In June 1990, Millard checked himself into Hazeldon, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Center City, Minn., for a four-day alcohol assessment program. "They didn't conclude that I had a drinking problem," he says. "But I definitely have potential." Millard also underwent intensive counseling with a psychologist to get control of his anger. He discovered that he had been holding in his emotions and then releasing them without dealing with them.
"Every lesson I've learned, I've had to learn the hard way," Millard says. "No matter what my destiny is, it's not a straight line. It's five steps straight ahead, then over the mountains, through the water, through the jungle and five steps ahead again. There are always major obstacles in my life. Maybe I'll fall down the stairs, but I'll get back up. I was put on this earth to survive."
Despite the bumpy path he traveled, Millard encountered no obstacle as great as the knee injury. Last November, after packing up his trophies and plaques, he entered the detox unit at Hazeldon for five days to rid his system of the painkillers. The first three days he didn't sleep at all. His heart raced, he perspired profusely, and his joints ached. "It scared the hell out of me," Millard says. "My body was way out of whack."
He took warm baths to relax, watched TV and spoke about his addiction with other patients. Most important, he was disgusted with himself, disappointed that he had gotten into such a predicament. Once and for all, he says, he realized that it was necessary to discard his hard exterior. By losing his temper and acting macho all those years, Millard had distanced himself from too many people. Now it was time to admit he wasn't all that tough: He could be hurt.
"If you're honest with yourself, that's the first step in maturing and becoming a better person," Millard says. "If you suppress your shortcomings and fears, they will follow you until the day you die. It was difficult, but I finally admitted to myself that I made mistakes."
At his off-season home in Redmond, Wash., Millard worked out six hours a day, from January to June, attending a physical therapy clinic in the mornings, and gradually moving into weightlifting, mountain biking, running sprints and distances and playing basketball and racquetball. Steven, who owns Iron Tech Athletic Enhancement Training in Dublin, Calif., designed a program of exercises to retrain his brother's neuromuscular system. To develop explosive power in his injured leg, Keith jumped on and off boxes 12 to 18 inches high, on one foot—moving forward and laterally. Then he squat-jumped onto taller boxes and eventually moved up to stadium bleachers and steep inclines. To develop lateral movement, he jumped side to side over cones and weaved in and out of tackling pads.
Although the knee throbbed and remained discolored and weak until mid-May, Millard did not give in to pain or frustration. As a substitute for the painkillers, he drained the hot tub in his backyard and filled it with ice; he would stand in the middle of the tub, up to his waist in cubes. There were moments of disappointment, times when he seriously doubted he would be ready for training camp. Like the day in February when a Cybex test revealed that he had only 70% strength in his injured knee, and because he had pushed too hard, he couldn't work out for a week. And there was the week in April when he decided to play pickup basketball without the permission of Viking trainer Fred Zamberletti. The first three afternoons, he played five games in a row.
"He called me from the gym, elated," Sallie says. "He said, 'Guess what I'm doing? I'm playing basketball!' "
Then one day he came down after a dunk and tore adhesions in the knee. He had to have fluid drained from it. He was told not to work out for 10 days. "But I was back in four," he boasts. "I think that helped push out all the swelling."
Millard remains optimistic about his football future. He checked into the Vikings' training camp on Sunday night in the best overall physical condition of his life, his body fat down to less than 10%. His goal is to become the NFL's 1991 Comeback Player of the Year and regain his Pro Bowl stature. Occasionally, he corners Burns and needles him. "Don't forget about what you said to me," Millard says.