Love him for what he did on the field. Hate him for what he did off the field, and how his transgression brought down a potential championship season. Have mixed feelings. Whatever.
Others have worn the number. Dave Brown, the quarterback the Giants foolishly used a supplemental pick on, from 1992-97. Backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge from 1982-89. Even just-retired punter Jeff Feagles for a time.
In Giants' lore, however, the No. 17 is all about mercurial, amazingly talented Burress. About the great things he accomplished, the great career and season he ruined, what could or should have been. And, of course, what ultimately is when it comes to Plax. The fact that he is in prison.
As Giants' fans we love Plax for what he did on the field.
- Guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory over the unbeaten New England Patriots, then helping to back it up by catching the winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning despite playing on one healthy leg. Remember that he also did not practice at all that season due to a severely injured ankle.
- The phenomenal 13-catch, 151-yard playoff game in brutal conditions against Green Bay. Without which, the eventual Super Bowl championship does not happen.
- Two seasons of 70+ catches and 1,000+yards in four years with the Giants. Much of that came against double teams, and much came while he, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey bailed out Manning as he learned to quarterback in the NFL.
As Giants' fans, we hate Plax for what he did off the field -- and what it cost our team.
- The Nov. 28, 2008 accidental shooting of himself in a nightclub. It ended his Giants' career, and ruined a potentially historic season. The Giants began 11-1, but lost their offensive identity without the always double-teamed Burress. Instead of earning historic back-to-back titles, the Giants got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Some would argue, I think incorrectly, that the Giants' offense has still not recovered.
- All of the various domestic disturbances and legal troubles that led to civil lawsuits. I talked to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, who co-authored a book on Plax after the Super Bowl titled 'Giant: The Road to the Super Bowl,' shortly after the shooting incident. His insight was revealing.
"I like Plaxico and I think Plaxico in his soul is a good person and means well and wants to do well and knows how to handle the rigors of playing in New York," said Cole. "His one great fault is that he does not appreciate and does not give in to authority. In football that tends to get guys in trouble."
- His 2008 run-ins with coach Tom Coughlin prior to the shooting incident, which led to fines and a suspension. Even after all of his and the team's success, Plax could not co-exist with authority.
As Giants' fans, we hate what has happened to Burress. Or, at least I think most of us do.
- We are mad at him, of course, but still disappointed by the fact that he ruined a career that might have ended with him being called the greatest wide receiver in franchise history.
- We know he deserved to be punished. But, we still wonder. Would the sentence (two years in prison, two years supervised release) have been so severe if Burress had not been a big-name New York City super star athlete?
So, no matter what your feelings about Burress one thing has to be clear. Think about the No. 17 in terms of Giants' history, and it is all about Plaxico Burress. For better or worse. And probably for both.