Prison taught Plaxico Burress value of reading

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Plaxico Burress of the New York Jets is

Plaxico Burress of the New York Jets is tackled by Buffalo's Drayton Florence at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Jets won, 27-11. (Nov. 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A few hours after practice on Wednesday, Plaxico Burress went to his Twitter account to solicit suggestions, but not about a subject you might expect from the Jets receiver.

Burress wasn't looking for tips about Sunday's game in Philadelphia. Nor was he looking to engage in pregame trash talk, or even answer fans' questions.

He was looking for a good book to read.

Someone suggested "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. Burress responded: "Read it!" Another offered "Uncommon" by former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Burress wrote: "Read it."

As Burress prepares for another important game, he does so with a more worldly outlook. Oh, football still means a great deal to him. But after getting out of prison last June after a 20-month sentence for illegal-weapons possession, Burress is a more well-rounded human being, thanks to an unexpected passion for reading he discovered while in jail.

"It was one of those deals that kind of grew on me," Burress told me Thursday at the team's practice facility after practice and film study. "Ever since I went to prison and in my spare time, I try to read as much as I can. Having a lot of time, I found something that became something I love to do. And that's gather information through reading, expanding my knowledge. I never would have known that if I didn't go through what I went through."

What he went through, of course, was a highly publicized incarceration stemming from his accidental self-shooting in a New York nightclub Nov. 28, 2008. While spending most of his days and nights alone at the Oneida Correctional Facility, Burress took to reading, at first to pass the time. But he soon became a voracious reader and wound up reading 82 books -- nearly one a week.

"I read autobiographies, self-improvement, a few novels," he said. "It's really just trying to gain knowledge and wisdom through other people's crises and overcoming tragedy."

Among the books he read: "Freedom," by Jonathan Franzen; "The Autobiography of Malcolm X''; "The Blind Side," by Michael Lewis; "The Alchemist," by Paul Coelho, and "The Alchemyst," by Michael Scott.

"Reading never would have been on my radar," he said. "Now my wife comes into the room at night and I'm reading my book, she just starts laughing. It's something that gives me peace."

It does not, however, distract him from his profession. If anything, Burress approaches football with a more fulfilled attitude, something he did not experience before prison. And just in case you think he's getting soft from his newfound intellectual pursuits, forget it. He can't wait for Sunday's return to Philadelphia, where he hopes to do to Eagles fans what he did with the Giants: make them miserable.

"It's one of my favorite places to play," he said. "Great atmosphere. Fans -- they're Philly fans, to say the least. I broke their hearts a few times. I know how they feel about me.

"I'm sure the fans will boo me," said Burress, who scored key TDs in the Giants' wins at Philly in 2006 and 2007. "They love me. They just don't want to admit it. It's going to be fun."

It's also going to be emotional when Burress sees another player whose off-field problems led to prison time. He'll reconnect with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who grew up near Burress in Virginia. Vick's difficult comeback from nearly two years in prison for participation in an illegal dogfighting operation helped give Burress hope.

"If it wasn't for him going through what he went through and coming back, maybe I wouldn't have gotten that chance," said Burress, who speaks to Vick about once a week.

While Burress was in prison, Vick spoke to his family often. "I knew if I got another chance,'' Burress said, "I could go out and perform."

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