Burleson embracing his return to the start

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
9:00
AM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Nate Burleson will run out onto the Metrodome turf Sunday morning, look around for a minute and in those moments right there, the veteran wide receiver figures all of the emotions will come back to him.

He’ll look around at where he used to play, at the place he once called home and take everything in for a moment. He’ll chat with some fans and perhaps look out into the crowd to see if he sees any old No. 81 Burleson jerseys still lingering amongst the fans.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsLions receiver Nate Burleson will return to the Metrodome Sunday to face his former team.
Minnesota drafted him in the third round of the 2003 draft. He stepped on to a team with Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss and the two of them, combined with other Vikings, shaped the mindset of his entire career.

So there is symmetry here for the Detroit Lions veteran wide receiver.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Burleson said. “I think once I go out and run on the field, that’s when it’s going to hit me. Probably fall on me like a ton of bricks. Might get emotional.

“Every time I go back, there’s still people that remember me and show me love. Occasionally I’ll see an old 81 jersey over there with my name on it. It’s a trip, man, to know that people still support you and love you and can appreciate you, even if you’re in a different jersey.”

There’s more than that. Sunday will be closing time for the Metrodome, the place Burleson broke into the league and learned so much of what he needed to know as a 21-year old rookie from Nevada.

And he knows there’s a chance Sunday might be more than closing time for the stadium he broke into the league in, the place he caught his first touchdown as a pro against San Francisco his rookie year, when he celebrated with a little shimmy dance.

He knows there’s a chance Sunday could be it for him, too. The Lions collapse at the end of the season means there could be change in the organization coming soon after the final game and he knows that could mean a change for him as well.

All season, he has said he wants Detroit to be the last place he plays. He doesn’t want to uproot his family again. Doesn’t want to start over again as a thirty-something on a new team (he’ll turn 33 during training camp next year), especially if it isn’t a contender.

Burleson is under contract for next season and has indicated he would restructure his deal if it meant he could stay in Detroit. But that isn’t a guarantee. So Sunday could be it for him, too.

“It’s a strong possibility, yeah, I’m not afraid to talk about it,” Burleson said. “It is a possibility. And it’s fitting that I would go back and play at the place where it all started.

“There’s always some type of story behind the football game, which makes it that much more interesting to play.”

And Sunday will be all about endings. The somewhat meaningless ending of a season for two teams not heading to the playoffs. The potential end of two head coaching tenures for both Minnesota's Leslie Frazier and Detroit's Jim Schwartz. The end of an era of Minnesota football with the shuttering of the Metrodome.

And possibly the end of some careers.

Understand, Burleson wants to return. He would like to play one more season with the Lions and feels he has enough left to be a contributor on a team that, talent-wise, should be among the better ones in the league.

But that isn’t entirely up to him.

So while he hasn’t thought too much about beginnings and endings this week, how the start of a career and the end of one could take place in the same place, he has his memories.

Like playing on the Metrodome turf and thinking it was so fast and “getting scraped up every single game,” but lined up next to Moss and Culpepper.

Like when professional wrestler Brock Lesnar showed up during Burleson’s second season in Minnesota and was “bodyslamming people in the midst of a brawl.” Or when his coach, Mike Tice, ran out on the field during a midseason practice.

“(Lesnar), that was my second year,” Burleson said. “He was bigger than life. It was just crazy, man, chaos.

“And Mike Tice running out with his pads on because he wanted to hype the team up in the middle of the season. Talk about let’s do hitting drills. It was a fun atmosphere, man. It was a fun atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with the Minnesota Vikings.”

Burleson has enjoyed his entire career, from Minnesota to his hometown in Seattle and finally to Detroit, a city he has adopted as his own and a place he feels completely comfortable in.

So it’s been a fun ride for Burleson. Just one that has an uncertain future after Sunday.

“I wasn’t thinking about it but how it all worked out and not knowing where I’m going to be next year, you know, it’s exciting,” Burleson said. “I’m embracing the moment.”

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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