The Pittsburgh Steelers announced that wide receiver Plaxico Burress will undergo shoulder surgery Monday, terming the injury "significant." NFL.com's Albert Breer reported that Burress has a torn rotator cuff.
Left unsaid in the Steelers' statement: This almost surely will be the end of Burress' season, and subsequently his career. FoxSports.com's Mike Garafolo reported Friday that Burress was planning for this to be his final season. (He wasn't even guaranteed to make the team.)
It's a sad, if typical ending to an entirely atypical career. Burress will go down as one of the most fascinating figures in the NFL since being picked eighth overall by the Steelers in the 2000 NFL Draft.
"Plax is very misunderstood," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005 after Burress' final game during his first stint there. "A lot of people out there don't realize how great of a guy he is, how great of a teammate he is."
Burress played with Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox, Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, producing in the playoffs with all of them. Burress was known behind the scenes as a smart player and excellent teammate. (Burress memorably addressed the Steelers after the disappointing end of the 2004 season.) Still, Burress knew how to drive his coaches and bosses a little crazy early in his career. The Steelers made the choice to sign Hines Ward to a long-term contract in 2005 while letting Burress leave in free agency.
The Steelers made the right choice, but Burress ended up as one of the better free-agent signings of the decade with the New York Giants. His six-year, $25 million contract proved to be a bargain for the Giants, even if it ended badly. Burress averaged 1,075 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Giants. His 11-reception, 151-yard decimation of Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris in the 2007 NFC Championship Game was an epic, somewhat forgotten big-game performance.
Burress largely will be remembered for accidentally shooting himself at a New York nightclub in 2008. The controversy inspired a lot of late night jokes and a lengthy discussion on gun rights in New York. (Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not a man to be trifled with on this topic.) The loss of Burress at midseason helped sink an otherwise promising Giants campaign.
We think it's telling that ownership from the Giants and Steelers both were willing to bring Burress back after he served nearly two years in prison. They wanted to help him. (Burress took more money to play for the New York Jets in 2011.)
Roethlisberger's use of the word "misunderstood" was typical. It was a word I often heard to describe Burress by those who personally knew him well. The same word is true for his career.