June 7, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Nate Burleson's orange doesn't detract from appeal at Lions' charity softball game

Dearborn — Nate Burleson doesn’t do subtle. The former Lions receiver showed up for what used to be his charity softball game Saturday decked out in Cleveland Browns orange, from the top of his Panama hat to his shoes.

“You’ve got some nerve,” said Ryan Broyles, who playfully wrestled with his former teammate and mentor.

Burleson, who along with Stephen Tulloch took up the charity game started by former Lion Derrick Williams three years ago, was back playing for Team Raiola Saturday.

“It’s great to be back,” said Burleson, who signed with the Browns after the Lions told him they weren’t bringing him back. “People were giving me some type of reception like I got out of jail or something. I’m just right up the street in Cleveland.

“But everybody was like, ‘Glad to see you’ and ‘We’re sad you are gone.’ It’s tough to leave Detroit. I truly love this place. It became my second home.”

Burleson knew at the end of last season, particularly after the coaching staff was fired, that his chances of re-signing with the Lions went from slim to none.

“The organization was great about it,” he said. “We talked on the phone. There are no hard feelings. It was mostly because of the injuries. When I was on the field I was productive. I feel I was a great complement to Calvin (Johnson). But too many injuries, and as an organization, I understand it.

“It would have been great to have me back for one more year, but it was such a big question mark — can he stay healthy?”

Before Cleveland came calling, Burleson said he was preparing to retire. He had been an in-studio guest on ESPN, the NFL Network and on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk. He said he was closing in on accepting a job with one of the networks as an analyst.

“I always told myself, if I could still get open, I still want to play,” he said. “The moment I can’t get open, that’s when it’s time to walk away. I will be 33 in August. I had some concern about, can I compete at a high level with guys that are a decade younger than me?”

He got his answer in the Browns’ first OTA.

“We get to the one-on-ones and I get busy,” he said. “So I think to myself, ‘Yeah, I still got it.’”

Burleson spent some time Friday night with new Lions receiver Golden Tate, whom he said is a great fit to play opposite Johnson.

“It’s always tough when you get let go by a team and immediately they find your replacement,” Burleson said. “But I thought to myself, ‘They couldn’t find a better guy to put in that spot.’ He’s young, fiery, passionate — that’s what you want in a guy that’s going to play with a calm Calvin Johnson.”

As for his new team, he said the Browns remind him of the Lions team he joined in 2010.

“We have a good, young team,” he said. “It’s good to be part of a team that is building something. It’s similar to the situation when I came here. It wasn’t a desirable place. Cleveland is one of those places, they deserve to have a good season.

“They have a ton of talent, just like we had here when I got here. A lot of young, hungry guys willing to do something big for the city.”

Burleson will be back at Ford Field as a member of the Browns for the exhibition opener Aug. 9. As you might expect, he’s already planning his touchdown dance.

“It’s going to be a little bit of an appreciation for the fans and the city of Detroit,” he said. “And it’s also going to be a little poke in the back, saying, ‘You should’ve kept me because I’m still ballin’.’”



Former Lions player Nate Burleson is mobbed by fans even decked out in the colors of the Cleveland Browns, his new team, during the annual celebrity softball game Saturday at Ford Woods Park in Dearborn. / Bryan Mitchell / Special to Detroit News