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ALMOST PERFECT
John Ed Bradley
June 28, 1999
ARKANSAS LINEMAN BRANDON BURLSWORTH DEDICATED HIMSELF TO DOING EVERYTHING FLAWLESSLY. WHEN SOMETHING FINALLY WENT WRONG, IT COST HIM A BRIGHT NFL FUTURE—AND HIS LIFE
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June 28, 1999

Almost Perfect

ARKANSAS LINEMAN BRANDON BURLSWORTH DEDICATED HIMSELF TO DOING EVERYTHING FLAWLESSLY. WHEN SOMETHING FINALLY WENT WRONG, IT COST HIM A BRIGHT NFL FUTURE—AND HIS LIFE

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Although Brandon loved his father, he rarely talked about Leo to his coaches or teammates. Perhaps out of respect for Barbara, he didn't write Leo's name in the questionnaire the sports information department gave him to fill out each year. He left the space beside "Father" blank. After the question, "Where you would most like to spend a day?" Burlsworth once wrote, "Harrison, because it's a nice town."

"You fixin' to take care of your mama?" Mike Markuson, the Razorbacks offensive line coach, asked Burlsworth shortly after the NFL draft.

"Yes sir," Burlsworth answered.

His plan was to lease a town house in Indianapolis large enough to accommodate Barbara, Marty and Marty's family during the season. Once that was taken care of, Brandon wanted to buy a house for Barbara and later perhaps one for himself, both in Harrison. He didn't need a fancy neighborhood or a mansion, he told Marty, because no place was better than where he came from.

Though courted by any number of agents, Brandon chose Marty to represent him. At the time of the accident, Marty and the Colts were a week from beginning contract negotiations. Marty says Brandon most likely would have received a three-year deal worth about $1.2 million, including a $450,000 signing bonus. The NFL's collective bargaining agreement provides $100,000 in life insurance to each signed rookie, but Brandon had yet to reach an agreement with Indianapolis. Polian, the Colts' president, says that the team nonetheless intends to help Burlsworth's family.

While many rookies flush with NFL money run out and buy expensive sports cars, Burlsworth hoped to cut an endorsement deal that would put him in a sport utility vehicle. "Brandon wasn't going to waste anything," says Decker, the Arkansas strength coach. "We used to go to a movie every Friday night when we played on the road, and everybody but Brandon would be blowing his per them check on Cokes and popcorn and everything else. We'd be like, 'Brandon, aren't you going to get something?' The guys would tease him about it, and he'd just shake his head. Later, at the Citrus Bowl, I asked him why he didn't spend the per them money, and he said he was using it to buy Wal-Mart stock."

At Burlsworth's first minicamp after the draft, Howard Mudd, the Colts offensive line coach, was so impressed with his new guard that he penciled him in as a starter. The camp lasted four days, and after the last practice Mudd approached Burlsworth in the locker room. "Brandon," he said, "are you prepared to run through the goalposts at the first game of the year when they introduce the starting lineup?"

"Yes sir," Burlsworth answered.

"Brandon, you've been outstanding," Mudd continued.

"Yes sir."

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