And one thing
more, Burnsie. What about the face? Somebody once asked you what you saw when
you got up in the morning and looked in the mirror. "Makes me sick to my
stomach," you said. "The guy who invented the mirror is my mortal
enemy." The day you got the Minnesota job, Buddy Ryan sent you a telegram.
"Congratulations, you little raisin," it read. Truth is, walking the
sideline at 5'9", 157 pounds, with those shoulders stooped and your hands
buried in your jacket pockets, you do not look like a leader of men. "He
looks so fragile," says former Viking coach Bud Grant.
you say, "I'd like to look like Les Steckel, but what the hell can I do?
What you see is what you get." Ah yes, Steckel, the former Viking coach who
was everything you are not: young, handsome, a slick dresser, a smooth talker.
He embodied the corporate image.
Four years ago
Grant called in the middle of the night from Hawaii to tell you that he was
retiring and that Steckel was replacing him. The Vikings took a look at you,
for 16 years the architect of their offense, and at the 37-year-old Steckel,
their receivers coach, and chose him. That was it. You do not speak
dramatically about many things, but you call the day you found out "the
most devastating day of my life." Nothing against Steckel, you say. You
just didn't like the way it was handled.
forgot—or it didn't matter—that you had prepared yourself for being a head
coach by working under George Allen at Whittier College, Vince Lombardi at
Green Bay and Grant at Minnesota. They forgot that you had coached in no fewer
than six Super Bowls. They forgot that appearances aren't everything.
When they finally
turned to you in 1986, the Vikings had their best record, 9-7, in six years.
Last season they went all the way to the NFC title game for the first time in
11 years. This year your team, with a 9-4 record, is in solid contention for at
least a wild-card berth. And judging by the rout of the Detroit Lions on
Thanksgiving Day, the Vikings seem to be peaking at the right time.
plastic," said general manager Mike Lynn on the day he hired you as head
coach. "We've become bigger than we should be. We take ourselves too
seriously, and a lot of that is because of the media. We're so visual."
Today, Lynn, who
has apparently changed his thinking since the hiring of Steckel, says, "The
most important thing is the relationship between the head coach and the players
and how far they will go to win for him. Not for the organization or the fans.
Turns out that
the players want to win for you real bad. Turns out that they like all those
rough edges. "What the players love about Burnsie is that he's just
Burnsie," says offensive lineman David Huffman. "There's nothing phony
about him. Truth is such a rare commodity in this business. You've got scouts
blowing smoke, you've got the press blowing smoke, you've got fans blowing
smoke. He is like a calm in a maelstrom of footballisms. He is the captain of
this ship, and when he sails, we want to go with him."
Listen to other
players who have played for you.
Ahmad Rashad. "More than any other guy, he is the one I have missed since I