There was a familiar face in the Steelers locker room on Wednesday as wide receiver Plaxico Burress was back in the black and gold, wearing the familiar No. 80 practice jersey and a big grin.
“I still have some true Pittsburgh fans around here. That’s one of the reasons why I went back to my old number,” said Burress. “They have to dust off the old jerseys. A lot of my family and friends are going through their closets. I told them to knock off the dust and put it back on and let’s get back to work.”
The team signed him on Tuesday to add depth after Jerricho Cothery suffered broken ribs late in the loss to the Ravens on Sunday night. Burress wasted no time getting back to work, practicing on Wednesday and looking like he fit right in.
“It feels great. There is a comfort level here,” said Burress of being back. “A lot of the guys are still here when I was here. I was just walking around seeing all the old faces. I am happy to be back playing football, but more than anything there is a comfort level. Everybody has been so supportive. I am just anxious to get back to playing football.”
Burress caught up with some of his former teammates, joking with Casey Hampton and Larry Foote, but first and foremost he got down to business learning the game plan for this week.
“The first thing I did was study the playbook,” said Burress, who said he has been working out to stay in shape. “I’ve been playing in this league a long time. I’ve seen some fast and talented guys throughout the years that couldn’t grasp the mental part of the game that wouldn’t allow just their physical abilities to show. If you don’t know what you are doing out there, you can’t play. It doesn’t matter how good you are. The first thing I did was look at the playbook and I asked questions. Where do I need to be and what do I need to do?”
His role has yet to be defined, whether his 6-5 frame will used in the red zone or to stretch the field, but with Cotchery out and Antonio Brown working his way back from an ankle injury, he is willing to do whatever is asked.
“Whatever role they give me, like I told Coach (Mike) Tomlin, I am going to come in and try to perform to the best of my ability,” said Burress. “I am picking things up pretty smoothly, a lot of the terminology is the same but there are some different things. I just have to learn the plays and get out there and make plays.
“I don’t see why I couldn’t play on Sunday. Like I said, there’s a trust level and a comfort level. I have two more days to pick up some of the things on offense. From a standpoint of just going out and making plays, I understand coverage. I have been around a long time. It’s just getting to the spots where I need to be.”
When Burress left the Steelers as a free agent after the 2004 season, eventually signing with the New York Giants, he didn’t anticipate coming back. But having the opportunity to return to Pittsburgh is something he is thrilled about.
“I didn’t know where I was going to be,” said Burress. “I cannot say that I was ever going to come back, but if you are talking about literally and physically getting a chance to finish what you started, how many guys get that opportunity?”
The team actually brought Burress in for a workout during the 2011 training camp, after he had been out of football for two years while in jail for a gun violation that resulted in his gun discharging and hitting him in the thigh. Instead of coming to the Steelers, he ended up signing with the New York Jets.
“It was a difficult decision to walk away from because of the guys that were here, James Farrior and Hines Ward, really the foundation of the team when I left. There were still here,” said Burress. “I ended up in New Jersey. My wife had a job and things like that. It was a decision I basically made for the family based on where she was at, her career and our kids. I was already established there.
“It was a tough situation to walk away from but the ending of it is that the Steelers had enough faith in me and confidence to come out here and be a good football player, be a good teammate and try to win a championship.”
Burress said he has learned from his mistakes, has put the past where it belongs, in the past, and is more than ready to move forward.
“There is nothing I can do to change the events that have occurred to me,” said Burress. “If you read about what went on behind you, then you can’t pay attention to what is going on in front of you. I am just going to keep moving forward. I’m here. I feel good. I am just blessed to have the opportunity to be with these guys and play football.
“You learn from your past experiences, football wise and in life. You go through experiences and you learn from them. That’s why they call it life.”
And now, life has put him right back where his professional football career began; a place where his love of the game blossomed; a place where he had fun playing football – something he wants to do again.
“The goal every day you walk into this building is to win a world championship,” said Burress. “I just want to come in and have an impact, learn and teach some of the young guys some old tricks. I just want to go out and play football and have fun.”
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