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The Ring King

June 23, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Morgan Burnett wasn’t a big talker when he played for Georgia Tech, at least not with the media, but he seems more loquacious now, more worldly.

Small wonder; he’s a newly-minted world champion.

The former Yellow Jacket got a Super Bowl ring last week, the second consecutive year that a former Tech defensive back earned one. That made some things right because, after all, the ring is the thing.

Opting to turn pro one season early brought serious challenges. Burnett started Green Bay’s first four games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Then, a brutal winter in Wisconsin was at times made more difficult by a certain separation anxiety that comes with life on injured reserve.

Ah, but the payoff . . .

“To actually see the ring and hold it and touch it is indescribable,” Burnett said. “As a kid, you always dream about anything you do as far as playing sports and winning championships. Out in the yard, you throw yourself a game-winning touchdown, or make a game-winning pick.

“To see your dreams come true, and to be able to get a Super Bowl ring is just unbelievable.”

A year earlier, former Jacket Chris Reis earned a ring with the Saints after they beat the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. He was a special teams standout, recovering a critical onsides kick in New Orleans’ win.

Burnett won a starting job in his first NFL training camp, after being drafted in the third round. He was off to a fine start, registering 14 tackles, a pass breakup and an interception before he went down.

“It’s really hard to describe [the injury]. On film it doesn’t look like a freakish play,” he said. “I was just going in for a tackle. I felt something funny. They kind of had an idea that day, and we did an MRI the next day. That confirmed it.”

Surgery worked out, and Burnett said he’s ready to rock again. There’s a problem with that, of course. The NFL lockout doesn’t allow players to work out at team facilities or under the supervision of team officials.

So he’s been working out in Atlanta, sometimes at Tech, sometimes with his older brother (a former Georgia Bulldog), and sometimes in a swimming pool.

Graduation will have to wait. Burnett is not in school now yet vows to one day wrap up his management degree. For the time being, he’s biding time. He’s become pretty good at that. He has lived a lot over the past 18 months or so.

Green Bay has the NFL’s only community-owned team. Having been there seven or eight times for games and to work on other stories, I can vouch that it’s a different vibe than can be found anywhere in the league.

Burnett saw that early and often.

“It’s really amazing from the time you go to your first practice,” he said. “You see so many fans even at practice. Even the preseason games, you’d be surprised how they fill up every seat. Three hours before games, you get caught up in traffic. The tailgaters are unreal.

“You learn the history, and about the great players who were on the same field.” Burnett went from winning an ACC championship at Tech in one season to winning a Super Bowl as an NFL rookie the next.

The transition was not seamless.

His injury was the first that ever kept him out of games, and that first winter in Wisconsin was occasionally brutal on the lifetime Atlantan.

“There were times in January . . . one time I woke up and headed to the stadium to work out and it was minus-11 degrees,” Burnett said. “Some of the guys were like, `It’s not Georgia, huh?’ I don’t see how you can ever get used to that.”

A Super Bowl ring has made transition a whole lot easier.

Burnett was back at Tech last fall for the Miami game, when the Packers had a bye, and he won’t be a stranger.

Now, he’s ready to go back to work; Green Bay has become magnetic.

“We were back up there for the ring ceremony last Thursday. That was amazing all the way around,” Burnett said. “It was kind of the same with the ACC championship; my family was proud for me and my teammates as well.

“With the Super Bowl . . . it’s a world championship. Everyone was emotional from the coaching staff to the players to the front office. We had 15 guys on IR, people writing us off, we had to win our last two games of the season to make the playoffs as a wildcard . . . it was very emotional.”

My Tech viewing days are not nearly as numbered as some, but in all the games I’ve watched over the years Burnett was the most natural defensive back I recall seeing in old gold and white. His sophomore season was especially sensational. Willie Clay was pretty darned good, too. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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