Following the 2004 season (prior to Superbowl XL), Plaxico Burress was allowed to seek his fortunes in free agency. Rather than keep the field-stretching/bone-crunching combination of Burress opposite Hines Ward with the multi-tooled Antwaan Randle El in the slot, the Steelers promoted El and signed an inexpensive free agent as the #3 WR.
For Steelers fans, there was more to this situation. After 2004, Burress had completed his rookie contract and Ward’s had one year remaining. The Steelers, ever conservative, had to choose between the workmanlike Ward and the taller, flashier, key-lime-pie-eating Burress.
Ward accepted the largest contract for a Steelers receiver to date. Burress signed a similar deal with the Giants. This was a point of contention for many fans. Some thought Ward was slowing down, that his physical style of play wouldn’t allow him to complete his obligation. These fans preferred the younger and faster Burress. Others supported the front office decision and felt Burress would slack after receiving a fat payday.
The next season Hines Ward was the MVP of Superbowl XL and Steelers would win another (XLIII) three years later. But Burress got his ring, too, as his Giants delivered a shocker in SB XLII (the second of back-to-back MVP Dumbface Bowls).
So perhaps one would say the Steelers couldn’t go wrong, no matter their decision back in 2005. But the story isn’t finished. Burress began whining about his 6 year contract after only the first two seasons. Darn it, he was underpaid! The Giants upped his pay. And then it was one bizarre thing after another, ultimately culminating in Burress accidentally shooting himself in the leg with his own hand gun. The incident led to legal charges, court appearances, missed games and his eventual firing from the Giants roster. His case is still pending in New York. Meanwhile, the Steelers won another Superbowl. And Hines Ward recently had an NFL rule implemented in response to his aggressive play. The Ward Rule will protect linebackers from the likes of Hines.
Given what has transpired since 2005, it’s nearly impossible to argue that the Steelers chose the wrong player. Steelers fans know they kept the right guy after every offensive snap. Just check out the smile. Anti-Plax.