Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Nate Burleson has noble reason for absence: pizza

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: October 19, 2013 - 6:51 AM

The Detroit Lions have a difficult home game on Sunday against Cincinnati. They expect to have receiver Calvin Johnson closer to full speed in his recovery from a knee injury. Another veteran receiver, Nate Burleson, has been ruled out once again.

Burleson broke two bones in a forearm in a single car accident at 2:25 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24. As my radio colleague, Joe Soucheray, has long said, "Nothing good happens after 2 o'clock in the morning,'' and this certainly didn't look good for Burleson.

One-car accident, well after midnight ... there had to be alcohol involved, or at least texting, right?

Nope. Neither of those was a factor. Burleson was even wearing a seat belt when he crashed his 2009 Yukon into a center median on Interstate 696 in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills.

Nate had an unbreakable and valid alibi for this accident: He was a trying to rescue his pizza.

Burleson and teammate Stephen Tulloch had spent Monday night making an appearance at Happy's Pizza and Pub in West Bloomfield. Presumably, it turned into such a fine bull slinging session with Lions' fans that Nate never did get around to having dinner.

Or, he had a beer or two over the span of a few hours, and you know what that can do for an appetite, and he'd seen those Happy's pizzas coming out of the kitchen all night, and he decided to take one home ... a couple of slices before bed, and then a cold-pizza breakfast when he woke up late on the morning of an NFL team's traditional off day on Tuesday.

Perfect.

Except the pizza started to fall off the front seat, and Nate was distracted trying to rescue his Happy's, and, bang, he hit the median.

Officers responding to the scene said alcohol was not a factor ... just pizza. An insurance company can't even raise a guy's rates when he's asked the cause of an accident and he says, ''I was trying to save my pizza.''

Two of the saddest moments of my full-sized life occurred in the middle of the last decade and involved takeout pizza.

On the first, I finished a column for the Star Tribune late one night and decided to call in a takeout order to the Leaning Tower of Pizza on Franklin and Lyndale. The Leaner was jam-packed when I arrived, and I had to wait 15-20 minutes, even with the call-in.

Finally, I was carrying the large pie for a block to my car, and a young hoodlum came racing past, tried to snatch the pie, and knocked it upside down, cover open, onto the sidewalk.

He kept speeding away, but I'm telling you, if I was a conceal-and-carry guy, I would've been pumping lead in the direction of this human scum ... and if I got him, I would've walked up, put one more in him for good measure, and as my Dad used to say when making false threats after some of my bad behavior:

"... And, not a jury in the world would convict me.''

Another pizza tragedy occurred in the winter of 2007, after I had been the main author on a book of Vikings' history. There were several signings around town, some successful, some tepid, and one complete disaster: on a night before Christmas, at a Borders in Woodbury.

It was snowing. Traffic was crawling. It took me over an hour to get there from downtown Minneapolis and I just made the 7 p.m. starting time.

The crack staff at that Borders didn't seem to be aware that there was a signing that night. Eventually, some kid remembered there was an area set up in the back of the store, with no signage directing a customer -- on the outside chance there was one of those interested in the book.

I believe the total number of Vikings' books purchased that night was seven. I stayed 45 minutes, and headed back into the winter night with one consolation:

I could call in a takeout order -- double sausage, single pepperoni and peppers, well done -- to the Red's Savoy on the edge of downtown St. Paul and have the Twin Cities' ultimate pizza taste treat on arrival back in Golden Valley.

The call was made. I stopped. Again, it was chaotically busy, but this time, the pizza was ready. I headed home. For some reason, the aromas of the sausage, pepperoni and peppers didn't cause me to open the box and slop down a slice on the drive.

If I had done so, the result would have been more than a crash into the median on Interstate 94. I would've been so alarmed that I probably would've flipped the car and died in a fiery crash, which would've been a fair alternative to what I discovered on arrival home.

I opened what would be the reward for going back and forth to Woodbury for no real reason, and there it was: pineapple and a glob of something else on my pizza.

When I called Red's to express indignation, the guy on the phone said, "We were wondering what happened to that pineapple and saurkraut combo?''

He offered to give me back the money and provide a new pizza if I returned to St. Paul. To which I said, "Buddy, if come back there, bleep, bleep, and then I'll bleeping, bleep, and bleep ... and not a jury in the world would convict me.''

The annals of sports are filled with stupid off-field injuries. This hasn't been one of those for Nate Burleson.

He broke those bones and has missed a month of this NFL season for the most noble of causes: Trying to save his pizza.

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