I’m sick of hearing all of this talk about “Laxico” Burress and how he’s all of a sudden some sort of “bad boy.”
By now, it’s no secret that the New York Giants’ prized acquisition of the 2005 offseason has had more than a little bit of trouble complying with the rules and regulations of the organization. He’s been fined numerous times this season for various infractions of team rules. He was even suspended for the team’s recent game against the Seattle Seahawks for failing to show up at practice on the preceding Monday.
But the fact remains that once game day rolls around, none of these issues seem to matter, because Plaxico Burress shows up to play football for the New York Giants.
In this past Sunday’s contest with the 49ers, Burress was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after lambasting an official who had just flagged him for offensive pass interference.
He then yelled an obscenity to coach Tom Coughlin on the sidelines. A man sitting two rows in front of me in the stands of Giants Stadium then shouted: “What has this guy ever done for us?”
Are you kidding me, guy?
First of all, Burress plays for arguably the toughest fans you can play professional sports in front of. He plays in New Jersey, but since he plays so close to the media capital of the world in New York City, where most fans have a very “what have you done for me lately” attitude towards their players, everything he does will be scrutinized from every conceivable angle.
So that means that since he had his share of issues when he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, everybody will hear about the occasions where he slips up, and they'll jump to their own conclusions.
Because of where he plays pro football, fans are going to forget about the fact that he willed his way through last season, put up Pro Bowl numbers while basically playing on one ankle for the duration of the season, and caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
Instead, they will focus on the negatives, like when he breaks a team rule, gets suspended for a game, gets called for unsportsmanlike conduct, or has a game where he logs two catches for 16 yards and zero touchdowns.
It’s also no secret that Burress gets away with a lot of physicality that should feasibly lead to him getting flagged for more offensive interference calls than he has gotten called for, but when you’re a 6'5" receiver in the NFL, you have to play physical.
Did Burress get mad about the interference call and lose his cool? Yes. Should he have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with the official about it? According to the NFL rulebook, he absolutely should have been flagged for it.
But the last time I checked, professional football is a very physical sport, and if you don’t get heated every so often, you shouldn’t be playing the game. The way he handled this particular situation was wrong and it drew the unsportsmanlike conduct call, but after this week, it’s something that won’t happen again. Tom Coughlin just won’t allow it. And Burress has played for Coughlin long enough to know that.
"You just have to learn that it is over and you have to go forward and can't let it affect you for the next play," Coughlin said to the New York Post about the incident.
It’s not uncommon for a player to lose his cool every once in a while. When wide receiver Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers got ejected from a Week 16 showdown with Dallas in the 2006 season for arguing a call with an official, it went almost unnoticed by the media in comparison to Burress’ incident.
This is definitely because, even though Smith is one of the NFL’s elite receivers, the New York media doesn't cover the Carolina Panthers.
"Nobody lost any sleep over it; get up in the morning and move on," Burress said to the New York Post regarding his incident.
The question can also be raised of whether money has changed Burress and caused him to develop this “new attitude.”
When big-name NFL players receive new, big-money contracts, they tend to become complacent. Shaun Alexander is a prominent example of how receiving a new contract can motivate you to become less motivated.
Just about three years removed from his then-record setting 2005 season with Seattle, he now plays for the Washington Redskins as a backup to the NFL’s current rushing leader: Clinton Portis. Many believed that receiving an eight-year, $62 million contract was the beginning of the end of Alexander’s run of greatness in Seattle.
Burress received a five-year $35 million deal just hours before the Giants’ season opener. That night, he tore up the Redskins’ secondary, logging 10 receptions for 133 yards in a performance that sparked memories of his 11-catch, 154-yard performance in the NFC Championship game this past January.
It can be argued that Burress has not put up his usual level of consistent production since receiving his new contract, when compared to the rest of the NFL’s wide receivers.
After six games played, he has 341 receiving yards, tying him for 36th in the league with Lance Moore of the New Orleans Saints. His 25 receptions ties him with five other players for 40th in the league (most notably Randy Moss and Terrell Owens), his 68.2 yards per game is good for 18th in the league, and he is one of 15 players with three receiving scores, while five receivers (Anquan Boldin, Chris Chambers, Larry Fitzgerald, Terrell Owens, and Hines Ward) lead the NFL with five.
The stats won’t matter until at least Week 10, when all 32 teams have had their bye week and have played the same number of games. And even so, those stats aren’t an accurate representation of what Plaxico Burress has meant to the New York Giants' organization.
He has become a big part of the reason that Eli Manning has developed as well and as quickly as he has. Eli has had Burress to throw the ball to for all but one season of his young NFL career, and the results have helped lead the Giants to a 38-22 overall record, including playoffs, in that span.
The question can also be raised of why he was released by Pittsburgh if he is such a great player while other great players like Hines Ward are still with the team.
The bottom line is, the NFL is a business and even some of the greatest players of all time didn’t spend their entire careers with just one team. Look at a guy like Jerry Rice, who unofficially played for four NFL teams in his legendary career (though he never played a down in his time with Denver and subsequently retired before that season started).
I’m not insinuating that Burress is as good as Jerry Rice was, but it is a similarity that the two receivers share that is worth mentioning.
From everything he has shown me since he joined the Giants' organization, Burress is a team player that has had more than a few off-field issues that haven’t and don’t mean a thing once it’s time to lace up his cleats and play New York Giants football. Many fans will remember that there was a player who won two Super Bowls for this team that had some off-field issues of his own, but always showed up to play Giants football.
His name was Lawrence Taylor.
And while Burress is nowhere near as dominant on offense as Taylor was on defense, he is still a game-breaker, who plays his heart out, has lead the Giants to many victories, and will continue to do so for as long as he remains with the team.
And for every guy in the stands who asks what Burress has ever done for the Giants, I offer this response: Just remember that professional football isn’t played in newspaper headlines. It’s played on the field. And Plaxico Burress, to date, has shown up to play.
And he will show up again this Sunday as he returns to Pittsburgh for the first time as a member of the Giants to play against his former team, which should only add to his motivation to play at a high level.
So lay off of “Laxico,” and let his play do the talking.