"I was like, 'Who in the hell is that?' " Burress recalled with a slight smile Thursday. "You didn't expect for a guy his size to have that big an arm. He turned the corner on me one time, and it almost felt like I was running on a conveyor belt, he was running so fast."
More than 15 years later, the two are close friends -- guys who came from similar humble beginnings and lived out their NFL dreams, only to see their careers halted because of costly mistakes. Vick missed two seasons while in jail for his role in a dogfighting operation; Burress served 20 months in prison on gun charges after accidentally shooting himself.
If not for seeing Vick's successful return to the league, Burress said, he isn't sure he would have been able to do the same. Vick is in his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles and was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year last season after making the Pro Bowl and setting career highs with 3,018 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes and nine touchdown runs.
"It was kind of one of those things where I say, if it wasn't for him going through what he had been through and coming back, being able to prove that he could still play, then maybe I wouldn't have had the chances that I had," Burress said.
While Burress was in prison, Vick often would call his friend's wife, Tiffany, to check on her and the family.
"Based on everything I was going through at the time and him just being there for emotional support when he could, it speaks volumes about him and his character knowing everything that he's been through," Burress said. He and Vick still speak about once per week.
Burress was released from prison in early June and was a member of the New York Jets less than two months later. After gradually getting back into full football shape, he has become a leading candidate for the same comeback award that Vick won last year, with 37 catches for 512 yards and seven touchdowns.
"It's always one of those deals where when we play against each other, we have to try to outdo each other, try to outshine each other," Burress said. "It's going to be fun for both of us, especially after everything that we have been through. We'll just get to enjoy it. I want him to do well, but not well enough to win."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press