Clad nearly all in black -- hooded sweatshirt, athletic shorts, sneakers -- and a white T-shirt, Plaxico Burress walked alone through a gate in a chain-link fence topped by swirls of barbed wire.
He looked around for something familiar, and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, ran up and jumped into his arms as both men broadly smiled.
Freedom at last for Burress. The former New York Giants wide receiver was released from prison around 9 a.m. ET Monday after spending nearly two years behind bars on a gun charge.
"I just want to thank God for bringing me through one of the most trying times in my life," Burress said in a brief exchange with reporters outside Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, N.Y. "It's a beautiful day. It's a beautiful day to be reunited with my family. I want to go home and spend some quality time with them.
Debate: Where will Plaxico play?
"I'd like to thank everybody for their prayers and words of encouragement," Burress said as the fog-shrouded morning gave way to brilliant sunshine. "I'd like to thank all my fans all around the world for the thousands of letters, for their unwavering support. As far as football is concerned, if and when everything gets settled, when they get back on the field, I'll be ready."
Burress pleaded guilty in August 2009 to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was released about three months early for good behavior.
Burress will be on parole for two years. He has to get and keep a job, undergo substance-abuse testing, obey any curfew established by his Florida parole officer, support his family and attend any anger counseling or other conditions required by his parole officer.
It didn't take long for friends and former teammates to transmit their good wishes.
Despite the intensity of the NBA Finals, even Miami Heat star LeBron James took a moment to tweet: "Welcome home Plaxico! Best of luck in the near future both on and off the field. 17 Jersey coming to a city near u."
Former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress the night his life unraveled, tweeted the following a couple of hours before Burress was released: "17.. Time well over due.. Great teammate, friend, person and better yet Man. Always a Champ.. Only 1 way to go ... Back to the TOP."
Burress, who turns 34 in August, seemed intent on doing just that. He gave the victory sign as he sped away in a black Range Rover to meet up with his wife for the flight to their Florida home.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who served a 23-month federal sentence for running a dogfighting ring, has shown it's possible to successfully return to the NFL. Vick said in a recent radio interview with WIP-AM in Philadelphia that Burress would be a great fit with the Eagles. Maybe that's why Burress also was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies hat when he was freed.
"I think certainly Plaxico is going to come out with a chip on his shoulder the same way I did, and he'll go out and help this football team to whatever capacity he can," Vick said. "I think the guys would be willing to embrace him and bring him in. If that happens? Who knows? We talking about 'what ifs' now? It would certainly be a good thing."
"No question about it. I do think so. Coach Coughlin wants to win, so he knew what we had was very special before this whole incident happened. The Giants want to win, coach Coughlin wants to win, we want to win as a team and as an organization, so it would be smart to make at least an attempt. But given the fact that he has a lot of other opportunities to play in other cities, it may be kind of difficult."
"If I were Plaxico, I don't think I would want to ...," Diehl said. "If I were in that position, in order to move on and start fresh, you have to get back to square one. That's getting back to playing football. That's getting back to yourself, and not only enjoying your family, but enjoying your life and being happy again. For him, I think that's somewhere else."
Rosenhaus said Monday that the receiver would immediately fly home to begin workouts. Rosenhaus said he has spoken to several teams about Burress and expects him to play again in the NFL. Rosenhaus said Burress matured in prison, and there are things the receiver would do differently.
"He's learned an awful lot," Rosenhaus said outside the prison moments before his client emerged. "He knows that he obviously made a mistake. To miss two NFL seasons in the prime of your career. To not be with your family, most importantly. To lose out on millions and millions of dollars. These are things that have forced him to certainly evaluate his life."
Rosenhaus said the teams he has talked to haven't expressed any concerns about Burress. Rosenhaus didn't say to which teams he has spoken or how many.
"He's going to be a top free agent," Rosenhaus said. "There are going to be multiple teams interested in signing him. I expect him to get a good contract. I expect him to absolutely be playing."
Burress' high school coach and friend, Cadillac Harris, also is confident the receiver won't have trouble finding work and a fresh start.
"I think he's going to be a much different guy coming out, a much more mature person," Harris told The Virginian-Pilot last week. "His decision-making on and off the field, and his relationship with his family should be much better. I enjoyed seeing his spiritual development, his awareness of what's taken place and what's valuable to him."
Harris visited Burress in prison in April and told The Virginian-Pilot that the receiver has "at least eight NFL teams" showing interest in talking to him once the lockout ends.
Because he was a high-profile inmate, Burress was placed in a protective custody unit at the prison, which has 930 inmates, 20 in protective custody. While in prison, he completed an aggression management program and worked as a lawn and grounds laborer, according the state's Department of Correctional Services.
Burress violated prison rules and regulations three times. He lied to a guard about having permission to use the phone; gave another inmate a pair of black and silver sneakers that were deemed contraband; and had too many cassette tapes and an unauthorized extra pillow in his "filthy" cell.
"I didn't sense bitterness in him," Harris told The Virginian-Pilot. "He knows he made a bad decision. He knows he's a victim of the circumstances he put himself in."
Burress' world fell apart nine months later when he walked into a Manhattan nightclub with a handgun tucked in the waistband of his pants. The weapon slipped down and discharged as Burress tried to grab it, injuring him in the thigh.
The wound wasn't serious. The backlash was.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called for Burress to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and was irate that officials at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center treated the receiver and failed to report the shooting, as required by law. A doctor who treated Burress was later suspended.
The gun wasn't licensed in New York or in New Jersey, where Burress lived. His license to carry a concealed weapon in Florida had expired in May 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.