Former Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress apologized to his family and tearfully kissed his wife and young son goodbye Tuesday before he was led away to prison to begin serving a two-year sentence on a weapons charge.
Burress, at the time a star receiver with the New York Giants, was at the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan last November when a gun tucked into his waistband slipped down his leg and fired, wounding him in the thigh.
The gun was not licensed in New York or in New Jersey, where Burress lived. His license to carry a concealed weapon in Florida had expired in May 2008.
He had been indicted on two counts of weapons possession and one count of reckless endangerment, but under a plea deal reached Aug. 20, Burress agreed to a single, lesser charge of attempted criminal possession of a weapon.
No charges were filed against Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress the night of the incident, drove him to the hospital and took the gun to his home in New Jersey before arranging to have it returned to Burress.
Burress arrived in the courtroom Tuesday wearing a jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, a stark contrast to the dark blue suit he wore last month when he entered his guilty plea.
He was accompanied by his pregnant wife, Tiffany; his almost 3-year-old son, Elijah; his father, grandmother and stepmother.
He told Judge Michael Melkonian before sentencing: "I want to apologize to my family." They did not speak to reporters as they left the courthouse.
With time off for good behavior, Burress likely will serve 20 months. He could be released from prison as early as the spring of 2011 and will be monitored an additional two years after he is freed.
Burress hired a consultant to teach him how to use his time in prison productively.
The Giants released Burress in April, but the 32-year-old told ESPN he hopes to resume his NFL career when he completes his sentence.
"When I get out, I'll be 33, not 43," Burress said in an interview broadcast in August. "I'll still be able to run and catch. I'll still have the God-given ability to snag footballs; that's what I love to do. Of course, I want to play again."
Gil Brandt, an analyst on NFL Sirius Radio and the former head of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, said Burress won't be too old for a comeback when he's released from prison.
"First of all, Plaxico is a guy who keeps himself in pretty good shape," Brandt said. "Lots of times guys get heavy in the off-season. He is not a guy who has done that."
Burress is suspended by the NFL, but the league said he will be reinstated after he completes his prison sentence.
The star receiver played collegiately for Michigan State and in 2000 was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he built a reputation as one of the league's top deep threats. He signed as a free agent with the Giants before the 2005 season.
Burress' big moment with the Giants came when he caught the winning touchdown over the previously undefeated New England Patriots in the final minute of the 2008 Super Bowl.
His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said previously that Burress was thinking of his family including his wife and young son, Elijah in taking the plea, but Brafman questioned the fairness of the recommended prison sentence.
"This was not an intentional criminal act," Brafman said the day of the plea. "In my judgment, a two-year prison sentence is a very severe punishment."
Before sentencing Tuesday, Brafman called Burress "a fundamentally decent man."
"This is a very real tragic case in many, many ways," Brafman said.
Burress says he didn't know whether he would live or die in the moments after the shooting, reports CBS Station WCBS in New York.
"I take two or three steps and like my pants are wet," Burress said. "I had some Chuck Taylor's (Converse sneakers) and I looked down and the top of my shoe is red."
Burress said he immediately turned to Pierce and asked the middle linebacker to take him to the hospital.
"And he was like 'Why?" Burress said. "I said I just think I shot myself, and he was like 'Noooo!"
"I almost killed my own self. And I got to go to prison for almost killing my own self."
When asked why he didn't have a holster, Burress said simply: "Bad judgment."