ROME, N.Y. -- If Plaxico Burress thought there would be more space on the outside, he was wrong.
As he and his family drove away from the upstate resort where they were reunited Monday morning after his 20-plus months in prison, the 6-5 former Giants receiver folded himself into the middle of the backseat, squishing between car seats carrying his son Elijah, 4, and daughter Giovanna, 1.
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Close quarters probably never felt so good.
Burress was released from Oneida Correctional Facility at about 9 a.m. yesterday, walking out of the facility with his attorney, Peter Frankel, before meeting agent Drew Rosenhaus in the parking lot. The group made a quick dash to the nearby Turning Stone Resort and Casino, where, after some immediate confusion, they found the building where his children and wife, Tiffany, were staying.
There, outside the lobby, Burress sat down on a bench and corralled them all in the same arms that had caught so many NFL passes, including the Super Bowl-winning touchdown for the Giants. After about an hour together, the family took off for the airport and a private jet to their home in Lighthouse Point, Fla.
They were met there by a silver sign with multicolored borders and block letters reading "Welcome Home!'' on the iron fence in front of the driveway. Neighbor Kim Penniman also put up 10 multicolored "welcome home'' balloons on the mailbox.
"I feel great," Burress said as he quickly walked through those decorated gates a few minutes past 5 p.m., about eight hours after his release and 21/2 years after he accidentally shot himself with an unlicensed handgun in a Manhattan nightclub.
Burress still will have to serve two years of parole that includes substance-abuse testing, curfews and support of his family. The parole was transferred to Florida, and Burress met his parole officer there Monday.
Burress emerged from his prison stay wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, dark shorts and an old-style Philadelphia Phillies cap. He issued a brief statement. "It's a beautiful day to be reunited with my family, to go home and get some quality time with them," he said. "I'd like to thank everybody for their prayers and thank all my fans around the world for the thousands of letters and for their unwavering support. As far as football is concerned, if and when everything gets settled and they get back on the field, I'll be ready."
Given the rampant speculation that he will sign with the Eagles, Burress later was asked if anything should be read into the Phillies cap. "Hey, man, that's for y'all [to decide]," he said.
Only days after Brandon Jacobs, Burress' friend and former teammate, said there is "no way" the free-agent receiver will be back with the Giants, Rosenhaus reopened the door to a return.
"I wouldn't rule out any team," Rosenhaus said. "We are going to be open to all 32 teams. Ultimately, this will be Plax's decision, not mine. I am here to help him pick the best spot and get the very best contract. And that is what we will do."
Rosenhaus said Burress will benefit from the lockout because he will hit the market along with all other free agents when the NFL gets back to business. He also said Burress stayed in shape in jail by doing sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups and even running routes. "Didn't have a quarterback in there, unfortunately," he said.
With Kimberley A. Martin
in Lighthouse Point, Fla.