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Cook: Burress still lacking in maturity

Friday, January 11, 2002

By all accounts, Plaxico Burress has grown up a lot since he joined the Steelers as a young kid with time on his hands, money in his pockets and no clue about what it takes to be successful in the NFL. No longer do you see his outrageous spikes and obscene celebrations after even the most modest catches. No longer do you see him sulk after one of his frequent drops -- he merely catches the next one -- or after Kordell Stewart throws the ball to someone else. Burress is acting more and more like a professional who takes his job seriously.

"Earlier in the year, he wouldn't take his playbook home until Friday," teammate Hines Ward was saying yesterday. "I asked him, 'Plex, what's up with that?' He said he studies on Fridays. I asked him, 'What's the matter with Wednesdays and Thursdays?' I think I convinced him the more you study and the more film work you put in, the easier the game is. You do less thinking and more reacting."

So when does Burress take his playbook home now?

"Wednesdays," Ward said, grinning.

It's nice to hear.

It's obvious that was a factor in Burress catching 66 passes for 1,008 yards this season and leading the team with six touchdown catches.

But it's just as obvious Burress still has a lot of growing up to do.

The last thing the Steelers need now, with the playoffs approaching, is the kind of distraction he created by getting into a jackpot with Cleveland police.

What Burress did was relatively harmless. This wasn't another case of Ray Lewis partying at the Super Bowl. Burress was given a ticket near The Flats section of Cleveland early in the morning of Dec. 24 for having an open bottle of Corona beer in a vehicle in which he said he was riding, not driving.

It probably will be hard for many Steelers fans to get too mad at Burress. About 40,000 of them could be arrested outside of Heinz Field on game days for having open containers of alcohol.

No one even would have heard about Burress' little problem if he had bothered to read the fine print on his citation. He said he paid his fine. What he or his representative did not do was appear in court Monday morning, as required by law for that type of offense. Court officials subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest.

"This is so simple to take care of, if I were him, I'd get it done quickly," George Yarbrough, a spokesman for the Clerk of Cleveland Municipal Court, told the Post-Gazette. "Certainly, he has the money to take care of it."

Yarbrough estimated Burress could make this go away for as little as a $50 fine and $65 in court costs.

As insignificant as it sounds, it's still troubling in a number of ways.

For one thing, why Cleveland? Why was Burress partying in The Flats only a few hours after helping the Steelers beat the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field? The bars in Pittsburgh aren't good enough?

"I was doing some Christmas shopping," Burress said.

At 1:45 a.m.? The stores in Pittsburgh aren't good enough?

"I always shop at those stores," Burress said, shrugging.

It's hard to buy his assertion that he might have been the victim of some sort of petty conspiracy. Hadn't a couple of the Cleveland Browns gotten into legal trouble after his infamous Strip District party that was attended by several NFL players in November? Why not even the score in Cleveland by going after one of the Steelers?

"I never gave that a thought at the time," Burress said. "But it definitely could have been pay-back time."

Wouldn't that be a wonderful piece of lore to add to the Steelers-Browns rivalry?

It's too bad the truth probably is much less sinister, that Burress just did something stupid, got caught and didn't realize the consequences.

"You have to be mature today," Ward said. "You're a professional athlete. Good things are happening to you. You're living in a fishbowl because of it. You have to understand people are watching every move you make."

Burress said Bill Cowher delivered that same lecture to him this week. Of course, he and Cowher talked after his Strip District party.

You would think Burress would have learned his lesson then. It's bad enough he was consorting with the enemy. But his party became national news when a loaded, unlicensed weapon was found in one player's vehicle and marijuana was found in another's.

Burress probably could do a little better job picking his friends and companions.

Certainly, he could concentrate a little more on football and cut back on his partying until after the season.

Burress doesn't just owe that to himself. He owes it to Cowher and his teammates, who have so much at stake in this magical season.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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