Legends Series: Plaxico Burress
Whoever said you can’t go home again, has never been a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers family.
Plaxico Burress is a prime example of that.
Burress, the Steelers’ No. 1 draft pick in 2000, left after the 2004 season via free agency, pursuing other opportunities with the New York Giants and Jets. But in 2012, when the opportunity presented itself to return to the Steelers, he came back and was welcomed with open arms.
“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 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’ comments are not surprising. They are comments that you hear from players who were on the team in the 1970s and through today’s era. Because the one feeling everyone gets with the Steelers, is the feeling of family.
“You don’t know how special it is,” said Burress. “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.”
Burress also weighed in on a variety of other topics in this exclusive interview:
*What was the best memory from your Steelers career? *
“I will never forget opening day my rookie year. Even though we didn’t win the game, having my mom there, my brothers, and fulfilling a childhood dream of making it to the NFL. It will be a day I never forget. It was instant gratification getting your name called, running out on the field and being able to play professional football.”
What is that first game of a career like?
“It was a surreal feeling. I was only in college for two years. My first game I was still basically a kid. You go out and play with the likes of Jerome Bettis. Just two years prior to that I was graduating high school. Now I was playing with guys I admired and looked up to. It’s an out of body experience. You don’t know whether to ask for their autograph or what because basically I was still a kid.”
Was that intimidating?
“Absolutely. We played against the Dallas Cowboys my first ever preseason game. I was on the sideline listening to the National Anthem and you have Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders, Ken Norton, and I was like, man, I can’t believe I am here. For a second you say can I play in this league at this level. Once you get on the field and I caught my first ball over a guys back, I was like ‘Oh yeah.’ It doesn’t matter whose name is on the back, it’s still football.”
*Who had the biggest impact on your career? *
“That is not a fair question. I have played with some great guys and have had some great coaches. Bruce Arians was instrumental helping my game get to the next level. With him, it was the first time I had a coach sit me down and teach me how to watch tape, the total concept of the offense. That was probably one of my best years statistically, knowing and understanding defense, being a better route runner and knowing and understanding the game.
“I played with Dermontti Dawson, one of the greatest offensive linemen I have been around. I remember having a conversation with him my rookie year on a hot day in Latrobe and I said I think I am starting to get the hang of this thing. He said to me, ‘Young fella, I have been playing for 13 years and I still haven’t gotten the hang of it.’ When you hear that from a guy like him, you have to dial it back and know you still have some work ahead of you. Him, Alan Faneca, Jerome Bettis, the list goes on.”
What was the locker room like when you played? Was that a tight group?
“When you know a guy outside of football and meet their wives and kids and families it means more to you. You aren’t just going to work. It’s a family atmosphere there. There were no egos. Everybody’s goal was to play hard for the man beside you. We were trying to win a World Championship. We shared a lot of time outside of football. I think that is why our locker room was the way it was. It’s not all about football playing here. It’s family first, and then football.”
Who were some of the characters on the team?
“Amos (Zereoue), Joey Porter, Earl Holmes, arguably one of the funniest football players I have been around. You couldn’t hold a serious conversation with him. He was so much fun to be around. You know you would be laughing all day. Lee Flowers. It didn’t stop. The characters we had in that locker room, it was a joy being around those guys.”
What did you love about playing for the Steelers?
“There is nothing like Sunday morning here. You can just feel it. You can smell it. You can’t get to the locker room fast enough to put your helmet on and run out onto the field and see the fans waving the Terrible Towels. It’s a special feeling. I get goose bumps just thinking about it, how special it was. It was an experience. There are 32 teams in this league and I can’t imagine a greater feeling running out of the tunnel than here. Being here was special.”
What makes it special?
“Being a part of this town. It’s like a little fish bowl. Everybody knows who you are. It’s a hard working town. It rubs off on us, the players. You want to go out and give them everything you’ve got. When I left it was like, man, you didn’t understand how special it was. A lot of the players who leave, you always come back because it’s a feeling that can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”
What was it like when you came back in 2012?
“It was even more special than the first time. I was here for the first five years of my career, but it was more special to me being back in the locker room, being back with the guys, hanging around with some of the guys I played with, Ike (Taylor), Casey Hampton, Ben (Roethlisberger), Troy (Polamalu), (Brett) Keisel, some of the guys when I was here they were young puppies. To see the maturation process of those guys, looking at it from afar, it was a great feeling seeing where they came to.”
What did it mean to play for the Steelers?
“It was the best. They embraced me from Day 1. It doesn’t happen in a lot of places. I think they understand it, they know it. A lot of fan bases treat the players one way, you play in front of them on Sunday and forget about it. Not here. They live, eat and breathe football here. You think it’s normal because it’s all you know. It’s not like that everywhere. When you go somewhere else, the fans are not the same. The fans here are the best.”
Do you take pride in always being, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress?
“It doesn’t matter where you are, Steelers Country is everywhere. It’s always beautiful to have people walk up to you and say I loved you more when you were with the Steelers. It’s always good to hear.”