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Thursday, December 15, 2011
Plaxico Burress credits Michael Vick

Associated Press

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Plaxico Burress remembers watching the football sail over his head and then looking wide-eyed at the guy who flung it.

Burress was playing free safety in high school in Virginia at the time, long before he would become one of the NFL's best wide receivers. The quarterback, Burress realized years later, was "a little dude" named Michael Vick.

Burress
Burress
Vick
Vick

"I was like, 'Who in the hell is that?'" Burress recalled with a slight smile Thursday. "You didn't expect for a guy his size to have that big an arm. He turned the corner on me one time and it almost felt like I was running on a conveyor belt, he was running so fast."

More than 15 years later, the two are close friends -- guys who came from similar humble beginnings and lived out their NFL dreams, only to see their careers halted because of costly mistakes. Vick missed two seasons while in jail for his role in a dogfighting operation; Burress served 20 months in prison on gun charges after accidentally shooting himself.

And, if not for seeing Vick's successful return to the league, Burress isn't sure he would have been able to do the same. Vick is in his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was the NFL's comeback player of the year last season after making the Pro Bowl and setting career highs with 3,018 yards passing, 21 touchdown passes and nine touchdown runs.

"It was kind of one of those things where 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 had the chances that I had," Burress said. "You never know. ... I knew if I could just keep myself in shape, the motivation was already there with everything I was going through. And I knew if I had another chance, I could go out and perform and do what I love to do."

While Burress was in prison, Vick would often call his friend's wife, Tiffany, to check on her and the family.

"That just says a lot about the person, in general," said Burress, who still speaks to Vick about once a week. "Based on everything I was going through at the time and him just being there for emotional support when he could, it speaks volumes about him and his character knowing everything that he's been through."

The two will be on opposite sidelines Sunday when the New York Jets (8-5) take on the Eagles (5-8).

"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," Burress said. "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."

Burress was released from prison in early June and was a member of the New York Jets less than two months later. After gradually getting back into full football shape, he has become a leading candidate for the same comeback award Vick won last year. With 37 catches for 512 yards and seven touchdowns, Burress has also firmly established himself as one of the game's best go-to guys -- just as he was early in his career with Pittsburgh and the Giants.

"We've been thrilled with him," Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "I think nobody knew what we would get other than we knew a guy that was a tremendous playmaker in the past. Just the way he thinks about the game and how he's picked up the system's been great."

There have been some big-time highlights, too, such as the three-touchdown performance against San Diego in October. There was also the twisting, leaping one-handed grab along the sideline that kept a drive alive and helped the Jets beat Buffalo a few weeks ago.

"If he slowed down at all, I can't imagine when he was really going," Schottenheimer said. "He's made big play after big play for us in situations where we've needed it."

Burress is ready for a few more against an opponent he's very familiar with. In 10 games against the Eagles, Burress has 41 catches for 724 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has at least one TD grab in his last four games against them, including two in the Giants' playoff loss in January 2007.

He expects a not-so-friendly reception when he plays in Philadelphia for the first time in three years because, as he put it, he has "broken their hearts a few times."

"Over the years, it's been one of those battles that I've had with them, two or three last-minute touchdowns to win games," he added. "It's just always a fun place for me, personally. I'm pretty sure the fans will boo me. But, they love me. They just don't want to admit it. It's going to be fun."

Game notes

RG Brandon Moore (hip) returned to practice on a limited basis, as coach Rex Ryan said would be the plan. Moore played Sunday despite missing practice all last week. CB Marquice Cole (knee) did not practice, and is questionable. ... Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine downplayed rumors that they're candidates for head coaching jobs. "I'm just happy to have a job," said Schottenheimer, who has been linked to the Miami Dolphins job. "A few weeks ago, if you'd asked people, I'd be lucky to have a job." Pettine has many ties to Pennsylvania football and has been mentioned as a potential candidate at Penn State. "You mean everything on the internet is true?" Pettine joked. "No, I'm thrilled where I am and there's not much interest there. There hasn't been contact either way."