The P Posted December 10, 2009 Share Posted December 10, 2009 Steve Smith has received scores of fan letters this season, from the doubters he has proven wrong to the fantasy football geeks he has turned into winners. But one sticks out from the rest. It arrived from Oneida Correctional Facility in upstate New York, from prisoner No. 09R3260. From an old teammate he has helped everyone forget. “I hear you’ve been doing really good,” Plaxico Burress wrote. “I’m really proud of you.” Plaxico. Remember him? Tall guy. Soft hands. Helped the Giants win a Super Bowl one season, then sabotaged a possible run the next when he accidentally shot himself in the leg. He is long gone and, in most ways, long forgotten, too. The one-year anniversary of the nightclub shooting that, for now and the foreseeable future, ended his NFL career came and went two weeks ago without much fanfare. Nobody around the team talks about Burress anymore. Why would they? The Giants have had their share of problems, but despite concerns in training camp, receiver play is not on the list. They have moved on. So, yes, Smith was surprised when receivers coach Mike Sullivan brought in two letters from Burress to a recent meeting. The exiled star wrote one to Smith specifically, then addressed all the receivers in another. He offered tips and suggestions but most of all, Smith said, support. “I wouldn’t think that he’d care too much anymore,” Smith said. “But it shows he still has his heart with us, too.” Burress told Smith to spend extra time studying film and working on the Jugs machine after practice — ironic advice coming from a guy who treated meetings and practices as strictly optional. No one needs to tell Smith to work hard. The third-year pro wouldn’t be in the NFL if he didn’t do that on his own. Still, he appreciated the words anyway and wrote back immediately. “I just told him I was thinking about him, that I’m glad he’s doing good and keeping his head up as good as he can,” he said. “Unfortunately, he missed his baby’s birth. That’s tough.” Burress won’t get sympathy from Giants fans, but at least in Smith, they have a rising star to replace him. No development this season has been more important than Smith’s ascent to the No. 1 receiver. He already has 78 catches, needing just five more to break Amani Toomer’s team record set in 2002. A supposed weakness has become a strength. The running game is suspect and the defense gives up gobs of yards, but a franchise that hasn’t manufactured a Pro Bowl receiver since the Johnson Administration (that’s Homer Jones after the 1968 season) might have another. Smith has 979 yards — more than Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona superstar. He has more receptions that all but three players, his name above Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, and on and on. He has done it as the anti-Plax, without great speed or size, but an uncanny skill for running precise routes and knowing how to get open. Eli Manning usually looks his way first, for good reason. “I try to stay away from all that,” Smith said when asked if he ever looked at his numbers. “I’ve got friends and family who always text me and let me know what’s going on. I try to tell them, ‘Leave me alone.’” Staying grounded shouldn’t be difficult. Smith is one of the most soft-spoken players on the team — almost shy, really — to the point that when people recognize him off the field, he still wonders, “What are they looking at?” That is changing now. The Giants will face the Eagles on Sunday night, the team that knocked them out in the first round last season. No team has done a better job bottling up this Burress-free offense than the Eagles have. This game is another test for Smith. He hasn’t caught a touchdown pass in a month, dropping a sure one in the fourth quarter that would have iced the victory against the Cowboys last week. Smith can no longer be just a pleasant surprise if the Giants are going to make a playoff run. He has to be the guy now, a target who makes plays no matter what defense he is facing. His pen pal from that upstate New York prison knows what that means. Burress may not have forgotten about Steve Smith, but Smith is making everyone forget about him. http://www.nj.com/giants/index.ssf/2009/12/politi_steve_smith_making_ny_g.html Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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