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Becoming a father changed Burress

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- His talent unquestioned, his ability profound, the one thing that had always kept Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress from emerging as a true superstar was the perception that he was an immature player.

That perception, in many cases, was a reality.

He brought most of the negative attention upon himself with immature actions and a careless attitude.

It began with missing a workout with the Pittsburgh Steelers leading up to the 2000 draft.

"I did that whole thing totally wrong, totally," Burress admitted in a NFL Network interview back in November, "I actually flew from Newport Beach, Calif., to East Lansing, and I got to Michigan State like 6 or 7 that morning. And I was supposed to have a workout with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Michigan State at like 10 that morning, and I slept through the whole workout. I didn't wake up till like 3 or 4 in the evening. I talked to coach Cowher on the phone, and he was like 'Kid, I came all the way from Pittsburgh to see you work out, and you stiffed me.' "

Seeing his unlimited potential, the Steelers gave him a pass on the indiscretion and took him with the eighth overall pick.

But the rocky beginning was far from smoothing over.

He showed flashes of his ability during an inconsistent rookie season, but the most memorable moment from that year was his celebratory spike of the football against the Jaguars that resulted in a fumble.

The play came to symbolize Burress early in his career.

In his second season he put the spike behind him and appeared on his way to stardom. He finished the year with 66 catches for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns, while helping the Steelers reach the AFC Championship Game.

After the season, though, he got news that stunned him. His beloved mother had grown ill, and she later passed away. The loss devastated Burress.

"I thought my life was over, ruined at that point. I didn't wanna play football no more. I wanted to quit. My mom was like everything to me," Burress told the NFL Network.

Upon some reflection, Burress returned and responded with the best season of his career.

But he still had trouble shaking his checkered past.

Before the 2004 season, he infuriated the Steelers by missing the team's mandatory offseason mini-camp.

He followed that up with an injury-plagued season in which he played only 11 games and had his lowest numbers since his rookie campaign.

Once again, though, his talent earned him another chance, as the New York Giants signed him as a free agent.

The move appeared to be just what Burress needed, as he broke out with a career-high seven touchdowns and helped the Giants win the NFC East. But after a 23-0 loss to the Panthers in the playoffs, Burress' immaturity reappeared.

He skipped a mandatory meeting and was fined by coach Tom Coughlin.

The pattern was set, Burress would make a step forward, then take a step back.

It continued into the 2006 season. After playing well for most of the year, Burress earned the ire of his teammates for failing to chase down a Titans defender following a fourth-quarter interception. At the time, the Giants were ahead 21-0. They wound up losing, 24-21. Burress was blamed, and his reputation took another hit.

Then, in the offseason, a life-changing moment occurred for him, and he broke his self-destructive pattern of behavior.

He became a father.

"I'm having so much fun it's ridiculous," Burress told the NFL Network, "Playing with him. Throwing him up in the air and seeing him smile and laugh and seeing him reach toward me like 'pick me up daddy', nothing else compares to that."

The birth of his son had clearly signaled a change in Burress. He worked out with QB Eli Manning in the offseason and showed a renewed commitment to his teammates.

"I think Plaxico has definitely matured. He's grown up a bunch in his three years here. He had a kid this year, and that made him put everything in perspective," Manning said this week in Phoenix. "I think he's done a great job for us this year. He's been through a lot of adversity, a lot of things not going his way with some of these injuries. But I've never heard him complain, he's had a great attitude, he comes in smiling, and he works extremely hard to prepare himself to get ready to play."

His position coach, Mike Sullivan, feels the same way.

"As I've seen him get married," said Sullivan, "and he has his son who just turned a year old, the perspective and the balance that he has and how much he cherishes his family and really trying to put it all together this season. ... He's made great strides, and he's just been a joy to coach."

Burress has also made an impression on his teammates by playing through a painful ankle injury.

"Honestly it's kinda uncanny, " said fellow receiver David Tyree, who has been with Burress throughout his tenure in New York. "I don't even know how he did it. It's just amazing. People don't realize how difficult it is to go out there and not having those practice weeks and not getting the timing down and not getting the general work for your lungs and running around. And to go out there and turn it up, I give him mutliple kudos."

The younger receivers have also taken notice.

Rookie practice squad receiver Brandon London said, "Watching him, is definitely motivation. I've learned a lot on just how to not only play through the injuries, play through pain, but just, he's out there balling on these guys. It's almost like he's not even hurt. I learn a lot from him in practice; he helps me with my routes with stuff like that, and I just appreciate him."

Rookie Steve Smith added, "Plax is Superman right now, man."

For his own take, Burress preferred to talk more about dealing with the ankle injury than his personal growth.

He curtly responded "You just grow up. You have birthdays every year, and everybody gets a little older," when asked about how he has matured.

As his coaches and teammates have pointed out, though, Burress' maturation goes far beyond just growing up and getting a year older.

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