The way Plaxico Burress remembers it, his Super Bowl-winning touchdown wasn't so much a great catch, or even a great pass, but another underthrown ball from Eli Manning he had to adjust to.
"Eli threw the ball slightly behind me, which is pretty normal," he says. "When the ball is behind me, I usually do a quick turnaround."
In Burress' new book, Giant: The Road To The Super Bowl, the usually mercurial receiver talks about how the Giants were able to turn around a season that nearly ended without a trip to the playoffs, the knee injury that nearly kept him out of the Super Bowl and his relationships with Bill Cowher and Tom Coughlin. I recently sat down with Burress to talk about the book, and whether the next chapter in his career will include a contract extension with "Big Blue."
SI: First of all, there's been some confusion about your situation with the Giants. Will you be there for the start of training camp, on the practice field, ready to go?
Burress: Yeah, I'll be fine. I'm just waiting on the Giants and my agent to get this deal done in the next few days or so, and I'll be ready to get down to camp on time on the 24th.
SI: So you're saying a deal is imminent and you'll be on the field for the start of camp?
SI: OK, now on to the book. What made you want to write a book about your life while still in the prime of your career?
Burress: Going through certain things I've gone through in my life, I wanted to get some things off my mind. There are a lot of important people that you meet in your life and learn things from, and writing a book is something I had been planning on doing for years. It seemed like a great opportunity to do it after the Super Bowl.
SI: You almost didn't play in the Super Bowl after spraining your MCL during a fall in a hotel shower. In your book, you mention crying four days before the game after being told you likely wouldn't play.
Burress: Yeah, I was very scared. I didn't think I was going to be able to play. I remember I didn't run for a week and a half before that. I didn't know how it was going to feel on Sunday. They gave me some medicine to numb it up but the medicine wasn't working too good because I was still hurting. The first time [it hurt] was during the warm-ups before the game. It was painful and frustrating because I wasn't able to do the things I wanted to do, because I was hurting so bad, but I kept telling myself, "If there's one game I can play with a lot of pain it has to be this one." I found it in myself to somehow perform. I was just so frustrated that whole game -- I don't remember talking to anyone because I was in so much pain coming off the field and going to the sideline. I was hurting so bad that I just wanted to play one or two plays. I didn't really think I would play the whole game.
SI: You've been known to miss a practice or two in your career, but I guess you started this pattern even before you got into the NFL. You talk about oversleeping and missing a pre-draft workout with Bill Cowher after he had flown out to see you. How did you convince him to still draft you?
Burress: He's the coolest coach I've ever had. I can just sit down and be flat-out honest with him. There were a few times I'd come in to work late and he'd ask me, "What happened?" and I'm like, "To tell you the truth, coach, I just overslept. I'm tired." So he would just say, "OK, kid, you owe me a good practice." That was the type of person that he was. He was always supportive in everything that I did. He was more of a friend than a teacher or a coach, but he was all those things at the same time. I was always able to sit down with him and look him face-to-face and be honest with him. We ended up with a relationship I still hold today. It was hard to leave him and the Steelers but I had to do what was best for me and my career. He's a great friend and he was one of the first people that called me after the NFC championship game and told me to enjoy the next two weeks -- and he called me the day after the Super Bowl and congratulated me. That really shows you the type of guy he is.
SI: How would you compare that relationship to the one you have now with Tom Coughlin?
Burress: Our relationship is more of a working relationship. We've learned how to coexist, so to speak, with each other and our common goal is to win football games and championships. I think through our professionalism we can put everything to the side and try and have enough respect for each other that we can work together. On Sundays our goal is go out there and win.
SI: You mentioned a story where Eli picked up your playbook one day and was shocked to see that it had notes all over it and was highlighted. Most people hear about you being injured or showing up late to meetings and figure you're not trying as hard as you should. Is it simply a case of being misunderstood?
Burress: It doesn't matter to me if people don't understand me. I know how important the game is to me. There's probably nobody other than the quarterback and offensive coordinator that knows more about the offense than I do. I understand the concept of the offense and everything we do on every play. I can play any position out there. When you have a concept of the whole offense, even if you're not the primary receiver on each route, you can help other guys out. When you've been playing for eight years, you become a student of the game, so to speak. I really understand the game -- not just how to play the game -- but how to execute, and understanding the concept of defenses and what they're doing. I know what they'll let me do and what they won't let me do, so when you study and you're passionate about your work, it makes your play on the field stand out that much more.
SI: You had a tough upbringing in Virginia Beach, a part of Virginia dominated by drugs and crime. Some players have a hard time separating themselves from that lifestyle and get into trouble. How were you able to stay out of trouble?
Burress: It was hard because you have guys that you came up with and you know them all your life. But when you get ... to where I am now, there are some things more important than hanging around and doing things that aren't going to allow you to reach your potential. Sometimes you have to sit down and talk to them -- talk to your old friends -- and know what's best for you.
SI: In the book, you also talked about the rumors of Kordell Stewart being gay, and how that may have affected his performance and relationship with teammates. Do you think he struggled because of the rumors, and was it really that big of a topic?
Burress: No, it wasn't really talked about. When things like that do come out, it's never really talked about. It goes on more on the outside, but I know it must have been hard on Kordell. I never called him any names, I don't even know if he's gay but I do think it's one the reasons why he never became the player he could be. I think it was hard on him mentally.
SI: Do you think a gay player in today's NFL would be accepted in the locker room.
Burress: I think it would be real tough on that person. I've never been in that situation, but I can only imagine how people would feel about it. I think it would be hard for that person and the team. They almost would have to do things to prove or show that the rumors aren't true. I don't really think a person who is gay would actually come out while they were playing. I think it would be hard.
SI: There's some stuff in the book that's going to come back at you during the season, especially the weeks you play the Cowboys. You wrote: "The Cowboys don't talk a lot of trash. They don't want to get me riled up. You know, their secondary is not that good anyway. Terrence Newman is a good player and I like Kenny Hamlin. But outside of them, there's not much." Any concerns?
Burress: Not at all. I'm a very honest person and when I look in the mirror and be honest with myself it's easy to tell the truth and tell the things that you see. I didn't have any problem writing or saying anything that was in the book.
SI: What was the most enjoyable part of writing the book?
Burress: Talking about my mother, and my wife and my son. That was the highlight for me.
SI: You're best friend on the team is Jeremy Shockey, whose been on the trading block. Some said the team might be better off without him since you guys won the Super Bowl. What's your take on his situation?
Burress: It is very important that we get him back. People who say we're better off without him don't know the game of football. With my success and the other guys around him, he can bring a lot. You know what you're going to get from him every Sunday. He's a guy that demands double teams week in and week out. He makes a lot of guys' jobs easier on the offense just because he out there. I don't know what's going to happen with him. From a friend and a fan's point of view, I want him around because he's our emotional leader and it would be weird not having him around. I think not playing in the Super Bowl, he took that hard. That's why you play this game -- to play in games like that -- and when you have an opportunity and you aren't able to take advantage because you're physically not able to, it's got to be hard.
SI: The hardest thing for a champion to do is repeat; especially in the NFL where lately we've seen Super Bowl teams not even make it to the playoffs the year after a title. What's your mindset going into this season?
Burress: I want to win another just as bad. When you get one, you want to do it again. That's what we play for, and when you put that ring on, it's a daily reminder of all the hard work you put in to get to that point. I think we're going to be better than we were last year, and I expect us to win it again.