Plaxico Burress will be among a group of former Steelers' players attending the 2016 Steelers Alumni Weekend Oct. 22-23.
A few days after the 2004 season came to an end with a disappointing loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, Plaxico Burress walked around the Steelers office to say a few goodbyes to those he was closest to.
In a few months he would become an unrestricted free agent, and he knew what was to come. But what he wanted that day was a chance to say goodbye, to say thank you to some of the staff that helped him since his rookie season.
When free agency hit not long after, he quickly signed a big contract with the New York Giants, went on to win a Super Bowl in his new surroundings.
But there was one thing he didn't have. The feeling that came with playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the love of his days with the Steelers, for his teammates, the coaches and the organization, is something that will forever be in his heart.
"It's the whole experience," said Burress. "From the ownership, to the players, to the fans, to the city. I went to New York when I left there. Everyone that plays there, when they leave they realize how special of a place that it is. A lot of players that leave end up going back because it is that special of a place.
"You don't know how special it is. You really don't. You just don't know how special it is to walk in that building and play for that organization, the best organization in all of sports. And to have those fans be there every Sunday, rain, snow, it didn't matter. If we were 10-1 or 1-10, they were there. That black and gold resonates throughout the country. I can be anywhere and someone will come up to me and tell me they loved me from my days playing for the Steelers. Every city you go to you can go somewhere and watch the game. It's the only team I know that it's like that."
Leaving that feeling behind back in 2004, it was a decision he made maybe not so much with his heart, but with what was best for his future, for his family. But don't think for a second that it was easy.
"I think about it all of the time," said Burress. "I think about what would have been if I stayed and played with Hines (Ward) and Ben (Roethlisberger). It was Ben's rookie year and we went 15-1 and the next year they won the Super Bowl. It's one of those things that I think about at times what if, what could have happened. The business side of it came between me and the team and I had to make a decision. It wasn't one I wanted to make, because I left some brothers behind. I didn't want to go. That first year, on Mondays and Tuesdays, Ike (Taylor), Joey (Porter), James (Farrior), Casey (Hampton), those guys would come up and see me on their off days. That let me know those guys missed me as much as I missed them. That doesn't happen in sports, let alone any profession. It was like I was still in Pittsburgh. It made me realize these guys would be my brothers for life.
"A lot of us guys are still close. That is a rare thing in this business. You play with guys and it's a work/business relationship, and outside of football, the relationship doesn't exist. It wasn't that way in Pittsburgh. I talk to those guys, I talk to Ben, James, Ike, Joey. We still have a relationship even though we aren't playing together anymore. It doesn't happen that way a lot in professional sports, where you play with guys and you form that brotherhood outside of football that stays for a long time after it is over."
That's why Burress jumped at the chance to come back to the Steelers, even if it was just for a short time. Burress was signed by the Steelers just beyond the midway point of the 2012 season, finishing out the season and re-signing for 2013, until an injury ended that.
"I embraced it more because when I left, I went on to do good things, but I didn't have that special factor," said Burress. "You get back with the guys that you missed and you realize how special an environment it is. It's something that doesn't exist elsewhere. The older I got in the business and I saw what went on in the locker room, that locker room made the team and the guys in there made it.
"It's 100 percent about the people in Pittsburgh. I came back there in 2012, it was Week 10 of the season, and Mr. (Dan) Rooney came down the hallway and looked at me and asked me how my son was doing. I was like wow. My son wasn't even born when I left the Steelers, and he still knew my son's name was Elijah. It totally shocked me. But that is a reminder of what kind of place that it is.
"Pittsburgh will always be home to me. I spent more time there than anywhere and the relationships I formed verified that."
Burress will be among a of group of players who will return to Heinz Field when the Steelers play the New England Patriots for the team's Alumni Weekend. He will attend a dinner on Saturday night, then take in the game on Sunday. And he can't wait to return.
"It was a special place," said Burress. "When we were together, we were one. Nobody was better than the next man. We had a tremendous amount of respect for each other, to go out and play your heart out for the guy next to you.
"It was a place that a lot of people ask me what the locker room was like in Pittsburgh. You can't even explain it. You got to know those guys on a personal level outside of football. We had that connection. Everybody got along. You can't reproduce that. It has to happen on its own. Even when I went back a few years ago it's still that same vibe when you walk in. It was like we love each other and we are going to play for each other. We are here to win, but we are going to form a relationship with each other and be there for each other for a lifetime." >>> Learn more about Steelers Alumni Weekend