By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — You couldn’t wait for him to fail.
Well, guess what? You’ve got some more waiting to do. Word of advice: stop sitting around hoping, because it’s probably not going to happen.
Heading into the Jets’ Sunday night preseason matchup with Cincinnati at the New Meadowlands Stadium, exactly 1,000 days had passed since Plaxico Burress had played in an NFL game. All offseason long people wondered what Burress would be all about following his 20-month stint in prison. Then, upon his assimilation back into the league, the Jets met his asking price and Burress hopped on board possibly the biggest hype train in professional sports.
It didn’t take long for the haters to just assume Burress couldn’t cut it anymore. The statements on sites like Twitter and in the mainstream press were as expected. People said the Jets took an awfully big risk bringing in a guy like Burress, in place of a proven and younger commodity like Braylon Edwards, proven in the sense that Edwards had actually been in uniform in both 2009 and ’10. Criticism of Burress’ 34 years and confidence that his time behind bars would almost certainly erode his once-golden skills became the soup du jour.
And make no mistake, the detractors weren’t just Patriots fans or Dolphins fans or suddenly-scorned Giants fans. Many Jets supporters expressed disgust over the acquisition of the man who went afoul of the law, the star athlete who was made an example of by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for shooting himself inside a nightclub. They honestly believed Edwards was the better player and that the decision to let him go and opt for what many assumed was this washed-up former champion was really just General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan going completely off the deep end.
Well, if you still think signing Burress was a mistake, plan on protecting your tweets or creating a new profile this upcoming regular season because if Sunday night was any indication, “Plax” is about to wax some fools and the Jets are about to become that much more explosive on offense, which in either case means bad news for the rest of the league.
Burress played a half on Sunday. In those 30 minutes he looked like the guy he was prior to his incarceration, back when he was catching the winning touchdown for the Giants in their Super Bowl XLII win over the Patriots or any other time that he was an absolute nightmare to match up against. On the Jets’ first play from scrimmage he hauled in a 20-yard pass from Mark Sanchez. Later he grabbed another 20-yard pass down the left sideline. And then, just before halftime, he capped a 99-yard drive by plucking a 26-yard floater out of the Jersey raindrops with his back to the line of scrimmage for a touchdown, a play eerily similar to the one that crushed all of New England some three and a half years ago.
Yes, Plax is most certainly back, and he looks no worse for wear. You now have no choice but to deal with it.
Now I realize that Burress having one stellar preseason game in the middle of August does not make him an All-Pro, nor does it make him the oft-unstoppable force he once was. But considering the fact that the man had not seen a second of actual game time in years and had really only practiced for a few days at full speed leading up to Sunday, you cannot help but be impressed, Jets fan or not.
And, you really don’t have a right to assume it won’t continue.
Burress really appears to be on a righteous path. From the interviews he’s given and his general body language and demeanor, it’s clear this man has matured and has seen the error of his ways, and I don’t believe it’s just lip service.Yes, he still has swagger, but don’t for a second mistake his football persona arrogance for real-life gang-banger vanity. I think that guy died the second the bars slammed home that first night in the joint.
What really works in his favor is the fact that the Jets are not asking him to be their No. 1 guy, nor is he being counted on to be a team spokesman. This team has offensive weapons and mouthpieces all over the place. Burress will be just a role player, albeit a key role player, but his mere presence will make every last one of his teammate’s jobs that much easier.
You can’t put a price tag on his upside. The Jets paid a little more than $3 million for one year, but the return on that investment could be priceless. On Sunday night he gave you just a taste of what’s likely to come.
Over the last few weeks Burress said on more than one occasion he couldn’t wait to show the world a thing or two. He kept intimating that he had a surprise for everyone. Well, the opening act is getting rave reviews. Do you dare to call it a fluke? Do you honestly believe Burress was lucky or the beneficiary of just a really poor opponent? If you are that stubborn you have problems. That, or you just hate for the sake of hating. Either way, anything short of just piping down and waiting for the next act to unfold is just plain foolishness.
Prior to last week’s preseason opener against Houston, legendary coach Bill Parcells was doing the pregame show for ESPN and he said a lot of things about the Jets, many I agreed with. But he kept emphasizing that two years away from the game is a long time for anyone to sit out and then be expected to return with the same skill set he had previously. Well, he wasn’t exactly breaking news in the court of public opinion.
But you would think people would have learned a thing or two from Michael Vick, who not only came back last season and performed better than he had prior to going to jail, but he also did it at a position that is arguably the most difficult to play in all of professional sports.
Why can’t Burress do it on a smaller scale with the Jets? It’s not like he gained 50 pounds eating jail food. This isn’t your average athlete. On the contrary, he was a highlight reel player before for a reason. He kept himself in shape while away, grew up emotionally and came back to the sport, not during a season, but before it began, with ample time work out all the kinks, bang off all the rust and once again get used to the speed of any given Sunday in the NFL.
People are always so quick to sell someone short or to kick them when they are down or pile on because it’s en vogue, but in the world of the NFL and professional sports in general, we sometimes forget that the sport is all the player knows. The muscle memory never forgets. Age is just a number, within reason.
Burress the man may not deserve your praise, but he certainly deserves your respect for what he can still do on a football field. Exhibit A was entered into evidence on Sunday night.
Now his prosecutors need a new argument, and quickly, because all of their precedent just went out the window.
It’s that or maybe, just maybe, they should admit they were wrong about him.
Please read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Realistically, what do you expect from Burress during the 2011 season? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.