Father knows best

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson can thank a former Stampeders safety for helping him get his hands on an NFL starting job. Ever since he was old enough to run routes, Burleson has been tutored by his father Al Burleson, an all-Canadian with the Stamps in 1979 who played six CFL seasons in Calgary.

Nate, an NFL sophomore, leads the Vikings with 957 receiving yards as part of a potent attack alongside Randy Moss. He fondly recalls growing up the son of a proud CFLer.

"Dad's still got his jersey and I used to wear it to middle school and high school and I even used to wear it to college and hang it in my closet," recalls Nate, 23, an American citizen born in Calgary in 1981 during his father's final season with the Stampeders.

"I was always rummaging through his stuff -- media guides and things he collected over the years. I used to love that stuff and I'd wear his red and white Calgary No. 27."

His father played one more season of pro ball with the USFL's L.A. Express before a knee injury ended his career.

Al Burleson now lives in Renton, Wash., where he manages a grocery warehouse while he and his wife travel to as many Vikings games as possible.

"Nate's such an opportunistic guy -- he works hard -- that's how he got to where he is now," says Al Burleson, 50, who also coached semi-pro ball while helping all four of his sons earn college athletic scholarships.

"I don't think Nate was the most talented receiver, he just worked hard and continued to get better.

"I'd always critique him as a positive thing. Sometimes I'd criticize and I'd also make positive points from a father's perspective. I know I played an important role in his career but you have to know when to push and when to let off."

The Stampeders qualified for the playoffs three times during Burleson's career in Calgary, losing two West finals (1978-79) to Warren Moon and the Edmonton Eskimos Grey Cup dynasty.

Burleson still has a game ball he hawked from Moon, autographed by the former pivot who went on to star with the NFL's Houston Oilers.

During his all-Canadian campaign Burleson made nine interceptions, the second-most productive season in Stampeders history.

"That was a cherished part of my life, those years in Calgary," says Al. "There were some great rivalries and Calgary was a great place to play football."

While Nate Burleson is enjoying a breakout season with the 8-7 Vikings, poised to earn an NFL wild-card playoff berth, he says it's his dad's memories that help fuel his desire to play the game and continue improving.

"He's the president of my fan club and sometimes it seems he's more excited about my upcoming games and my accomplishments than I am, so it really is exciting to see the joy he experiences through his son," says Nate, a Nevada-Reno grad.

"He really enjoyed that experience in Calgary and often talks about the work ethic of the guys he played with on the Stampeders and the passion that they played the game with.

"It was unparalleled by anything else he'd seen -- true grid-iron football.

"There were times when they had injuries and a small roster and guys on that team, including himself, had to play both ways. To sit back and listen to his stories from his glory days in Calgary kind of motivated me in high school when I was curious about his playing career."

Nate Burleson is averaging 15 yards per catch this season while hauling in nine touchdown passes to help lead the Vikings into playoff contention.

While perennial all-star Moss was sidelined with a strained hamstring in October, Burleson began demonstrating a knack for making tough catches.

"It's been a breakout season for me," points out Nate, who still wears a pair of sneakers with a red Maple Leaf as a tribute to his Canadian roots.

"It's unfortunate Randy went down but it was a blessing in disguise for me because it was a chance for me to make plays. In turn, the team gained confidence in me and I gained a tremendous amount of confidence in myself and my own abilities. Now that Randy's back, I think we're that much more powerful because it's just another weapon added to the arsenal.

"That's my philosophy in life -- it's a bunch of opportunities and you have to take advantage of the one's you get."


Videos

Photos