Commentary

This is why New York has gone Green

Plax reminds us that players, if given a choice, will choose Rex over Coughlin, Eli

Updated: September 10, 2011, 1:25 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

The only news regarding Plaxico Burress' criticism of Tom Coughlin and Mr. "Aw Shucks!" Eli Manning in an upcoming Men's Journal article is that it's being treated as news at all.

Some of us realized long ago that the New York Giants' coach and quarterback didn't care much for Burress, now a member of the Jets. Coughlin and Manning have come across as distant, aloof. So for those still wondering why this town has been invaded by Gang Green nation, seemingly with no resistance, look no further.

It's actually quite obvious.

While a bevy of football players in New York and Philadelphia rave about playing for Jets coach Rex Ryan, Eagles coach Andy Reid and quarterback Michael Vick -- each devoid of championship hardware -- notice how virtually no one takes a moment to say the same about Coughlin and Manning, both Super Bowl champions.

Former Giants wideout Steve Smith left for the Eagles like a thief in the night, claiming he received no love from Big Blue. Osi Umenyiora accused management of lying in a federal lawsuit. Meanwhile, players league-wide talk of flocking to the Jets with reckless abandon to play for a coach whose mouth is matched only by his girth, embracing a third-year quarterback, Mark Sanchez, still learning his craft.

When things like that happen, it isn't just because of money.

"[Coughlin] is not a real positive coach," Burress said in the Men's Journal interview, conducted shortly after his June release from prison and before meeting with Coughlin in late July. "You look around the league, the Raheem Morrises and Rex Ryans -- when their players make a mistake, they take 'em to the side and say, 'we'll get 'em next time.' But Coughlin's on the sideline going crazy, man. I can't remember one time when he tried to talk a player through not having a day he was having."

Let's acknowledge right now that such criticism is questionable coming from Burress. His tardiness is well-documented, as are the fines and penalties he incurred because of them. But so is his unapologetic disdain for his former coach, along with his disappointment in a quarterback he thought was his friend, yet didn't visit Burress during his prison stint after pleading guilty to a gun charge.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning and Plaxico Burress
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesEli Manning and Plaxico Burress have since smoothed things over -- but Plax would've appreciated a visit while he was in prison.

This can't be good for the future of the Giants' organization.

"I was always [Manning's] biggest supporter, even days when he wasn't on, 'cause I could sense he didn't have thick skin,'" Burress said. "Then I went away, and I thought he would come see me, but nothing. Not a letter, in two years. I don't want to say it was a slap in the face, but I thought our relationship was better than that."

Burress was aware this would be printed before the season began, just like he was aware there was no way he was returning to the Giants. Even in prison garb, he was letting friends and confidants know the intense, demanding Coughlin was not a man he could play for again.

Manning, however, takes the Giants' situation to an entirely different level, due to an apparent lack of leadership. He had a chance to lobby for Burress, a player who might've helped the Giants -- yet didn't.

Star quarterbacks in the NFL don't lead by being quiet. They don't lead by constantly deferring to the coach and general manager. Big-time players don't gravitate to a franchise when the quarterback says, "I don't really lobby. I trust the coach and the general manager to make those decisions."

Who's walking the plank for that quarterback? Players don't always come to a franchise strictly for the money. Sometimes, they come because of players they'll get to play with.

The Giants have won three Super Bowl titles since 1986. The Jets haven't sniffed at a Super Bowl since 1969. That's 42 years without so much as an appearance at the big dance, with a quarterback, Sanchez, being laughed at because of his tight, Spandex-style attire in GQ Magazine that made him look, shall we say, soft. Yet people talk about playing with him and for Ryan without mentioning the Giants.

Burress has his own issues, no doubt. Gone for two years due to his prison stint, forced to prove himself all over again while having to replace Braylon Edwards and getting the Jets to that coveted Super Bowl, he's not helping himself with any LeBron James imitations with his message to fans: "What are you doing now? You still mad at your job? You still angry about your life? 'Cause I'm back living my life."

But he'll be dealt with in due time if he doesn't produce.

It still doesn't erase the significance of what he said about Coughlin and Manning. Not now. Not in this town. Not with Jets mania growing with each passing day.

At some point, if the Giants continue to struggle as they have in missing the playoffs the last two years, someone may decide to go Lombardi on them and ask, "What the hell is going on around here?"

Undoubtedly, if that happens, they'll take a peek in Coughlin's direction. If they're smart, they'll look at Manning, too.

Even if Burress is the one suggesting they should do so.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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