The No. 80 jersey Plaxico Burress walked away from eight years ago still fits.
It’s everything else that’s changed for the former — and suddenly current — Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.
The talented but immature kid who bolted as a free agent for the New York Giants in 2005 is 35 now, his resume complete with a Super Bowl ring and a 20-month jail stint stemming from a gun charge.
Burress returned to the team that drafted him a dozen years ago on Wednesday hungry, humble and eager to prove there’s still some life left in a career that’s never quite lived up to his own outsized expectations.
“I can’t say I was ever going to come back to Pittsburgh ... but literally and physically the opportunity to finish what you started, how many guys get that?” Burress said 24 hours after the Steelers signed him to bolster an injury depleted receiving corps.
Despite not taking a live snap in more than 10 months, Burress thinks he can play as early as Sunday when the Steelers (6-4) travel to Cleveland (2-8).
“I don’t see why not.” Burress said.
Neither does the guy who will throw him the ball.
“He’s played, he’s won in this league,” said quarterback Charlie Batch, who will start in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger. “The speed of the game is not going to be new to him. When you say the play, he can line up and go and make the play without thinking about it.”
Not thinking, however, is something that dogged Burress even before accidentally shooting himself in a New York club four years ago. During his five seasons in Pittsburgh there were times when the smallness of the city got to him and his mental lapses on the field annoyed the coaching staff.
Those days, he insists, are over.
“I’m an old man,” Burress said. “I have a wife, a family. I’m in just a total different direction. I’m happy to be out here playing football. My wife is excited. My son is excited.”
And Burress is excited to be back in a uniform, regardless of the color. He spent the past three months watching the NFL go on without him after the New York Jets declined to re-sign him following a productive — and quiet — return to the league last fall.