- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Locked up for 20 months for illegally carrying and firing a gun at a Manhattan nightclub, Plaxico Burress is ready to walk out of prison and face another grim reality, a lockout that could jeopardize the resumption of his football career.

The former New York Giants receiver who caught the game-winning pass in the 2008 Super Bowl is set to leave the Oneida Correctional Facility in upstate New York on Monday. Burress, who turns 34 in August, plans to return to his Florida home to spend time with his wife, son and a daughter born while he was in jail.

Unlike Michael Vick, released in 2009 from a federal term for dogfighting, Burress doesn’t have a league waiting to bid on his services.

But “he will play in the NFL this year,” Drew Rosenhaus, Burress‘ agent, said in an email to The Associated Press. “Many teams want him. He will be a top free agent. He is healthy and ready to go. He will be signed shortly after the lockout ends.”

Burress‘ release caps a more than three-year saga that saw yet another athlete put behind bars, separated from family and friends and losing the riches and lifestyle most only dream about.

“You go from being the absolute hero to finding yourself in jail for a mistake in judgment,” Peter M. Frankel, Burress‘ attorney, told the AP in an interview. “It’s really a tragic story.”

Burress was at the pinnacle of his career when everything went south.

The lanky 6-foot-5 receiver seemingly had a career-defining moment when he caught a 13-yard pass from Eli Manning with 35 seconds to play to give the Giants a stunning 17-14 win over the undefeated New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.

Nine months later his world unraveled. Burress, with a handgun tucked in his sweatpants, hit a a New York City nightclub with then Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce. Burress‘ weapon slipped from his waistband and discharged as he attempted to grab it, injuring him in the thigh. The bullet narrowly missed a security guard, prosecutors said.

Burress‘ wound was not serious. The fallout was disastrous.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for him to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and was irate that officials at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center treated Burress and failed to report the shooting, as required by law. A doctor who treated Burress was later suspended.

Burress was sentenced to two years in prison in September 2009 after pleading guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. The gun was not licensed in New York or in New Jersey, where Burress lived. His license to carry a concealed weapon in Florida had expired in May 2008.

His attorney has said he carried the gun because he feared for his safety after the slayings of NFL players Sean Taylor and Darrent Williams the year before.

Said Frankel: “I don’t think that he will ever believe that the punishment fit the crime,” but prison has given Burress “a new appreciation” for his family and good fortune.

Mateen Cleaves, a former NBA player and a friend of Burress from their days at Michigan State, said he visited the player in prison earlier this year.

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