford for the NFL to lose

an entire season trying to reach a new labor deal. But, assuming

there’s a settlement before Week 1 and Burress follows Vick’s

blueprint for contrition, the former Giants star will be an awfully

good investment for any team that needs a receiver.

”If Plaxico stays out of trouble both on and off the field,

does community service outreach in relation to gun violence, I do

not think it will be long before this is behind him,” Newman

said.

Heck, despite Rosenhaus’ bluster, this just might be the right

time to get Burress on the cheap. Once he’s had a year to show what

he can do on the field, he might be in position to demand some

really big bucks.

No one could deny he’s already paid a hefty price.

National Writer Paul Newberry can be reached at

pnewberry(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963