Rob Burnett is a successful businessman who is all business on the football field.
Off the field, Burnett pursues financial interests with the same aggressiveness he displays getting after NFL quarterbacks. At 28, the Ravens' left defensive end is dabbling in real estate, promotions development, long-distance telephone sales and is the part-owner of a successful bar in New York City's Greenwich Village.
The way Burnett sees it, he's just putting his economics degree from Syracuse to good use.
That same drive is evident whenever Burnett takes off his business suit and puts on his shoulder pads. He is not especially vocal on the field, but his veteran presence and performance speak volumes. Heading into his seventh season, Burnett appears poised for stardom. He might be the most underrated defensive end in the AFC.
"Underrated, overrated, not rated, it doesn't matter as long as I help this team win games," Burnett said. "I don't care as much about individual awards. My rush now comes from looking at the scoreboard. I'm all about winning, that's what I'm here for."
At 6 feet 4, 280 pounds, Burnett casts a shadow that is well-known in NFL circles. Since the start of this third season in 1992, he has not missed a start. His string of 64 straight among the Ravens is topped only by offensive tackle Tony Jones, who has started 99 in a row.
Over that four-year stretch, Burnett has established himself as one of the team's anchors, with 303 tackles, six fumble recoveries and 11 pass deflections. His 35 1/2 sacks since 1992 are the most on the team. He recorded another sack in his only Pro Bowl appearance when he played as an alternate in 1994.
"I think guys earn leadership, they can't buy it," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "Rob has earned it with his work habits. He comes out and he is consistent in practice. Then, you take that into games. Then, the leadership part comes."
"I'm going to lead by example," Burnett said. "I'm going to hustle, I'm going to take care of my assignments. It's just a matter of experience. I've played so much football that there's nothing I haven't seen."
Burnett's first NFL experience was a bit on the sour side. After a fine collegiate career that concluded with him earning honorable mention All-America honors as a defensive tackle, Burnett was not drafted by the Cleveland Browns until the fifth round. Part of that drop in stock stemmed from him tailing off from a brilliant sophomore season, when he had 11 sacks. Burnett thought he would go as high as late in the second round.
When he joined the Browns in 1990, Burnett was moved to end. The other end was another rookie named Anthony Pleasant, who is still manning the right side.
Burnett's first two seasons were never-ending adjustments. Former coach Bud Carson was fired halfway through his rookie year, and Bill Belichick took over in 1991. Burnett missed three games with calf and foot injuries that year. Then, he did some hard, honest thinking.
"I made a commitment," he said. "I almost locked myself in the weight room during the off-season. I got faster, stronger, quicker, and I got tougher mentally.
"Now, football is a whole different mind-set. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you can barely walk. On Sunday, if you're a player, you use that adrenalin to fight through it. What it comes down to is these other guys are counting on you. Each guy is held accountable by the other guy."
Burnett still feels accountable to the man he credits the most for inspiring him to play football -- his late grandfather. They used to go fishing together, talk about life, dream together. His grandfather lived long enough to see Burnett play in his first NFL game, but Burnett lost his greatest fan when his grandfather died of cancer in December 1990.
"He is with me all the time. I talk to him on a regular basis. He gives me strength, especially this time of year," Burnett said. "He's still with me, protecting me. He's why I've been able to last in this league this long."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Green Bay Packers
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Pub Date: 8/16/96