Lucas at Large: Burress helped bring out Fletcher's finest

Fletcher_Jamar.jpgAfter spending nearly two years in jail for criminal possession of a weapon - his sentence was cut short for good behavior - Plaxico Burress' release triggered two unrelated flashbacks.

The first was to the 1956 World Series when New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra leaped into the arms of pitcher Don Larsen who had just thrown a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Drew Rosenhaus, the perpetually annoying agent, tried to replicate this moment by likewise jumping into the arms of his client, Burress, 33, the former New York Giants wide receiver.

Rosenhaus fell woefully short of sincere.

The second flashback was to a 1999 college football game between Michigan State and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium which drew plenty of attention to Jamar Fletcher.

On game week, UW coach Barry Alvarez had nothing but praise for Burress, who was not only the Spartans' top receiver, but one of the most challenging matchups in the Big Ten because of his size.

"He's a Randy Moss-type receiver,'' Alvarez said of the 6-foot-6, 222-pound Burress, who had 10 catches for a school-record 255 yards in MSU's victory over rival Michigan a few weeks earlier.

"I'm talking about athleticism. I'm talking about height. I'm talking about big-play capabilities. Everybody that plays him pays special attention to him, yet he still gets the ball.''

The following day, Fletcher essentially "demanded'' to cover Burress - one -on-one.

"I'll be surprised if I don't get it (the assignment),'' said the 5-10, 171-pound Fletcher, a sophomore cornerback out of St. Louis. "I'm looking forward to guarding him.

"Any time you go up against a prime-time receiver like Plaxico, you want to show your game and let everybody else around the country know that you're pretty good, too. So that's what I'm out to do.''

Burress was known around the conference for pounding his chest after catches and being an All-American trash talker. "But I don't know if he's faced anyone that's my caliber,'' Fletcher said.

That was true of Fletcher as a defender and a woofer. And he more than held up his end of the deal with Burress - shutting him down and shutting him up.

The Badgers routed Michigan State, 40-10, behind the running of tailback Ron Dayne, who shredded the Spartans No. 1-ranked rush defense to the tune of 214 yards on 34 carries.

MSU coach Nick Saban was left almost speechless. So was Burress, who was held to five catches for 58 yards. Fletcher intercepted two of the first six passes thrown in Burress' direction.

When asked about Fletcher's boast, UW coach Barry Alvarez said afterward, "I've got one saying and I stole it from Lou Holtz, 'If your mouth writes a check, your fanny better be able to cash it.'''

Fletcher blanketed Burress from the start. "I felt that was the thing I had to do,'' Fletcher said. "I had to come out strong and let him know I'd be there all day; come out and play my game.''

Fletcher later added, "It's never bragging if you back it up.''

Two years later, UW cornerback Mike Echols traveled down the same path. Echols had started in the same Badger secondary with Fletcher, who skipped his final year of eligibility in 2001 for the NFL.

Leading up to the Michigan game, Echols "demanded'' to be matched one-on-one against Marquis Walker, who was leading the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.89).

Echols held Walker to just two catches for 10 yards.

His check didn't bounce, either.
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