Lem Burnham, the Philadelphia Eagles' designated swoop man, talks a lot about beating some incredible odds in earning the right to bear down and bury unsuspecting NFL quarterbacks. And why not?
How many football players can say they once rode shotgun on truck convoys for 13 frightening months in Vietnam with the Third Marines without ever getting so much as a scratich?
How many players can say they served four years in the Marines even before being accepted to college and then eventually made it to the NFL as a 30-year-old rookie?
How many players can say they have earned a master's degree in counseling psychology, with a letter of acceptance in hand to begin studies for a doctorate in clinical psycholozy next spring.
Burnham, an Eagle defensive end, can say all of those things. He also will tell you that two years ago he was in the Redskins' training camp and "without any question, I beat out Ron McDole."
Burnham was 28 in the summer of 1976. He had played two years with the Hawaii franchise in the World Football League before the Redskins signed him as a free agent, mindful of his reputation as a fierce pass rusher.
"That's right, it came down to me and him," Burnham recalled yesterday. "I had started all the preseason games, and I definitely had played better than him. In fact, George (Allen) told me that the day he cut me.
"I was the last guy they let go that year. George told me he didn't think Ron was playing very well in the exhibition games, but he thought he would when the games counted for real.
"Actually, it was a split decision. I think Torgy (former defensive line coach Lavern Torgeson) wanted to keep me. But you know how George felt about veteran players. I was furious, sure. But I also was able to understand it. Actually, I really like George, he's a unique individual, a real case study."
What Burnham does not tell you is that he also had a large disdain for playing on special teams, the major reason for his dismissal. "He just told them he wouldn't said Redskin defensive end Karl Lorch, who played with Burnham in Hawaii. "I think that's what really hurt Lem. But he could play. No question, he definitely could play."
Burnham was so incensed by his cut he headed to Canada the next day. "I just went right to Winnipeg because they were the first team to call," Burnham said. "I've since been told I would have been able to play with quite a few NFL teams, but I was so upset I wanted to leave."
The Canadian League was hardly a joyous experience for him. Burnham did not like the rules, the wider field and especially what he considered to be shabby and badly out-of-date equipment.
"I had pretty much resigned myself to not playing again after that season," Burnham said. "I knew I could play in the NFL, but things kept going wrong. So I enrolled in a master's program at Bemidji State in Minnesota. My college coach (at U.S. International in San Diego) was up there and I helped him out with the team and started working on the master's."
The Eagles called that springs, however, and signed Burnham as a free agent. The move had paid off handsomely for both sides.
In 1977, Burnham merely led the Eagles in quarterback sacks with 10 playing only part-time in obvious passing situations. That will be his role again tomorrow when the Eagles come to RFK Stadium to meet the Redskins.
Last year, Philadelphi tied a club record for sacks with 47, and got to Redskin quarterbacks 13 times in two games. Against the Rams last week, the Eagles continued that sort of heavy hitting with five sacks, and Burnham had two direct hits on Los Angeles quarterback pat Hadei."
Philadephia plays the three-line-man, four-linebacker 34 defense exclusively, and Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said yesterday "you get in trouble against them by holding the ball too long and trying to throw deep.
"They keep their line off the ball rather than just coming straight at you, and when they see a pass developing, they really come hard at you. Their coverage as much as anything. The secondary reads patterns well, and you can't afford to wait too long before you throw.
The man who must contain Burnham will be Redskin offensive tackle George Starke. "I've been watching film on him just like I'm sure he's wathced me," Burnham said. "He seems to be playing a little differently than last year. I always remember him as more of a finesse blocker, but he seems to be really coming off the ball harder and sustaining his drive.
"But I'm not concerned about him. My job is to put the quarterback on the ground, and I do whatever I have to do to get there.
"I'm just happy to be playing, happy that somebody is giving me a chance to play. Every games I play I figure that's one more time I've beaten the the odds again."
Bob Brunet, the Redskin running back who suffered a career-ending neck injury last season against the Cowboys, visited the Redskin practice yesterday. He says his doctors have told him to resume normal activities and while his neck is still not completely sound, "I get better every day." Brunet is also scheduled to meet with Redskin counsel Larry LUcchino early next week to discuss a salary settlement for the 1978 season . . . Middle linebacker Harold McLinton Missed another day of Practice with a sprined calf muscle and probably woun't see much action against the Eagles . . . Tight end Jean Fugett ran hard, teasting his bruised knee yesterday but Pardee still is planning to start Reggie Haynes. Fugett will be available for spot duty.