Lions receiver Nate Burleson says 1,000 yards receiving remains his goal, despite a broken arm. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Detroit — Nate Burleson has overcome multiple gruesome injuries during his career, so when the 32-year-old Lions receiver says he plans on returning from a broken arm suffered in a car accident last week, it’s hard to doubt him.
Burleson received the Ed Block Courage Award at the Courage House Dinner at Ford Field Tuesday night, an honor he earned after a speedy recovery from a broken leg in 2012.
Although Burleson’s injury last week put a damper on a season in which he led the Lions with 19 receptions through three games, Tuesday’s award presentation was a chance for him to reflect on the injury that forced him to miss the final 10 games last season.
Lions athletic trainer Dean Kleinschmidt said Burleson’s recovery from the broken leg was truly “remarkable.”
In the crevice of Burleson’s fractured tibia were parts of bone and cartilage, and the injury looked more like something sustained in a car accident rather than on a football field, Kleinschmidt said.
Despite suffering the injury last October, Burleson took part in all offseason workouts and earned his teammates’ votes for the award.
During his speech, he thanked his wife, Atoya, for helping him stay strong during his recovery, and he compared his teammates to Wilson from “Cast Away,” explaining they helped prevent him from going crazy thinking about the injury.
“I think a lot of people see athletes get injured and they just expect us back,” Burleson said before the ceremony. “The one thing I can appreciate about the Courage Award is the journey that goes from the time you’re injured until the time you actually make it back on to the field and not just the physical rehabilitation, but the emotional.
“That’s the toughest part,” he said. “We can sit here and smile in front of the cameras and talk to you guys all day long, but we don’t often tell you about the time where we’re questioning every decision we’ve ever made and we’re thinking about the last route we ran just trying to get a grasp on reality emotionally. And I think for this award I’m able to kind of relive all of that appreciate everybody who voted for me and making it back.”
This is Burleson’s second Courage Award. He was also honored in 2009 with the Seahawks after recovering from a torn ACL. One player from each team wins the award annually.
“If we could have a whole locker room of Nates, we’d never worry again about anything and we’d be the best organization in the NFL,” Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. said.
The team raised about $150,000 for HAVEN, Oakland County’s premier center for the prevention and treatment of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.
Before the dinner, in typical upbeat Burleson fashion, he said he’s focused on making another speedy recovery and re-joining the Lions in short order despite breaking his arm in a one-car accident last week on I-696.
“When I get back, I’m still going to try to go after that 1,000 yards,” Burleson said. “So that means I’ve got to have enough games to do it, which means I should be back soon.”
Burleson said the hard cast on his left arm is coming off Thursday, and next week he’ll be in a removable splint. Despite breaking both bones in his forearm, he said he stopped taking pain medication a couple days ago and is running and has full strength in everything but the arm.
Now that a week has passed since the accident, Burleson can laugh about the situation.
He was driving down the highway in Farmington Hills, and as a pizza box was sliding, he unsuccessfully tried to save it with one hand.
When Burleson looked up, he saw another car in front of him and swerved into the median.
Burleson posted a photo collage of the totaled car on Instagram on Tuesday and joked he’s like the fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle “because I really love pizza.”
“In the time of it happening, I honestly knew that jokes were going to come,” he said. “I try to see the lighter side of everything. Even when I was sitting there waiting on the ambulance, I was like, ‘This is going to be funny a few days from now.’”