PHOENIX -- Bill Cowher called him the day after the New York Giants won the NFC championship. Other former Steelers teammates and coaches followed with phone calls, such as Jerome Bettis, Casey Hampton, Mike Logan, Joey Porter, Ike Taylor.
They would love to see Plaxico Burress join their Super Bowl ring club, albeit two years removed.
"Got a call from coach Cowher," Burress said, smiling broadly during a quiet interview Monday evening at the Giants' hotel in Chandler, Ariz. "He was telling me to enjoy the whole two weeks. He told me I deserve it, enjoy it and don't be afraid to tell people 'No!' Just go out and do what I've been doing and play to the best of my ability."
Bettis told him to not only enjoy the moment but also make the most of it, as the Bus did in his final NFL game, a Super Bowl XL victory in his hometown of Detroit.
"He was just telling me, 'Hey, man, don't let it get away. Go get that ring,' " Burress said.
The calls from his former coaches and teammates uplifted Burress, a 6-51/2 wide receiver who teamed with Hines Ward to have the most productive tandem in Steelers receiving history in 2002. The Steelers drafted Burress eighth overall in 2000 and he signed with the Giants five years later as a free agent.
Burress, who has played all season through an ankle injury that once caused former Steelers back Barry Foster to have midseason surgery, is the "other" tall receiver in Super Bowl XLII. Although 1 1/2 inches taller than New England's Randy Moss, Burress lives in his shadow this week and that's OK by him. After all, Moss set the NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions this season.
"Ever since I've been in this league, Randy has been the best receiver playing, as far as speed, making plays and the things he does," Burress said.
The New York Giants, too, are dwarfed this week by the Patriots, who are steaming along at 18-0; the Patriots are two-touchdown favorites to become the first NFL champion with a 19-0 record.
The Giants can do just what Burress' old teammates did in 2005 when the Steelers won three playoff games on the road and then became Super Bowl champions. Burress said he was so happy then that he flew to California to party with some Steelers after they beat the Seattle Seahawks for the title.
Now many of them are pulling for Burress and his Giants.
"Plax left and we won the Super Bowl," Ward noted. "I saw him in that offseason, and to me, he was still part of that team. Now he gets his opportunity to play in the Super Bowl and I hope he can go out and play and beat New England."
Burress is a big reason the Giants have come this far. Despite that ankle injury, he caught 70 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season.
"I was really happy for him," Cowher said yesterday from his home in Raleigh, N.C. "What he did this year, playing through that injury and his leadership he showed. He's become a very unselfish player and guy who accounts for own actions."
In the Giants' overtime victory against the Packers in Green Bay in the NFC championship game, Burress caught 11 passes for 154 yards. He said his ankle today is nearly at full strength.
"I think 70, 75 percent of Plaxico Burress is better than half of the wide receivers playing anywhere," he said. "That's the way that I feel."
Burress said he had to leave Pittsburgh and an offense that reverted to the run so that he could develop as a top-flight receiver.
"I had a big year in '02; Kordell [Stewart] ended up getting hurt and we ended up throwing the ball like 40, 44 times a game. But we went back to the old recipe," Burress said.
"As far as me flourishing and being able to go out and be in an offense to where I could really get to the level where I wanted to be, I didn't really think that was the place for me, even though I loved playing there and I loved playing with Hines and some of those guys.
"As far as the offense and as far as me being a receiver, I don't think it would allow me to start to see my potential."
Even Ben Roethlisberger, who pleaded with the Steelers after the 2004 season to keep Burress, believes his former receiver has flourished with the Giants.
"Nothing against Plax," the Steelers quarterback said recently, "but Plax looks like a different receiver than I ever had here or who was here before I was here."
And now, Burress is seeking the Super Bowl ring that most of his former teammates have.
"In life," he said, "all you can ask for is an opportunity."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 30, 2008 5:00 AM