Plaxico Burress Takes Another Shot
Credit: Johnny Nunez / Getty Images
If your life for 20 months is a tiny cell in an icehouse of a prison (average annual snowfall in Rome, New York: 104 inches), there are worse places to defrost than a sumptuous second home in Lighthouse Point, a yacht-club playground off the Intercoastal Waterway in Florida's Broward County. Set on a particularly sleek block of postmoderns, Burress's big house so dwarfs his neighbors' that they look like tugs hauling in the QE2. There is a man standing outside it with a videocam, another rolling tape in the entryway, and a pair of nannies chasing after Burress's children, including a highly mobile toddler named Giovanna, born after he went away to jail. "We're doing a reality show," says Tiffany, Burress's camera-ready wife, cracking eggs into a skillet for her kids. "They've been shooting us since the day he got out of prison."

A tall, flawless woman in exquisite tone (she was an Olympic-caliber sprinter at Penn State before she became an attorney), Tiffany excuses herself to change into a tight sheath and heels. Burress, gone to Starbucks, arrives 40 minutes late, though it's instantly clear why the New York Jets wagered $3 million on an ex-con. For one thing, he all but floats when he walks, having fully healed the knee and ankle tears that dogged his last seasons with the Giants. For another, he's bigger and sharper through the trunk than before he went to jail, putting 12 pounds of muscle on his chest and shoulders in savage nightly workouts at Oneida.

He is leading me through the foyer when his daughter pounces, launching herself into his arms. Tiny as she is, she has his demeanor, the Texas-hold-'em stare and blank expression. He lifts her to his chest and holds her there, communing nose to nose as she strokes his beard. "That right there is what I lost," he mutters after handing her over to the sitter. "I'll never get those years with her back."

Draping his 6-foot-5 frame on a leather recliner in his lavish home theater down the hall, he speaks for five hours about his stretch in jail and the events that led to his arrest. He is frank about the hell it wrought on him and his family, weeping as he talks about his son, Elijah, whose melancholy eyes in the snapshots Tiffany sent stabbed him through the heart. "I told her, 'Stop sending pictures because they eat me up so much.' Me and her were arguing on the phone each day, 'cause I was locked down in a lot of pain, and she's in pain about her life outside, being alone with a kid and seven months pregnant. Then at chow, these white officers are yelling, 'You black motherfucker! You stupid fucking dumbass: You're finished!' It was the lowest point ever in my life."

Furious at the world when he went in – "The way Bloomberg treated me," he says even now, "was totally wrong, stacked those charges so high I had to go to jail" – he gradually trained the anger on himself, picking apart the mind-set that put him there. "I was an edge-goer at times, running the streets and living life and not spending time with my family. Or taking risks and not thinking about the consequences, which gave them the chance to take me down."

Barely able to leave his cell the first five months because of the depression that overwhelmed him, he lay on his bunk reading the deluge of letters that reached him every day. "A lot of them that wrote, I was a human pincushion; they were like, 'Yeah, we finally got you, motherfucker!' On the cover of the New York Post, it said giant idiot! and I'm thinking, Damn, I went and gave 'em what they wanted. I'm just another gun-toting, famous black athlete."