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Millard's uncanny knack for anticipating the snap, combined with an explosive first step, makes him very difficult to block one-on-one. Burns has analyzed game tapes at the slowest possible speed on his VCR and has seen Millard's hand coming off the turf from his three-point stance a split second before the ball is snapped. Millard says his style of play is as much studied as it is instinctive, and it's not always foolproof, as his 20 offside penalties in 1988 attest.
He developed into a terrific pass rusher by spending countless hours poring over videotapes of top defensive linemen, past and present, including the career highlights of his idols—Howie Long of the Los Angeles Raiders and Dan Hampton and Rulon Jones, formerly of the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos, respectively. He learned to outmaneuver opposing linemen by mastering a variety of moves, countermoves and tricks, changing his mode of attack from play to play.
Still, Millard's most effective asset may be his intensity, even though it is highly combustible. Millard works himself into a violent rage before a kickoff, without, he says, using anabolic steroids or amphetamines. The process begins on the Wednesday before a game, when Millard manufactures a hatred for his opponent. That distaste gradually builds in meetings and practices, and by game time his deep-set eyes seem to have melted into his skull, and he grits his teeth. "I look like a monster," Millard says, "and I feel like a dog with rabies."
Millard's rage can have an unpleasant effect on those around him. He will holler at teammates in practice, not to mention during a game, if he doesn't think they are playing hard enough or if he feels they are making stupid mistakes. He will swear at coaches for what he believes are ineffective game plans.
The Vikings nicknamed him Mal, which Millard says is short for Mallard. Some of his teammates say it actually stands for maladjusted. "Ninety percent of the time, Keith is one of the best people to be around," says Burns. "But that other 10 percent is like a total eclipse. You can almost see it coming. I usually let him blow off steam. Then the next day, he'll come back and apologize because he knows that wasn't the best thing to do."
Millard sometimes gets so wound up that he has to use a breathing technique he learned in his wife's prenatal classes to calm himself. When he feels his heart racing and his anger brewing, he sits on a bench or in front of his locker and inhales deeply, counts to five, then exhales slowly. He repeats the process until he feels more under control.
"I used to get so fired up that I wore myself out before the end of the game," he says. "I was slapping my own guys around. My energy was ready to burst. By the fourth quarter I had used up my tank. I'd lose my temper and play bad because I was out to beat up the other guy rather than do my job, and that hurt me.
"I have learned to better control my rage, make it work for me. My intensity has gotten me over the hump in rough times on the field. I don't give up. I'll play as hard in the fourth quarter as I do in the first. You can count on me from whistle to whistle and in overtime."
Out of uniform, the 29-year-old Millard is almost as volatile and emotional as he is on the field. The third of four sons born to Brian and Paddie Appleford, Keith has had a turbulent personal life. Brian Appleford, a British Royal Marine who met Paddie McCloskey at a YMCA party for visiting troops in San Francisco, fought with his wife constantly, according to Millard, until they finally separated when Keith was almost two.
With little financial support from her husband, Paddie, then 27, went on welfare for the next four years. She and the boys lived in a ramshackle two-bedroom house in Daly City, Calif., just south of San Francisco. Paddie took in ironing, cooked for a group of local car salesmen and occasionally modeled department store clothing. There wasn't a lot of food to go around, and some of the boys' clothing came from a lost-and-found box at school. When a hole appeared in the sole of one of her sons' shoes, Paddie would insert a piece of cardboard.