Releasing troubled Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress about four months ago didn’t rid the New York Giants of the controversy associated with his shooting.
The gun possession case against Burress continued to haunt the Giants on Sunday as coaches and players reported to training camp at the University at Albany and expressed concern about what the future might hold for middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.
Pierce was with Burress when the receiver shot himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub in November, and he may face charges for his actions after the incident, which authorities say included taking Burress to a hospital under an assumed name and taking the gun to Burress’ home in Totowa, N.J.
Burress did not have a permit for the gun; he has pleaded not guilty to weapon possession.
Pierce, who reported to training camp but didn’t make himself available to the media on Sunday, testified before a Manhattan grand jury twice last week.
His attorney Michael Bachner said the grand jury asked the player lot of questions and his statements were “clear, coherent and consistent.” Bachner said he was confident the grand jury will see Pierce did nothing criminal.
Coach Tom Coughlin has spoken with Pierce about the situation several times and said Sunday the veteran is concerned.
“Quite frankly, he is frustrated and would have liked to have had the matter cleared,” Coughlin said, adding that Pierce told him he couldn’t wait for camp to start.
Teammates admit they lack the facts related to the shooting. However, they said they believe Pierce can stay focused and do his job.
“A.P. is my fearless leader, and I take my hat off to him for keeping his head on straight despite all his distractions,” fellow linebacker Danny Clark said.
The problem for the Giants would be if Pierce were charged with a crime, convicted and given a prison sentence that took him away from football.
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said the only thing the Giants could do at that point would be to ask a backup to take over.
Giants president John Mara insisted last week that Pierce acted out of concern for the health and well being of a teammate on the night of the shooting and had no criminal intent. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora agreed.
“What he did or supposedly did, I’m not sure there is anybody on planet Earth who called himself a friend wouldn’t have done that in that particular situation,” Umenyiora said.
Halfback Brandon Jacobs said all the team can do now is hope and pray that Pierce isn’t charged.
“We are all behind Antonio and Plax and everybody else involved with this thing,” Jacobs said.
Coughlin admitted that he wasn’t sure whether releasing Burress would put the incident to rest, at least for the team.
“Hopefully this will be resolved in a manner which is very positive for our team,” Coughlin said. “We are going to go forward and focus on the coming season and hope for the best for this.”
Burress, who caught the winning touchdown in the final minute for the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl, was released in April and has not signed with another team. He also testified before the grand jury last week, asking for sympathy.
He said outside court he was truthful and honest.
“I’m truly remorseful for what I’ve done and for what happened,” said Burress, who is free on $100,000 bail and would face up to 3 1/2 years in prison if convicted after trial.