CHANDLER, Ariz. - From across the room, you could spot a (Guy) Whimper and a (Mike) Waufle. There was a (Kevin) Boss, a (Sinorice) Moss, and a (Aaron) Ross. There were a pair of Popes (Michael and Geoffrey), a pair of Wrights (Anthony and Manny), a Zak (DeOssie), a (Justin) Tuck, and a Tank (Daniels).
What there wasn't was a Plaxico (Burress), which is why a Super Bowl record was established for the largest media crowd ever gathered around an empty chair.
Only a day earlier, the Giants wide receiver had ignited what qualified as the first uproar of these Super Bowl XLII festivities by confirming he had predicted a 23-17 win over the Patriots. Reporters had taken the words and run with them, which hardly seemed to please coach Tom Coughlin, who prides himself on running a tight ship.
"I will speak to Plaxico in a private way, and that's where it will remain," said Coughlin at yesterday morning's daily press conference. But when reporters shifted their attention to Table 23 inside a ballroom at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort, the Giants' leading wide receiver was nowhere to be found. At least not at the designated time, which was 10:15, and for close to an hour, Burress's chair remained empty, much to the chagrin of the team's vice president of communications, Pat Hanlon. With media members chasing Hanlon, the search party was set loose, and finally, at 11:15, the 6-foot-5-inch, 232-pound Burress slid into his seat.
He explained that he had been busy having breakfast with his family, and immediately, the questioning swirled around the prediction.
"What I said is what I said. I believe in my guys, just as much as they believe in me," said Burress, who is in his eighth NFL season and third with New York. "It's very evident they stand behind me and what I say. We believe in each other."
Asked what prompted the score he chose, Burress shrugged. It was the first thing that came to his mind, he said, but in no way was he looking to take it back.
"My name is Plaxico Burress and I'm not ashamed of what I say. We have a job to do. I'm a confident man. You can't play this game without confidence. The minute you lose confidence in yourself, you might as well stay home."
Giants players had Tuesday off for meetings, so yesterday was going to be the first official practice of the week, but Burress didn't feel Coughlin would be in his face.
"There's nothing to talk about," said Burress, who did not participate in yesterday's practice because of a lingering ankle injury. "It's a working day for us. [Tuesday's] Media Day? It was entertainment, for you guys and the people out there. It was sports entertainment. Look how much fun everyone is having with it. I'm having fun. You guys are having fun with it. It made national headlines, international headlines. It's all entertainment."
By a wide time frame, Burress had been the last Giant to walk into the mandatory media session, but several times he denied he was planning to skip it. "I wouldn't miss this for nothing," he said. "I'm here and it's time to get to work."
Asked if he thought it was wise to make a bold prediction like a certain Steeler defensive back did more than a month ago (the reporter called him "Antonio" Smith instead of Anthony), Burress showed his only semblance of irritation. Did Burress think he could have learned from Smith, who "guaranteed" a win over New England?
"Who is Antonio Smith?"
When the question was repeated, Burress scowled.
"Who is Antonio Smith? I don't know who Antonio Smith is, so I probably can't learn from someone I don't know."
He does know who the Patriots are, and during the 15 or 20 minutes Burress fielded questions, he let it be known he has a lot of respect for a team that he predicts will lose its first game this season.
"I'm not taking away from what those guys have accomplished," he said. "They've set an NFL record in basically every category that you can possibly imagine. [They have] a great quarterback [Tom Brady], an MVP. Randy [ Moss] set a new record. You've got two guys [Moss and Wes Welker] with over 100 receptions [Moss had 98]. The most points ever scored. I mean, you can't take it away, because the numbers don't lie.
"We know we can't stop them; but if you want to win the game, we have to control the ball, be effective on third down, and try to keep [Brady] off the field."