Players like Plaxico Burress — the ones with me-me-me issues, the sports equivalent of the spoiled pop diva — are famous for ruining delicate teams. Terrell Owens gutted the Philadelphia Eagles on the way out the door and might do the same to the Cowboys before he’s done. Chad Johnson has dragged the Bengals down with him. Jerry Porter would likely drive a team of Pop Warner kids to insurrection. Players like Burress serve as distractions, and with the hothouse flowers that make up an NFL team’s locker room, distractions are often what shove a fragile union of professional athletes off the psychological precipice. If what Burress has done lately had happened last year, it very well might have destroyed the New York Giants, and coach Tom Coughlin.
But after winning a Super Bowl and storming out the next season to achieve a 10–1 record, a team tends to see distractions less. The only person the diva can hurt, at that point, is himself. Plaxico Burress has spent most of the season estranged from his teammates. While he could still be one of the NFL’s top receivers, Burress has been metaphorically shooting himself in the leg for months now: He was suspended for a game in September for skipping a practice, and word leaked out that Jersey police have been called “several” times to his home for “domestic disturbances.” (He has also been fined 40 to 50 times since joining the Giants.)
It’s worth noting that Burress’s crime was more out of carelessness than chicanery. Out drinking with teammates Ahmad Bradshaw and Antonio Pierce at a midtown club Friday, Burress was carrying a firearm to protect himself and his “expensive jewelry.” This is more common than you might think — an ESPN.com report from a couple of years ago details athletes’ obsessions with weaponry — and on the one-year anniversary of the murder of Redskins star Sean Taylor, protection is on many players’ minds. Burress’s concealed-weapon license in Florida had expired, and New York State wouldn’t have honored it anyway. The incident was stupid, not evil. It was vintage Plaxico.
And of course, the Giants responded to the fracas by completely trouncing the Washington Redskins. (And next week they may clinch the NFC East.) Antonio Pierce, who allegedly helped Burress hide the gun after the incident, played, and played well. It was as if no one noticed. Burress will spend today talking about the incident to police. The Giants will spend the week talking about Burress. And eventually, the team will finally drop him and go about their business, winning games, putting together perhaps the best regular season in team history. Shame Burress won’t be there for it.