Plaxico Burress bid a tearful goodbye to his family and apologized to football fans in a Manhattan courtroom before being taken to prison Tuesday.

Burress, the former Giants wide receiver, began serving his two-year sentence for criminal possession of a weapon immediately after the hearing, a sentence agreed to in a plea deal Aug. 20. He will likely serve at least 20 months and be eligible for release in May 2011.

Though his address to the court could not be heard by the gallery, Ben Brafman, Burress' lawyer, repeated what Burress said after his client was taken to jail.

"He apologized to his family - to his wife, to his son and to his unborn daughter - and thanked them for their support," Brafman said. "He apologized to the fans and thanked them for their prayers and their support. He said, and I quote, 'We will all get through this.' "

Before the hearing, Burress played with his 2-year-old son, Elijah, while his pregnant wife, Tiffany, sat next to them, along with Burress' father, stepmother and grandmother. Burress cried as he left them to stand before Judge Michael Melkonian for sentencing.

"He's sad about what he's done to his life, his career and, more importantly, to his family," Brafman said. "He's a fundamentally good man who used bad judgment and is paying a very, very severe penalty.

"The other thing Mr. Burress asked me to say is that if anything good comes out of this terrible case, it's that perhaps other athletes, perhaps other young people, will think twice before they take possession of an unlawful weapon in New York, even if they are not going to carry it with the purpose of committing a crime, as was the case with Mr. Burress."

Michael Strahan, a former Giants teammate who is a Fox 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 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."

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Brafman said Burress would be taken to Rikers Island for processing, then most likely to the Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill for four to six weeks before being sent to a different facility for the remainder of his sentence.

Burress, 32, told ESPN that he hoped to resume his career when he is released, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell may be inclined not to add a harsh suspension on top of the prison sentence, given that Burress shot himself with a gun that fell down his pants leg at the Latin Quarter club in Manhattan last November and did not commit any other crimes.

Brafman reiterated his feeling that Burress' celebrity worked against him in this case.

"He has received no special treatment," Brafman said when asked why Burress was allowed to leave the courtroom without handcuffs. "To the contrary, because of his celebrity status, I think the law came down very hard on him. This has never been a fully level playing field."

With AP