NEW YORK (CBS/AP) He was a former Super Bowl hero, but Plaxico Burress was brought down a notch Tuesday when he apologized to his family, tearfully kissed his wife and young son goodbye, and was led away to prison to begin serving a two-year sentence on a weapons charge.
His first stop will be Rikers Island. He will later be transferred to a medium security facility to serve out his term.
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.
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.
PREVIOUSLY ON CRIMESIDER
August 20, 2009 - Guilty: Ex-Giant Plaxico Burress Pleads In Weapons Case
July 30, 2009 - Super Bowl Star Plays to Grand Jury: Plaxico Burress "Truly Remorseful"
July 29, 2009 - Super Bowl Star Plaxico Burress Testifies
July 28, 2009 - Paper: NFL Giant Antonio Pierce May Face Gun Charge
July 27, 2009 - DA Wants Jail For NFL Star Plaxico Burress