Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress first played against each other in high school.Plaxico Burress first played against Michael Vick when he was a junior in high school. The Jets' lanky wide receiver was playing free safety in the contest, held in Virginia’s Tidewater region, and remembers seeing one ball sail high over his head.
“He was just this little dude. You didn’t expect for a guy his size to have that big [an] arm,” Burress said.
Years later, life bonded Burress and Vick together, though not in a way either could have predicted or hoped. After serving a 21-month federal sentence stemming from dog-fighting charges, Vick counseled Burress as he served a 20-month term after he accidentally shot himself in the leg. It is an intensely personal kind of interaction, and Vick put himself out there for Burress in a way that can’t be quantified.
“Picking up the phone and staying in contact with my wife, seeing how she was doing emotionally and all those kinds of things,” Burress said about Vick. “Spending time with my brother back home in Virginia, those just say a lot about the person in general. Based on everything that I was going though at the time and being there for emotional support when he could, it just speaks volumes about him and his character and just trying to help people out.”
Vick also provided a road map when Burress was about to be released. The Philadelphia quarterback had played his way back into the headlines -- which is exactly what Burress wanted to do when he completed his sentence. Burress had a mentor of sorts for getting back on his field and rehabilitating his image. Vick’s success also proved to NFL teams that taking a risk on a player with formidable baggage sometimes pays off.
“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 got the chance that I have,” Burress said. “You never know. Seeing him going out and having success and playing at a high level still when he came out -- of course it’s one of those things where if I just keep myself in pretty good shape, the motivation was already there with everything I was going through. I know if I got another chance I could go out and perform and do what I love to do.”
The 8-5 Jets will head to 5-8 Philadelphia for a late afternoon game on Sunday. It’s a place that Burress visited twice a year as a member of the Giants. He realizes he might not get a standing ovation from Philly fans when he takes the field.
“Over the years, it’s been one of those battles that I’ve had with them,” Burress said. “[There have been] two or three last-minute touchdowns to win games. It’s just always a fun place for me, personally. I’m pretty sure the fans will boo me. They love me, they just don’t want to admit it. It’s going to be fun.”
He may be joking, but it’s another phase of his relationship with Vick, a man who has become a friend.
“I talk to him about once a week now,” Burress said. “We stay in contact, talk about life, football and all those kinds of things. His family will be there. Some of my family will be there. For everybody back home in Tidewater and the Seven Cities, it’ll be a day where we enjoy it, we embrace it. 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. 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.”