Wasted Talent

Plaxico had it all.

He was a game changer. An outlier with a rare package of size and skill at the wide receiver position.  A type of player you don’t see often, and the type of player offensive minds crave. The ability to throw the ball up in just the general area of a guy and have confidence he can come down with it is hard to find. Plaxico had that talent, and the Super Bowl ring to match it. On the eve of the next season, he was rewarded for his title winning catch with a hefty new contract. The Giants were motoring through a brutal schedule, on their way to home field in the NFC, and a real chance to defend their title. Then Plaxico Burress went out on a Friday night to a club, took a gun with him, and ended his Giants career.

Plaxico wasn’t having a pro bowl year, but his presence on the field was irreplaceable, and his absence derailed the Giants season. A less gifted individual would be cast off without question for such inexcusable acts. But the Giants knew how valuable he was, and wanted to work things out in spite of them. The Giants hierarchy sat down with Burress and merely asked that he understand the implications, and the magnitude of his actions. They asked him to be as remorseful as he should be. And they asked that after he pay for his transgressions, that a new version of Plaxico Burress show up for work every day,  on time, without excuse.  But that wasn’t going to be possible. Burress scoffed at the Giants request to forfeit portions of his bonus they felt he violated. Or at very least return them as a sign of good faith to the team that pays him, and the teammates he let down.  Weeks after the shot heard round the NFL, with a self inflicted bullet wound in his leg,  and embarrassment and criticism piling sky high, still no humbled Plax emerged.

Insted of gearing up for training camp, Plaxico will gear up for trial and eventual jail time

Insted of gearing up for training camp, Plaxico will gear up for trial and eventual jail time

Instead, Burress and his lawyers wasted months trying to figure out a way for him to avoid significant jail time, and their plans backfired. Plaxico must believe he’s above the law. That his stature affords him the right to take an unregistered firearm out into public without consequence. If he didn’t believe it,  Burress wouldn’t have sat in front of grand jury to testify, and do nothing but worsen his already bleak situation. A fews days ago Buress was indicted on two gun charges, and an additional one for reckless endangerment.  I guess the jury saw the same thing as the Giants.

Burress needs to, and will go to prison for what looks like at least a year or two.  Had he accepted that early on, he might be knocking off a large portion of that sentence as we speak. But Burress failed to take the opportunity to mitigate the damages he’s already caused to himself, his family and his reputation.  The Giants were forced to release Burress, because if they didn’t,  they would be going against everything Tom Coughlin has created here  about the concept of team, and how no one individual is above it.

Plaxico appeared close to becoming a player who grasps that concept in their run to the Super Bowl. He played week after week on one ankle, because that’s what the team needed him to do. He turned in a virtuoso performance in the NFC Championship game under rarely seen conditions in Green Bay. And after claiming a Super Bowl ring, the validation of everything he and the Giants worked for, it looked like this could be just the beginning. But when the next season rolled along we found nothing but the same old Plax;  the one that had to be suspended for a game just weeks after receiving an extension.

New York’s team in 2008 with Burress was the league’s best.  I’m not saying that because I am a Giant fan,  I’m saying it because I believe it to be true. The Giants beat the last four teams standing in 2008. They went on the road and beat the Steelers, and the Cardinals, who they played minus Burress and Jacobs. They beat up a rugged Ravens team, that made a spirited run to the AFC title game. They were a complete team, that knew how to play together, with discipline and toughness. They ran the ball down your throat, and it didn’t matter that you knew it was coming.

Many Giant fans were naive for these reasons, believing that they could survive without Burress because of their strength as a unit. I was one of them. But Burress’ absence squeezed the Giants running lanes, which were gaping for 3 quarters of a year as the Giants rolled to 11-1. His replacements came up small, and the defense grew too weary to carry them. They held on to home field advantage, just barely, edging out Carolina in come back fashion in an OT thriller. That would be their only win in their last 5 contents, and the Eagles rolled in the Meadowlands a better and more confident team then the Gmen. They played each other twice a year. Too much familiarity to be fearful. Wrong team, wrong time.  Without their all world giraffe to snatch pigskins out of the air, the Giants kicked field goal after field goal, becoming mediocre offensively in their final games before elimination.

It’s a shame that Burress was not on the field. These types of accidents just shouldn’t happen. Especially not to an adult who has immense responsibilities as a professional and a public figure. But we know now that Burress has never really become an adult. Never been mature enough to see the big picture, and atleast pretend to go through the motions and conduct himself the way a man making millions of dollars needs to.

This isn’t about how much of an idiot he is for shooting himself. That’s a given.

A Bronx Tale told us that one of the saddest things in life is wasted talent

A Bronx Tale told us that one of the saddest things in life is wasted talent

It’s about the opportunities he’s cost himself and by extension many others. The moments that could have been had he displayed a little self restraint.  I could have used any number of words there. Because I honestly don’t know what he was thinking when he took that gun with him. So I can’t say for sure what would have stopped him.

If you felt so strongly you needed a gun to go to a club, why would one go at all?  I guess that’s a question only a rational person can answer.  He had a football game on Sunday, and it wouldn’t have killed  him to lay low. It would have saved him a lot of pain and embarrassment actually.  Instead, Plaxico’s career potentially may never resume, and I,  like many Giant fans,  are left in bewilderment of a man who may have won us a Super Bowl, and cost us one as well.

He and Eli Manning were well on their way to becoming the most prestigious QB-WR combo in team history. And I firmly believe that this team had the makings of a dynasty, capable of winning 3 or 4 titles in a six or seven year span.

But things have changed now. That saddest part however, isn’t that Plaxico will never play for the Giants again, it’s that he may never get it. The light may never go on.

Too much wasted talent.

And the Giants won’t be the same without him.

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