WARREN E. BURGER'S eulogists paid tribute last month to the late chief justice, citing his passionate devotion to the Constitution and to the orderly administration of justice. As he was buried, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor also underscored his pivotal role in averting a constitutional crisis over President Nixon's Watergate tapes.

Standing among the mourners was retired justice Harry A. Blackmun, 86, his head bowed in grief over the death at 87 of his boyhood friend from Minnesota. Blackmun's emotions at that moment must have been particularly complex because he was also one of Warren Burger's legacies -- and major disappointments. Their differences as jurists mirrored a personal estrangement that Blackmun, it may well be, was able to reconcile only upon Burger's death.

Nixon's decision in 1970 to pluck Blackmun from the relative obscurity of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was partly based on Burger's assurances that Blackmun would be a willing and unswerving recruit in Nixon's campaign to help recast the Supreme Court in a more conservative mold. That turned out to be a colossal misjudgment. By the time Blackmun announced his retirement 24 years later, he had become the senior member of the court's liberal wing.

Blackmun's search for his own judicial voice shattered the notion that he and Burger would function together as the "Minnesota Twins."

That tag line seemed particularly offensive to Blackmun, who resented the notion that he would follow in lock-step with the chief justice. "It did kind of irk me a little bit because, you know, who follows whom on decisions up here?" Blackmun said in an interview nine years ago with the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.

Over the years, their friendship became increasingly strained. Although Blackmun served as best man when Burger and his wife, Elvera, were married in 1933, the two couples had little do with each other socially once the husbands began serving together on the court. Blackmun would complain, sometimes not terribly privately, about Burger's heavy-handed leadership; the chief justice must have been disappointed by losing Blackmun's vote on key rulings.

In a remark that seemed to underscore the ambiguous nature of their relationship, Blackmun observed that Burger "is a very domineering person, and he gets away with it much of the time, but we all love him just the same. It's part of his personality. One doesn't change from fourth grade on, I guess."

"When the relationship soured, I was surprised at how fast it deteriorated," said George Frampton, a former Blackmun law clerk who was also interviewed by the Minneapolis paper in 1986. "There did come a time when the justice became very resentful of the chief."

For his part, Burger acknowledged that a chill had crept into their relationship. "It's a natural phenomenon," he said during an interview shortly before his 1986 retirement. "Life changes when you get in a job like this."

"I think Burger hoped to move the court to the right more than he succeeded in doing and that maybe part of his hope included Blackmun," said Yale University law professor Harold Koh, who clerked for Blackmun in 1981-82. "So, in some sense, his inability to influence Blackmun to move as much as he would have liked maybe was a microcosm for the way his entire relationship with the court unfolded." Blackmun was not the first justice to confound the expectations of his political benefactors -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter and Earl Warren all disappointed the presidents who had appointed them.

Thirteen years after Blackmun's nomination and confirmation, the Harvard Law Review would conclude that he had undergone a "remarkable transformation." If that's what it was, the change didn't happen all at once. During his first few years on the court, Blackmun acquired an unflattering reputation as being less Burger's Minnesota Twin than his acolyte, voting with him about 80 percent of the time.

The pivotal moment in his career may have been his authorship of the 1973 decision in the Roe v. Wade abortion case, which held that pregnant women have a constitutional privacy right to seek abortions relatively unfettered by state restrictions until the final trimester. Burger sided with Blackmun in that case.

From that point on, the law review magazine discerned a shift in Blackmun's perspective away from a deference for the prerogatives of institutions like state bar associations, police departments and local welfare offices toward an increasing concern with the plight of the underdog and downtrodden.

It may also have rankled Blackmun that despite Burger's concurrence in the abortion decision, the chief justice seemed less than wholeheartedly committed to defending the Roe ruling -- which became the touchstone of Blackmun's career.

"If you read {Burger's} concurring opinion then, it was sort of lukewarm, in a way," said Blackmun. "He {was} troubled by it."

A 1977 case, Beal v. Doe, demonstrated their legal differences on an issue related to the Roe decision. Burger, in the majority, held that states did not have to pay for an indigent woman's abortion. In an angry dissent, Blackmun declared, "There is another world' out there, the existence of which the court, I suspect, either chooses to ignore or fears to recognize."

But Koh argued that Blackmun's growing separation from the conservative, judicial-restraint wing of the Burger court had little to do with any personal resentments toward the chief justice. Blackmun's evolution as an heir to the liberal mantle of retired Justice William Brennan reflected the emergence of convictions and commitments that Blackmun carried with him to the high court, Koh said.

That was certainly Hubert Humphrey's view.

When the staunch Minnesota liberal learned that Nixon intended to advance a more conservative jurisprudence by placing Harry Blackmun on the court, Humphrey exclaimed, "The president is in for a big surprise."

Blackmun, as it turned out, had worked as a campaign volunteer when Humphrey ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Minneapolis in 1943.

"I rang a few doorbells for him, and Hubert never forgot that," recalled Blackmun, who in his pre-judicial days described himself as an Eisenhower Republican with moderate independent tendencies. "I guess he knew me pretty well."

As history would show, Humphrey apparently knew Blackmun even better than Warren Burger, Blackmun's boyhood friend. The two justices first met nearly 80 years ago at the Van Buren Elementary School in a lower middle-class neighborhood of Dayton's Bluff in St. Paul.

Burger was a dedicated GOP activist, whose political dabblings began in the 1930s. He was first attracted to politics through the career of a young county attorney in South St. Paul named Harold E. Stassen who, with Burger's backing, ultimately won the governorship. Usually working quietly in the background, Burger later set his focus on more ambitious goals, working to secure the 1952 Republican presidential nomination for Dwight D. Eisenhower. Short of crucial votes at the Republican convention, Ike prevailed after Burger helped him win a pivotal credentials fight and then influenced the Minnesota delegation to swing its support behind the general.

"I was never a behind-the-scenes operator the way Warren Burger was," Blackmun said.

After attending different high schools, Blackmun worked his way through Harvard College and then its law school as a scholarship student, while Burger attended more plebeian institutions -- taking night classes at the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul College of Law. Although hired by different Twin Cities law firms, their friendship resumed as they launched their personal careers.

All the while, the two men stayed in touch. When Nina Totenberg, the veteran legal-affairs reporter now with National Public Radio, interviewed Blackmun's mother after he was nominated for the high court, she learned that the chief justice and Blackmun talked law and politics by telephone at least once a week. Later on, however, Blackmun found ways -- some not very subtle -- to challenge what he evidently regarded as Burger's authoritarian grip on court life.

That seemed to be his motive when Blackmun granted a televised interview in his chambers to Daniel Schorr, then with the Cable News Network, on Thanksgiving Day 1983. Allowing television cameras on to court premises was rare enough. But Blackmun's gesture seemed especially defiant in view of Burger's hostility as chief justice to TV cameras, whether trained on Supreme Court sessions or even on his appearances before the American Bar Association.

In recalling the interview, Schorr said that Blackmun selected the date and made all the logistical arrangements, leaving Schorr with the impression of a covert operation meant to elude Burger's notice.

Whatever their personal differences, the death of Warren Burger seems to have hit Blackmun hard. In the days immediately following, Justice Blackmun told friends that he was devastated by the slipping away of a man whose life had been so closely intertwined with his own. During their teenage years, Blackmun recalled, they had worked together as counselors at a YMCA camp on the Wisconsin shore of Lake St. Croix and often faced each other as rivals across a tennis net.

Those seem to be the memories on Blackmun's mind these days, not the edgy strains of a lifelong relationship exposed by the Supreme Court's intense and unique pressures that may have caused two justices from Dayton's Bluff to regard each other with unexpected disappointment. Finlay Lewis is a correspondent for Copley News Service and for 22 years worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.