Two weeks before
the opening of training camp, as Minnesota Viking coach Jerry Burns was
watching a group of rookies and free agents go through an informal workout, a
smiling fan approached him. "Coach, you must really be eager to get on with
the season," said the fan.
"Well, I'd be lying to you if I said I was," he said. "The start of
training camp means the end of my vacation. It's fine once we really get going.
But right now, I'd rather be on my boat, maybe having a refreshment."
What in the name
of Vince Lombardi was this? An NFL coach admitting football was not the be-all
and end-all of human existence? Talking about a boat? A beer? Blasphemy.
According to contemporary football etiquette, the coach is supposed to look,
act and talk like a CEO—to be dapper, dignified and, above all, serious.
And you, Jerry
Burns? You break all the rules. Let's talk about the hair first, Burnsie.
That's what they call you in Minnesota, right? Geez, you ever try putting a
comb through there? What was it Bob Lurtsema, the former Viking, said at a
charity roast last summer? "I have a telegram to read to you, Burnsie:
'Congratulations. It's a special night for a special guy. Hope we can continue
to cut your hair. Your friends at Snapper Lawn Mower.' "
There is an
unconfirmed report that the boys at Maury's Muffler Shop are in charge of your
wardrobe. Nobody has ever seen you in a suit. What they have seen you in is
that gaudy green sport jacket, which could light up Minneapolis, and those
canary-yellow pants, which could do the same for St. Paul.
And Burnsie, no
TV show? No radio show? Almost every coach in the league has one or both. You
say you don't care about that stuff? You're not a bad interview, but you would
just as soon never have to give one? As a matter of fact, you ask that your
wife, Marlyn, and your five children not be interviewed at all. You don't want
to mix family with football. O.K. But how are you going to toot your own horn
without a TV show?
playoff game against the New Orleans Saints last year? Right before halftime,
with the ball at midfield, you had your quarterback hand it off. End of half,
right? Wrong. New Orleans had 12 men on the field. So this time you called for
a Hail Mary pass into the end zone. Touchdown, Vikings. After the game, you
were asked why you hadn't called that play in the first place. "Well, I
really don't know why," you said. "I really can't explain it."
No, no, no,
Burnsie. You never say you can't explain it, even if you really can't explain
it. If you have to, you make something up, like, "They shifted into a
strong-side tango, blocking down on the tight end, and that left the wide
receiver in one-on-one cha-cha coverage."
Then there's your
name, Burnsie. That's another problem. It's just not dignified enough. Do you
think Joe Gibbs would let people call him Gibbsie? How about Donnie Shula?
Billy Walsh? Can you imagine that guy who used to narrate NFL Films in that
booming, news-reel voice talking about a Viking game? "As the proud Viking
warriors stepped into the tunnel, ready to fulfill their championship destiny,
they were led by their coach. They call him...Burnsie."