Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who played a little over two seasons with Big Blue and caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII, served a two-year prison sentence for various weapons charges. He was released in early June and recently signed with the New York Jets.
Running back Tiki Barber, a Giants legend who holds many franchise records including most rushing yards (10,449) and most rushing touchdowns (55), retired after the 2006 season but is seeking a comeback for the 2011 campaign. He has yet to sign with a team.
Both of these high-profile players should be making plenty of headlines during the upcoming season, regardless of whether they are successful in their return to the gridiron. Everyone will be anxious to see how the two fare after so much time away from the field.
Still, one of these former Giants playmakers will have a significantly more exciting comeback. Burress has a lot more going for him in terms of publicity, and not only because he's the only one of the two that currently has a job.
Here are five reasons why his return will be more fun to watch than Barber's.
Tiki Barber may only be 28 months older than Plaxico Burress, but football years can be like dog years.
Both players, coincidentally enough, last played in the NFL at age 31. Both were also very successful. Barber's last season included 1,662 rushing yards and a Giants record 234 yards in a Week 17 victory over the Washington Redskins. That regular season finale performance also set the mark for the most rushing yards ever by a player over 30 years old, leaving many to wonder why Barber was deciding to hang up his cleats.
Burress' last full season saw him catch 70 passes for 1,025 yards. He did this in spite of an injured ankle that prevented him from practicing all season.
Now, though, Barber is 36 years old, which is entering "ancient" territory for a running back. Although he very well could have been keeping in shape over the past four years, the physical condition required for television analysis isn't quite comparable to the necessary fitness of an NFL player.
Burress, meanwhile, is 33 now, which doesn't exactly resemble a spring chicken in football terms, either. But his 20 months spent in the slammer included a fair share of physical training. He worked out four times a week and implemented similar drills that he completed in practice. Burress obviously knew he was coming back to the NFL eventually, unlike Barber, who gave no implications of a return until this year.
Playing running back in the NFL is possibly the most physically taxing position in sports, and it grows immensely harder as one reaches his mid-thirties.
Tiki Barber will attempt to tread new ground by having success running the ball during his age-36 season. As this blog post demonstrates quite effectively, Barber doesn't have many (read: any?) strong precedents to look to.
Sure, the argument can be made that Barber has had four fewer years of bumps and bruises than his predecessors, due to his retirement. But he still isn't in the condition he was in during his twenties, and opposing linebackers are as potent as ever.
Plaxico Burress, meanwhile, can look to some of his peers to see that wide receivers can still be successful at this stage of their career. Terrell Owens' age-34 season (Burress will be 34 on August 12) saw him rack up 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns. Chad Ochocinco is Burress' age and still going strong, starting a new life on the New England Patriots. Randy Moss, though he's apparently retired, is 34 and most still think he could be a productive receiver on an NFL team.
Plaxico Burress may be staying in New York, but he's joining a team with a much different culture than that of the Giants.
Led by head coach Rex Ryan, who is never short for words, and quarterback Mark Sanchez, slowly growing into the leader the Jets have been waiting for, Gang Green celebrates a melting pot of personalities. Burress will only add to this intense mixture.
The wide receiving core in itself has the potential to be unique, with dynamic ability on the field and something of, well, an attitude off of it.
Here's how ESPN's Mike Lupica described the situation on his radio show Monday afternoon (podcast link here):
"Think about this: If the Jets could somehow bring back Braylon Edwards, they'd have a DUI at one wide receiver, they'd have a gun-toter in Plax at the other one, and then their star would be a drink-thrower in the club in Santonio Holmes...they'd be three quarters of the way to the grand slam!"
Okay, so maybe that's not quite the image the Jets are going for. But they shouldn't have to worry about that too much if the trio, and Burress especially, performs up to capabilities.
The Jets have become one of the most fun teams to watch during the past couple of seasons and, as long as they stay competitively relevant, they will remain in the news. Burress, you can be sure, will constantly be in the middle of that media attention, given his tumultuous path back to football field.
It isn't clear where Tiki Barber will end up, but it likely won't be in New York.
In case you've forgotten, there was another big-name NFL star who left the game for a couple of years in order to serve a prison sentence.
Michael Vick served 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to federal felony charges regarding an illegal dogfighting ring. Many doubted he would be able to return to his high-profile status, but after being reinstated during the 2009 season, Vick eventually recreated himself with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He didn't have a true impact until last season, when he looked like an MVP candidate through his first several starts. Vick wasn't named the MVP, but he did earn the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
While no one is directly comparing Plaxico Burress to Vick, it is something of a coincidence to have, in the span of two years, two players returning to the NFL after spending so much time in jail. Now that Vick has shown that returning from such a predicament is possible, there will be some who expect Burress to have similar success.
Tiki Barber, meanwhile, is coming back from a failed stint as a TV pundit. Yawwwwwn.
The New York Jets play the New York Giants during Week 16.
Think Plaxico Burress might be mentioned a couple of times?
Also, although the Jets will not play Burress' other former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, during the regular season, don't count out the possibility the two will eventually cross paths.
The Steelers knocked off the Jets in the AFC championship game last January. These two teams are among the favorites in the conference, so a postseason rematch is entirely possible.