There are a limited number of people you will meet in a working environment with such a unique appeal that a straightforward salutation is not sufficient.

Nearly all people met in the sports world are greeted in low-key fashion. For instance, when coming across Bud Grant, you would say, "Hey, Bud, how ya' doing?," or Tom Kelly, "T.K., good to see you."

And then there are those few who demand an enthused bellow of one word to let them know exactly how outstanding it is for you to see them.

Going back to the summer of 2018, there were three in this category for me, and then longtime Vikings trainer Fred Zamberletti died in early September and the cry of "ZAMBY!" would never be heard again.

There remained a pair in this category Wednesday morning: Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns and Twins legend Tony Oliva. And then came word late in the afternoon that "BURNSIE!" had died at 94, thus leaving only Oliva, who became "SEÑOR!" for me in the mid-1970s when I was covering the Twins on a daily basis and was called "Big Man" by Tony.

Burnsie also went with "Big" as part of an exchange of greetings, but it was followed not with "man" but with an anatomical reference. One of my grandest memories of Burns came 20 years ago, when my bride and I were walking through the sand in the late afternoon on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Fla.

I was wearing a T-shirt and long pants, so as to reduce the sight of my full figure to unsuspecting civilians. And then I heard the shout: "Hey, Big …."

That has to be Burnsie, I thought. And there he was, a small figure sitting in the sand 30 yards farther off shore, watching his wife, Marlyn, take her daily swim well out in the Gulf of Mexico.

"BURNSIE!" I bellowed. As always.

For sure, we in the local media have spent too much time offering tales about Jerry Burns as a character — too much time howling as the "Schnelker" rant is replayed on radio shows — and not enough honoring him for an exceptional football brain.

He made the best of the Vikings' offense for Bud Grant during the Super Bowl years because he also had a tremendous understanding of defense. After Burns was head coach at Iowa from 1961-65, he was Vince Lombardi's defensive backs coach in Green Bay. The Packers won the first two Super Bowls before Burns joined Grant here in 1968.

These were two people with nothing in common other than eyes for talent and for tactics that would work. Bud was befuddled by Burns' fondness for chasing a small ball around a pasture to put it in a hole, and Burns couldn't believe Bud enjoyed hiding in the weeds on a freezing Minnesota morning to shoot a bird.

In football, those minds meshed. After the 3-8-3 first season in 1967, with a defensive front in which rookie Alan Page had joined Carl Eller and Jim Marshall, Bud said something such as: "What we need is a center fielder to take advantage when a quarterback is flinging a duck against our pass rush."

And Burnsie said: "Washington had the best center fielder you'll ever find. My guy from Iowa, Paul Krause. It's great he's now here.''

The Vikings did that, trading linebacker Marlin McKeever and a seventh-round draft choice to Washington for Krause.

"I already had 28 interceptions in four years in Washington, but I wouldn't have wound up with 81, with the all-time record, if I didn't get traded to the Vikings," Krause said. "Burnsie was my recruiter to Iowa out of Flint, Michigan. He came to my house, asked where I was and my parents said, 'He must be playing a baseball game at the park.'

"It was raining and Burnsie had to sit in a car, waiting for the game to end. He still was complaining last time I saw him about having to sit in his car in the rain 60 years earlier, waiting for me to finish a baseball game.

"Burnsie became my head coach at Iowa, and I loved him then, and I loved him for telling the Vikings all about me. Bud said, 'Don't let a ball get over your head,' and I wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

What struck me about Burnsie at all times was this: The admiration he had for football players — great ones, good ones, willing ones.

He ended his six-year run as Vikings head coach in 1991. After that, you could often run into him in the back of the Metrodome press box before a Vikings game. He would get led into a conversation about Krause or Fran Tarkenton or Chuck Foreman or Sammy White or Randall McDaniel, and the wonder he had for those athletes would come oozing out from that halting, raspy voice.

Complete with colorful adjectives, of course.


You were a true football man, and that ain't no … lie.