Before Saturday, I shared at least one opinion with all anti-Tennessee fans in the SEC.
I thought poster-boy Kevin Burnett talked too much.
Sure, I decided to use the linebacker's emotional face as the centerpiece for the cover of The Daily Beacon's 2004 Football Preview. But honestly...I didn't think his play backed up his words.
He contemplated entering the NFL Draft after his lackluster junior year. I thought he was selfish and crazy.
I don't think that anymore.
The Volunteer's two-year captain walked the walk against Florida.
It was more than just his team-high 16 tackles, though, that convinced me to jump on the Burnett Bandwagon.
It happened in the first quarter of UT's 30-28 win over the Gators. It happened after middle linebacker Kevin Simon chased after the much-hated Chris Leak in the backfield.
On that play, Simon went down with his third leg injury in his fourth year as a Vol.
In a high school all-star game before his freshman season, Simon injured his knee. After sitting out his freshman season, Simon was the leading UT tackler (29) in 2002 when he broke his ankle in the fourth game of the season against Rutgers.
He came back in 2003, completed an entire season, and led the team in tackles (115).
He had justified his billing as the top linebacker prospect in the country coming out of De La Salle High School in 2001.
Although he has probably said fewer words in his lifetime than Burnett has in a day, Simon had become a leader by example.
Saturday night, though, Simon went down with what appears to be another season-ending knee injury. He may have torn his anterior cruciate ligament.
He is a mentor to pre-teenagers. He cares about others.
His latest injury is about as cool as Hitler.
I felt awful.
But my fallen spirits were lifted when I watched Burnett show how much he cares about someone other than himself.
Burnett was the first Vol to rush to be with his fallen teammate at midfield.
He took a knee next to his "brother." And from the press box, it looked like he prayed for him.
And from watching his play for the remainder of the game, it looked like Burnett drew inspiration from Simon.
In the third quarter, with Tennessee trailing 21-14 and the Gators driving, Burnett laid a game-saving smack on Florida's DeShawn Wynn at the 2-yard line.
After watching the replay, I'm convinced Wynn would have scored and put UF ahead by two touchdowns had Burnett not sprinted to the sideline to make the crucial stop.
After Florida went three-and-out on the goal line, Matt Leach missed a chip-shot, 21-yard field goal attempt.
Instead of trying to block the kick, Burnett ran behind Leach while waving his arms and screaming "No Good!"
It was as if his words dictated the outcome.
That made me think about a former Vol linebacker whose mouth dictated the 1998 national championship season.
But Burnett has a long ways to go to match the leadership of Al Wilson.
Wilson never shut up. That's no exaggeration.
Now, I have the opposite opinion of opposing fans in the SEC.
I don't think Kevin Burnett talks enough.
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simon's injury motivates Burnett
Published: Tue Sep 21, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:23 p.m.