Hines Ward is one of the all-time great Steelers, but I don't want to see him wearing No. 86 again. He can't play anymore.
That's why it's hard to get excited about the Plaxico Burress signing Tuesday. It would have been much better news if Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had said that Ben Roethlisberger is going to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. He did not, and Roethlisberger almost certainly won't. It would have been better news if Tomlin had said Antonio Brown is going to play Sunday. Again, he did not, and Brown almost certainly won't.
The news about Burress is insignificant by comparison. He is 35. He's played one season of football in the past four years. He couldn't find a job this summer with any of the NFL's 32 teams. He doesn't have the same burst he once did and, if you believe the scouts, doesn't get the same separation from cornerbacks.
Do you really expect Burress to come in and save the Steelers at a time when Brown is down with an ankle injury and Jerricho Cotchery is out with multiple rib fractures?
Maybe if this were 2004 ...
Or maybe if Burress could take over at quarterback with Roethlisberger down with a shoulder/rib problem and Byron Leftwich out with multiple rib fractures ...
But as a wide receiver, I don't see it happening.
These seemingly feel-good, going-home stories so seldom have a happy ending.
That has nothing to do with any concerns about Burress' perceived character issues. I've received many emails asking how the Steelers can bring in a convicted felon. Burress spent nearly two years in prison on a gun charge. He took a loaded, unlicensed weapon into a Manhattan night club in November 2008 and ended up shooting himself in the leg when the gun slid down his pants.
I won't even try to defend Burress' actions that night. That's an impossible challenge. I also know about the many knucklehead things Burress did when he played with the Steelers from 2000-04, everything from minor skirmishes with the law to his Mother's Day boycott of minicamp. And I remember Burress' clumsy departure from the Steelers and the city. He dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots after the '04 season, complained afterward about not getting the ball thrown to him enough and then insinuated that Pittsburgh has racist tendencies.
Good riddance, I remember writing at the time.
That is a line I wish I had back.
"He was an awesome teammate," Roethlisberger said of Burress this summer.
The players loved Burress. So did coach Bill Cowher. Management didn't let him go as a free agent because it thought he was trouble. It had to decide between Burress and Ward. It gave the big money to Ward, a brilliant decision as it turned out. Ward was the Most Valuable Player in the Steelers' win against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. But it also worked out pretty well for the New York Giants, who gave Burress a six-year, $25 million contract. He caught the winning touchdown pass against the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
The Steelers considered bringing Burress back this summer during Mike Wallace's holdout. They were more serious about it a year earlier, bringing him to training camp for a visit after his release from prison. But the Steelers couldn't match the New York Jets' one-year offer to Burress for a little more than $3 million. He had 45 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Let me guess what you are thinking ...
"If Burress can do that with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback, what's he going to do with the great Roethlisberger throwing him the ball?"
I'm still going to guess not much.
That doesn't mean the Burress signing isn't worth the gamble. Maybe, just maybe, he would have scored a touchdown Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens on that fade pattern in the corner of the end zone on a third-and-2 play from the Baltimore 4, the ball that Wallace couldn't bring down inbounds. Certainly, he will be another red-zone target along with Heath Miller for third stringer-turned-starting quarterback Charlie Batch Sunday in Cleveland.
But to think Burress will save the season?
I can't go there.
Roethlisberger and Brown can do that.
Let me know when they're healthy and I'll be excited.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.