CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Nate Burleson is on the phone as I sit down for a chat with the Detroit Lions wide receiver at NFL.com headquarters.
He's listening to a voicemail from former Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe, who tells his former teammate he's been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. The consummate No. 2 guy during his career in the NFL, Burleson was touched. He's spent an entire career being a self-described Robin-to-Batman character for the likes of Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson. This becomes a rare star turn.
"Being that I'm 10 years in and have had a decent career, mostly known as a great complement to big-time receivers, I've never thought about big-time accolades," Burleson said. "I understand I'm not going to make the Hall of Fame in the NFL, my goals are more just winning a championship, leaving the game healthy."
Another goal of Burleson's is being a good teammate. I bring up wide receiver Titus Young, who was briefly banned from Lions practice after punching a teammate. Burleson attributes Young's incident to misplaced aggression and explains how challenging it is for many young players to adjust to the NFL.
I ask if there's a part of him that's reluctant to guide a player who may ultimately replace him in the lineup.
"When I first got in, I've seen guys handle it poorly," he said. "I remember coming in and some guys are like, 'I'm not gonna help you' because they knew the young guys were coming to take your position."
Burleson recalled Marcus Robinson, a teammate with the Minnesota Vikings, who showed him the way a veteran should inspire and motivate a young player.
"I told Titus, I said, 'Look. There's no question that you're brought here to take my position. That's what you're brought here to do. And by the time I'm done, you should be ready to take that and you should be on your way to a new contract. And if you're not in those two positions, I don't think I did my job well enough.'"
Burleson's attitude is a natural calibration for anyone who's bought into the narrative that the Lions are a bunch of lawless goons. It's illogical to put an entire team in a box based on the actions of a few.