NEW YORK — Former Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress apologized to his family and tearfully kissed his pregnant wife and young son goodbye Tuesday before he was led away to prison to begin serving a two-year sentence on a weapons charge.
Burress, at the time a star receiver with the New York Giants, was at the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan last November when a gun tucked into his waistband slipped down his leg and fired, wounding him in the thigh.
The accidental shooting enraged New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who publicly castigated Burress for carrying his .40-calibre weapon.
Burress arrived in the courtroom Tuesday wearing jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, a stark contrast to the dark blue suit he wore last month when he entered his guilty plea.
He was accompanied by his pregnant wife, Tiffany; his two-year-old son, Elijah; his father, grandmother and stepmother.
Burress told Judge Michael Melkonian before sentencing: “I want to apologize to my family.” They did not speak to reporters as they left the courthouse.
With time off for good behavior, Burress likely will serve 20 months. He could be released from prison as early as the spring of 2011 and will be monitored an additional two years after he is freed.
Michael Strahan, a former Giants teammate who is now an NFL television analyst, used his Twitter account to support Burress: “My Thoughts and Prayers are with my man Plaxico and his family today!!!”
Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress the night of the incident, and former Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell, now with the Buffalo Bills, re-tweeted the Strahan comment.
The Giants, through spokesman Pat Hanlon, said, “This has been a tragic, sad, disappointing situation from the beginning. Our concern has always been for Plax’s welfare, and for his family, and that continues to be our overriding feeling.”
Burress hired a consultant to teach him how to use his time in prison productively.
Burress’ big moment with the Giants came when he caught the winning touchdown over the previously undefeated New England Patriots in the final minute of the 2008 Super Bowl.
The Giants released Burress in April, but the 32-year-old told ESPN he hopes to resume his NFL career when he completes his sentence.
“When I get out, I’ll be 33, not 43,” Burress said in an interview broadcast in August. “I’ll still be able to run and catch. I’ll still have the God-given ability to snag footballs; that’s what I love to do. Of course, I want to play again.”
Gil Brandt, an analyst on NFL Sirius Radio and the former head of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, said Burress won’t be too old for a comeback after he’s released.
Burress will be eligible if a team wants him, as the NFL already has announced his suspension will be lifted upon completion of his sentence.
His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said previously that Burress was thinking of his family in taking the plea, but Brafman questioned the fairness of the recommended prison sentence.
“This was not an intentional criminal act,” Brafman said the day of the plea. “In my judgment, a two-year prison sentence is a very severe punishment.”
Burress had been indicted on two counts of weapons possession and one count of reckless endangerment, but under a plea deal reached Aug. 20, he agreed to a single, lesser charge of 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.
Before sentencing Tuesday, Brafman called Burress “a fundamentally decent man.”
“This is a very real tragic case in many, many ways,” Brafman said.