PITTSBURGH – In his final season with the Steelers in 2004, Plaxico Burress hosted Thanksgiving dinner at his home with his future wife, her parents and one of his rookie teammates, who was unable to go home to be with family because of practice that day.
This time, Ben Roethlisberger, the rookie Burress hosted, can return the favor.
Burress, who was signed by the Steelers Tuesday to bolster their banged up receiving corps, came straight to Pittsburgh from a Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race in Texas over the weekend, never making it back home to New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two children.
“His first Thanksgiving, we spent it together here,” said Burress. “It’s ironic that nine, 10 years later, I’m back on Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh. There’s some things that you look at and say, wow. You cherish those things. We remained good friends throughout the years. I’ve remained a big supporter of his, and he did likewise with me.”
Burress won’t be playing with Roethlisberger right away. The Steelers’ starting quarterback is doubtful to play when Pittsburgh (6-4) travels to Cleveland (2-8) Sunday as he continues to recover from a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib suffered two weeks ago in a win over Kansas City.
Roethlisberger isn’t the only friendly face in Pittsburgh for Burress, who spent the first five seasons on his career with the Steelers after they selected him in the first round of the 2000 draft.
“Me, (Casey Hampton), Larry (Foote), we’ve got some old jokes,” the 35-year-old Burress said. “It feels good to be here. There’s a comfort level knowing some of the guys here on the training staff here, the people upstairs.”
The Steelers signed Burress after losing Jerricho Cotchery to fractured ribs in Sunday’s 13-10 defeat against Baltimore. Already without Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown, who has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, the Steelers want Burress to back up Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a better collection of receivers,” Burress said. “And I think that says a lot. From an athletic and talent standpoint. I’ve trained with Antonio down in Florida all summer, so I know him. I know Jerricho. These guys have embraced me.”
The Steelers feel the 6-5, 230-pound Burress, who has 550 career catches and 63 touchdowns, can help them right away.
“I think when you look at him, he’s won in this league,” said veteran quarterback Charlie Batch, who will start for the Steelers against the Browns with Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich out with injuries. “He knows the speed of the game. It’s not going to be new to him. It’s just going to be, when you break the huddle, will he be able to get lined up to go out there and play without thinking about it? We all know he’s capable of doing that.”
The Steelers have also seen the bad side of Burress over the years.
Sometimes immature off the field early in his career, Burress was fined for missing practice before leaving to sign a free agent contract with the Giants in 2005. He also clashed at times with Giants management, which finally cut him loose following his arrest for discharging a gun in a nightclub in 2008. Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg with a handgun that went off in his pocket and eventually served two years in prison for the infraction.
“I’ve got a wife, family,” said Burress. “My life is in a totally different direction. I’m happy to be out here playing football. My wife is excited. My son is excited. So all of those things people are worried about or saying, I don’t worry about. I’ve persevered.”
The Steelers offered Burress a two-year contract in 2011 after working him out in training camp, but he chose instead to sign with the New York Jets so that he wouldn’t have to move his family.
“Coming out of a situation where I had been away for two years, it was a very difficult situation to walk away from, based on the guys that were here, James (Farrior) and Hines (Ward), really the foundation was still here from when I left,” said Burress, who won a Super Bowl with the Giants, making the game-winning catch against the Patriots.
“My family was in New Jersey. My wife had her job. It was really a decision I made for the family, based on where she was at in her career and the kids with school, things like that. It was a tough situation to walk away from. The ending of it was that they had enough faith in me to come out and here to be a good football player and teammate to help this team win a championship.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers activated rookie offensive lineman David DeCastro off of the injured reserve list. DeCastro, the Steelers’ top pick in this year’s draft, suffered a knee injury in the team’s third preseason game. The Steelers have two weeks to promote him to the active roster. ... Safety Will Allen (shoulder), running back Isaac Redman (concussion) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) were full participants in practice Wednesday. ... Brown was limited with his ankle injury. ... Cotchery, Leftwich, Roethlisberger, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), defensive end Ziggy Hood (back) and safety Troy Polamalu (calf) did not practice.