There was a time when Plaxico Burress was the most dominant wide receiver in the NFC, NFL, and NYC.
The former New York Giants star was one Super Bowl into a Hall of Fame career in 2008. He hadn’t attended a Pro Bowl yet, but he had just caught the winning touchdown pass in a Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady and the seemingly invincible New England Patriots.
After Super Bowl XVII, Plaxico Burress and the New York Giants were primed to run it back. Everyone in the Giants organization believes the 2008 squad started as the best they’ve ever had, from kicker to coach.
Burress was a believer as well, and the former first-round pick spent his offseason planning his next parade. It was a parade that would never come.
New York would be Super again, but not with Plaxico. Somewhere between Super Bowl XLII & XLVI, Plaxico disappeared. Most NFL fans know the story, but do they know the man?
Plaxico Burress is more than just one mistake, whether that mistake occurred in sweatpants or not.
What happened to the Norfolk, Virginia, native, and where is he now?
Who is Plaxico Burress?
Former wide receiver Plaxico Burress hails from Virginia, but played college ball in Michigan as a Spartan. During his senior season at Michigan State University, he led the Green Spartans to a 10-2 record, capping off his college career with a Citrus Bowl MVP win over the toothless Florida Gators. Burress’ professional stock soared.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took Plax as the eighth-overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. He played five seasons a Steeler before becoming a Giant in free agency after the 2004 season. He immediately bonded with recently drafted quarterback Eli Manning in New York. It was a match made in touchdown heaven.
Burress and Manning torched the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team (formerly Washington Redskins), Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and the rest of the NFC for three seasons. Their connection reached its peak in the 2007 postseason playoffs. They defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers before taking down the formerly undefeated Patriots to win a Super Bowl.
The Giants felt like Giants as they stomped into the 2008 season.
The Big Blue went 10-1 in their first 11 weeks. Suspecting another Super Bowl was just around the corner, Plaxico committed an unforgivable sin as a wide receiver: he forgot to check the safety.
The Shot Heard Around Manhattan
Whatever the outfit, it was his accessory that caused his downfall.
While ascending a staircase, Burress’s concealed firearm dropped from his waistline. In an attempt to catch the Glock before it hit the ground, the man paid to catch things attempted to get his money’s worth. He caught the gun, a bullet to the leg, and (ultimately) felony charges.
Burress’s finger caught the trigger and the gun, sending an errant bullet deep into his thigh. The gunshot wound checked Burress into a hospital the next day. By then, everyone from TMZ to ESPN to Comedy Central had a take on the incident. There was no running back and hiding now — the wide receiver was left wide open.
Then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg had a low tolerance for firearms. Burress’ concealed firearm didn’t have the right permit and therefore carried with it a serious penalty. Bloomberg called an audible and threw the book at the pass-catcher, assuring his constituents that the NFL star would not be overlooked due to his Super Bowl ring.
Many of his New York Giant constituents were upset, but the New York Jets contingency seemed pleased.
Burress’ recovery from the gunshot wound and ensuing legal troubles kept him from the remainder of the 2008 season. Even though Burress only shot himself, the Giants played as if they had all been shot together. The team that started 10-1 finished the season 12-5. They were sent home by Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, and even Plax himself have publicly agreed since then — the Giants’ downfall was connected to Burress’s trigger.
Burress’ decline had yet to hit rock bottom, and he soon found out how serious Mike Bloomberg was on guns. In addition to the nightclub self-shooting, New Jersey police raided his home and charged him with further felonies.
Nobody else in the NFL would give Burress a chance when he returned a New York Jet in 2011.
Burress never returned to old form. That’s not to say he was bad –– he was a high-flying Jet during his season with the other New York team. But that’s not very hard to do. They are the Jets, after all. Burress found few options as a free agent after his comeback season. You know something’s wrong when even the Raiders won’t talk to you.
After one season with the Jets, Burress returned to the team that first drafted him: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Plaxico played in four games during the 2012 season before retiring.
The Steelers weren’t the same team, and Burress wasn’t the same man. That sentiment remains true today.
Plaxico Burress Now
NFL teams have continued to abstain from hiring Burress. The former Giants wide receiver found work as a Cardinal coaching intern but has otherwise remained away from the league.
Burress is still worth $6 million today. Imagine how much the NFL player would be worth had he realized a gun was unnecessary that evening. New York Giants fans have lived with that thought ever since Plaxico shot himself near the foot, though they probably got over it in 2012.
Would Burress be in the Hall of Fame by now? It’s impossible to say. What I can say is this: self-inflicted wounds take the longest to heal.