In the case of former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the NBA’s loss was the NFL’s gain.
Burress, who aspired to play in the National Basketball Association while he was growing up in Virginia Beach, VA, realized his future lay on the gridiron as his high school athletics career progressed.
Before long, Burress became one of the best wide receivers in Michigan State Spartans football program history.
Burress went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants, and the New York Jets in his colorful and controversial 12-year NFL career.
Burress made his mark on pro football history when he caught the decisive touchdown pass from Eli Manning in the waning moments of the New York Giants’ spectacular 17-14 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
This is Plaxico Burress’s remarkable gridiron journey.
Plaxico Antonio Burress was born in Norfolk, VA on August 12, 1977. He has two brothers: Carlos and Ricardo.
Burress’s mother, Adelaide, raised her three boys by herself. She worked as a nurse, a school bus driver, and a gas station attendant to make ends meet.
Adelaide, a former track star at Norfolk State University, eventually earned her master’s degree in nursing when she was 35 years old, per Plaxico’s 2009 autobiography, Giant: The Road to the Super Bowl.
The Burress family lived in a crime-infested and seedy public housing development in Virginia Beach, VA known as Twin Canal. Adelaide shelled out a dollar every month for rent.
“The way I grew up, we had hard times, we had rough times,” Burress wrote in his 2009 book. “But I have no regrets about how I grew up. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Adelaide Burress ruled her household with an iron fist. Sometimes, Plaxico felt she went overboard when disciplining her three children. He realized she was preparing him and his brothers for life many years later.
Drugs and shootings were rampant during Plaxico’s childhood. One time, he saw a drug deal gone wrong. The dealer shot at the car of somebody who owed him money several times as they tried to get away.
Plaxico also found out that somebody had shot his friend Diedrick while he was walking home. His friend was just 12 or 13 years old.
Plaxico was the only one among his peers who played sports at an early age. He shared the same Virginia roots with DeAngelo Hall, Michael Vick, Allen Iverson, Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, David Wright, Justin Upton, and B.J. Upton.
Green Run proud to be a part of Super Bowl history (Plaxico Burress, Matt Darby, & Keith Goganious) pic.twitter.com/zqzLeBdnBM
— Stallion Activities (@GreenRunSports) January 21, 2016
Plaxico used sports as a way to get through hard times. He thought he had a bright future as an athlete.
However, football was not on the horizon during his younger years in Virginia—he was more of a basketball player. He played hoops almost daily in Virginia Beach, VA. Although he played some football as a youngster, he didn’t take it seriously at first.
Plaxico Burress attended Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, VA. He played basketball and football for the Green Run Stallions.
Burress played on both sides of the ball in high school. He was a wide receiver and free safety for Stallions head football coach Elisha Harris.
When Plaxico was in high school, he came home at 1:30 a.m. after hanging out with his friends one early morning. He saw his mother reading a book when he opened the door.
As soon as he stepped inside, she told him he could burn the candle at both ends. A perplexed Plaxico had no idea what she was talking about.
Some time later, Plaxico realized what she was trying to tell him. He had a regional playoff game the day after he got home late. His mother was trying to tell him it wasn’t possible for him to commit to football and party hard at the same time.
It was a valuable life lesson that remained with him for the rest of his life.
“You can’t be a great football player, a great husband, or a great father and be out all the time,” Burress wrote in his 2009 book.
It took some time for Plaxico to learn this lesson. Adelaide Burress made sure she got through to him when he was in high school.
When Plaxico was around 15 or 16 years old, he was hanging out with his friends and playing spades. He and his friends were mingling with girls, playing loud music, and drinking a bit.
They heard a knock on the door. Without realizing who it was, they nonchalantly let the visitor inside. Adelaide Burress burst through the door and snatched her son from his chair. She slapped him on his neck countless times on their way back home. Plaxico never hung out at that house again.
Adelaide, who was never afraid to get in referees’ faces at her sons’ games, warned Plaxico never to get a girl pregnant. The thought of his mother going berserk when he impregnated a girl scared the living daylights out of him.
According to Plaxico’s 2009 autobiography, he received his first recruiting letter during his sophomore season in high school. However, he had no interest in going to college at that point in his life.
“I looked at it and said, ‘This is a joke.’ I’m not going to college,” Burress wrote.
Plaxico still played football for kicks until his junior year of high school. He still thought he was more of a basketball player back then.
In Plaxico’s first two years at Green Run High School, his dream was to play in the National Basketball Association.
He played basketball scrimmage games with future New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks and North Carolina Tar Heels basketball player Jason Capel back in the day.
Although Brooks and Capel were decent basketball players, Burress considered future NBA star Tim Thomas the best player he went up against during his high school days.
Thomas, who suited up for Paterson Catholic High School in New Jersey, was a 6’10” forward who handled the ball like a shorter point guard.
Burress, a shooting guard, was in awe of Thomas—the latter dunked the ball nearly every time he got near the basket, per Plaxico’s 2009 autobiography.
One day during Burress’s junior year, Harris visited him at his house and told him he was the best player he had ever coached.
A perplexed Burress told him he played on the gridiron just because his friends also played. An undaunted Harris told him he had natural, God-given abilities as a football player, per Plaxico’s 2009 book.
Plaxico’s mom Adelaide overheard their conversation and told him to go out and play football. He agreed and his high school football career reached unprecedented heights.
Burress thought Harris’s words were true after all—he had blistering speed for a wideout who eventually grew to 6’5″ during his NFL career from 2000 to 2013. Nobody could put the clamps on him.
Before long, Plaxico earned defensive MVP honors from his teammates. He also earned All-State honors as a junior in 1994.
Plaxico’s fame reached epic proportions the following year. Various sports publications ranked him the number one high school wideout in the country. They regularly featured him on the front covers of their magazines.
At this point in Burress’s high school athletics career, his metamorphosis from basketball player to football star was nearly complete.
One day during Plaxico’s senior season in 1995, Harris pulled him aside and showed him game tape of Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Michael Westbrook and UCLA Bruins wideout J.J. Stokes.
Harris told Burress in no uncertain terms that he was much better than Westbrook and Stokes. He encouraged Plaxico to attend several college summer camps.
Burress agreed and attended various camps on the East Coast, including those of the Virginia Cavaliers, the South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Florida Gators.
Burress was so impressive at Florida that Gators coaches, including defensive coordinator Ron Zook, recruited him hard.
The feeling was mutual. Plaxico also wanted to attend Florida. Unfortunately, his high school grades did not meet Florida’s academic standards.
Harris urged Burress to hit the books so he could pass his SATs. When Plaxico entered his senior year at Green Run High, his GPA was an atrocious 1.6.
Plaxico, who wasn’t serious about embarking on a college football career when he was growing up in Virginia, hung on Harris’s every word. The latter encouraged him to improve his GPA to at least 2.0 so he could play for a major college football program.
Harris literally went the extra mile for Burress—he drove him to Ocean Lake High School for his tutoring sessions. Burress put in the work, made the honor roll, and hiked up his GPA to 2.0.
By then, Burress had already crossed Florida off his shortlist. He eventually committed to the Michigan State Spartans because they stayed with him throughout the entire recruiting process.
Although Burress improved his GPA, he still had trouble with his SAT and ACT scores. The Michigan State recruiters suggested that Plaxico take either the JUCO or prep school route.
Fork Union Military Academy management eventually approved the $25,000 loan Plaxico’s uncle Adrian Elliott gave him. Although Plaxico cringed at the thought of attending military school, he took a risk and did it.
Plaxico Burress had taken that all-important first step in becoming one of the best wide receivers in college football in the mid-to-late 1990s.
College Days with the Michigan State Spartans
Plaxico Burress attended Michigan State University in Lansing, MI from 1998 to 1999.
Before Burress strutted his wares for Michigan State Spartans head football coach Nick Saban, he attended Fork Union Military Academy in his home state of Virginia.
The school was everything Plaxico wasn’t—a no-nonsense military type of atmosphere where the cadets shaved their heads and facial hair, wore uniforms, scrubbed toilets, and took orders from their superiors.
However, the college football landscape was easy for Plaxico when he attended Fork Union.
In Burress’s first college football game suiting up for the Fork Union Blue Devils against Widener College in 1996, he ran a slant route and caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kevin Ward almost unscathed on the first play of the game.
Lightning struck twice in the second half when he caught a 60-yard bomb from Ward to set up 1st and 10 at the 10-yard line.
Burress approached Blue Devils head football coach Tripp Billingsley on the sideline. The latter told him he was going to become an All-American wideout someday, per Plaxico’s 2009 book.
Burress eventually passed the SAT while he was enrolled at Fork Union. Once the Spartans found out about the good news, they pulled him out of military school.
Under NCAA transfer rules, Plaxico had to sit out the entire 1997 NCAA season. He played his first down for Michigan State one year later.
When Plaxico first attended classes at Michigan State in 1997, he rubbed elbows with Spartans basketball players Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves.
They were shocked at Plaxico’s fashion sense—he was probably the only student who wore yellow Timberland boots on campus. Everybody else wore Rockports.
Plaxico also wore a hat and baggy jeans to complement his Timberland boots. His fellow students thought he was so different than everybody else.
In Burress’ eyes, it was a reality check—it made him realize that going to college was one of the best decisions he had ever made.
“I’m so glad I went to college,” Plaxico wrote in his 2009 autobiography. “If I had just stayed back in Virginia my whole life like so many of them guys I grew up with, I never would have known any of this.”
Burress also admitted in his 2009 book that he did not get along well with Saban, who was arguably the best coach in college football history.
One of Plaxico’s best friends, Florida Gators defensive back Cedric Warren, fractured his neck in the fall of 1997.
Burress approached Saban and asked him for permission to visit Warren in the hospital. To Plaxico’s dismay, Saban turned down his request.
“He wouldn’t let me go see my best friend in the hospital who’s almost paralyzed,” Plaxico wrote in his 2009 book. “I didn’t like him and we didn’t get along well.”
— Plaxico Burress (@plaxicoburress) November 11, 2017
Burress had to set their differences aside so he could play lights-out football as the 1990s wound down.
That’s exactly what Plaxico did during his short two-year tenure with the Spartans from 1998 to 1999.
Burress’s big 6’5″, 232-lb. frame created many mismatches that Michigan State took advantage of.
“Plaxico had a productive college career, and he always played his best in the big games. As a big-bodied receiver, he created so many mismatch situations,” Spartans secondary coach Mark Dantonio said in 2008.
According to the school’s official athletics website, Burress became the first player in its football program history to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Burress’s 13 receptions against the Florida Gators in early 2000 currently rank second in program history.
His 255 receiving yards against the Michigan Wolverines in 1999 rank second among Spartans wide receivers behind Charles Rogers’ 270 yards in 2001.
The big rivalry game against Michigan was Burress’s first against Wolverines quarterback Tom Brady, who almost singlehandedly brought his team back from a 27-10 third-quarter deficit.
At one point, Brady completed 15 straight passes for Michigan. He finished the game with 285 passing yards and one touchdown.
Despite Brady’s best efforts, the Spartans prevailed, 34-31. It was a game Plaxico Burress would never forget.
Brady and Burress went on to meet several times during their respective pro football careers. Both of them played key roles in the New York Giants’ thrilling 17-14 victory over the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII almost nine years later.
Burress never let up during his two-year stint with the Spartans. He finished his college football career with 20 receiving touchdowns—tied with Andre Rison for the fifth-most in school history.
Burress’s 12 touchdowns as a junior in 1999 are also tied with B.J. Cunningham for the third-most among Michigan State wideouts.
To nobody’s surprise, Plaxico Burress earned consecutive All-Big Ten honors in 1998 and 1999.
Burress punctuated his college football career with a Michigan State 37-34 win over the Florida Gators in the 2000 Citrus Bowl.
He eventually decided to forego his senior season and declare for the 2000 NFL Draft.
Plaxico Burress, who once dreamed of entering the NBA ranks, was now on the verge of becoming a top-notch NFL wide receiver.
Pro Football Career
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Plaxico Burress the eighth overall selection of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Burress started his 12-year pro football career on an embarrassing note.
After hauling in a 19-yard reception against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2000 NFL season, Plaxico spiked the ball and fell to the ground without a Jaguars player touching him.
Consequently, the ball was still live and the officials ruled it a fumble. Jacksonville linebacker Danny Clark recovered the football and returned it 44 yards.
Fortunately for Burress and his team, Pittsburgh prevailed, 24-13.
Burress’s rookie season ended prematurely because of a wrist injury. Some pundits thought he was a one-and-done wide receiver.
In fact, Baltimore Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe even dubbed Burress “Plexiglass” leading up to the two AFC Central rivals’ key matchup in December 2001.
Hear what Ray Lewis said days before the game about Bettis suggesting Takeo Spikes is just as good as Lewis.
Steelers won without Bettis.
Shannon Sharpe called Plaxico Burress “Plexiglass,” then Burress had his best game of the year.
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) December 17, 2021
Burress made Sharpe bite his tongue after a scintillating 164-yard, eight-reception game that sparked Pittsburgh’s 26-21 win and clinched the Steelers’ first division title since 1997, per ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli.
Burress, who had just 273 receiving yards in his rookie season in 2000, became one of Steelers head coach Bill Cowher’s main weapons in the next four seasons.
Burress had 4,091 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns for Pittsburgh from 2001 to 2004. The Steelers averaged 11 wins per season during that four-year timeframe and made the postseason three times. Regrettably, they never made it past the AFC Championship Game.
Sadly, Plaxico’s mother Adelaide passed away due to diabetes complications on March 22, 2002. He had just finished his second season with the Steelers three months earlier.
Adelaide taught Plaxico many valuable life lessons during his formative years in Virginia.
When Plaxico broke into the pro football ranks, some of his friends turned their backs on him. For instance, one friend who he had known since their early years in grade school wanted to borrow his watch worth $50,000.
Plaxico obliged. Unfortunately, his so-called “friend” never returned the watch. Plaxico called him several times but he never returned his calls, per his 2009 book.
On the other hand, some of his childhood friends from Virginia stayed with him when he started out with the Steelers in the early 2000s. Plaxico remembered one time he came back home and found out they had stolen one of his checks. Consequently, he reached out to his mom for advice.
“So I talked to my mom about it and the thing she said, and it’s been with me ever since, was ‘Don’t think with your heart, think with your mind.’ That’s how I’ve tried to be ever since,” Plaxico wrote in his 2009 autobiography.
After spending his first five pro football seasons in Western Pennsylvania, Burress left the Steelers and signed a six-year, $25 million deal with the New York Giants in the spring of 2005.
Burress had arguably the best and most controversial years of his NFL career in Giants red, white, and blue from 2005 to 2008.
Plaxico had 3,681 receiving yards and 33 touchdown catches when he played for New York during that four-year stretch.
The Giants averaged ten wins per season and made the postseason every year from 2005 to 2008.
Without a doubt, the pinnacle of that memorable time in franchise history was the exciting 17-14 triumph over Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in February 2008—the game that featured Giants wideout David Tyree’s improbable “Helmet Catch.”
Several plays after Tyree’s key reception, Burress caught the game-clinching touchdown pass from quarterback Eli Manning.
14 years ago tonight, Super Bowl XLII
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) February 4, 2022
New York defied the odds and thwarted the previously undefeated Patriots’ bid for a third Super Bowl title in five years.
“To me, it’s still the greatest game ever played. No doubt. Best Super Bowl ever played,” Burress told the Giants’ official website in January 2014.
Burress earned his first and only Super Bowl ring in his pro football career. He eventually signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension with the Giants before the 2008 NFL season.
It seemed like great things were in store for Plaxico Burress.
Regrettably, Burress’s tenure in The Big Apple would end in a controversial fashion.
The Giants suspended Burress for one game on October 5, 2008, for failing to show up for practice—a violation of team rules. The Steelers also suspended him for one game for the same reason nearly five years earlier.
Almost three weeks after announcing Burress’s one-game suspension, the Giants slapped him with $60,000 in fines for post-game comments, unsportsmanlike conduct, throwing a ball into the stands, and slapping a game official.
A shooting incident in the fall of 2008 drastically changed the trajectory of Plaxico Burress’s pro football career.
In a first-person essay Burress wrote for The Players’ Tribune (via CBS Sports’ John Breech) in the spring of 2017, he explained that he was hanging out with his friends at a jam-packed nightclub in November 2008.
A security guard suggested to Burress’s group they go upstairs where they could get a table. As Plaxico was going up the stairway, he was holding a drink in his left hand.
Since it was dark at the bar, Burress missed a step and slipped. Alas, the gun he was carrying on his belt slid down his right pant leg.
Just as Plaxico tried to catch the falling gun, his finger accidentally pulled the trigger and he shot himself in his right thigh.
In Burress’s essay, he wrote the noise level at the bar was so high that nobody heard his gun go off.
“The whole thing, it was unbelievable,” Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer told ESPN’s Jordan Raanan some ten years later. “It didn’t seem true if it was a movie script. You were like, this is fake. It was so over the top.”
As unbelievable as Burress’s story was, he eventually served 20 months in prison on multiple illegal weapons possession charges. Authorities released him from Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, NY in the summer of 2011.
Despite Burress’s on-field shenanigans, the Giants won 12 games in the 2008 NFL season—their best record in nine years.
Unfortunately, they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2008 NFC Divisional Round, 23-11.
After Burress served his prison sentence, he returned to New York City to resume his pro football career. This time around, he would wear New York Jets green and white.
Burress signed a one-year deal with Gang Green worth $3.017 million in the summer of 2011.
After a two-year hiatus from the NFL, Burress had 612 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 96 receptions for the Jets in 2011.
Gang Green won just eight games and missed the postseason for the first time in three years in Plaxico’s lone year with the team.
Nevertheless, Plaxico Burress earned another feather in his cap—2011 NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors, to be exact.
Burress returned to his old stomping grounds in Western Pennsylvania as his NFL career wound down. He spent his final two pro football seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2012 to 2013.
Plaxico had a combined 654 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches in his second stint in Steelers black and gold.
Pittsburgh was a mediocre team that won an average of eight games from 2012 to 2013. The Steelers missed the postseason each time.
Burress eventually retired from pro football following the 2013 NFL season. He had 8,499 receiving yards and 64 touchdowns on 553 receptions from 2000 to 2013.
Burress earned approximately $30 million in his 12-year pro football career.
Burress told Steelers.com in the fall of 2017 that his most memorable moment in Steelers black and gold was his first game as a rookie 17 years earlier. He will never forget his mother and two brothers cheering him on in the stands.
Burress singled out former Steelers wide receivers coach Bruce Arians and offensive lineman Dermontti Dawson as the most influential people in his pro football career, per Steelers.com.
According to Plaxico Burress’ official LinkedIn account, he and his family currently reside in the Pompano Beach, FL area.
Burress and his wife, Tiffany, a lawyer, have a son, Elijah Alexander, and a daughter, Giovanna Joi.
Tiffany Burress launched Joiful Maternity, a clothing line for pregnant women, in 2013.
Plaxico Burress followed suit and launched his own sock line known as the Plaxico Burress Collection which hit store shelves in late 2015.
Burress incurred roughly $56,000 in back taxes and received a five-year probation from the state of New Jersey in February 2016.
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) July 2, 2021
He re-enrolled at his alma mater, Michigan State University, to finish his communications degree in the summer of 2021.
Burress has been serving as the CEO of Plaxico Burress Enterprises since November 2011 and as a FOX Sports Radio co-host since December 2020, per his official LinkedIn page.