VONTAZE BURFICT SITS in a hotel lobby, unable to make eye contact with the man across from him. His hands sweat. His stomach twists so much it hurts. It's the middle of the combine in Indy, and when the annual scouting showcase began, Burfict was considered by many NFL execs to be the top linebacker prospect. "I'd watched the combine on TV," Burfict says. "It felt so important."
Scouts fell in love with him during his Arizona State career because he laid people out, because he played close to the line and occasionally stepped over it. Shielded by his Sun Devils helmet, he acted as though he had no fear of reprisal -- from opponents, from coaches, from refs, from fans. They don't know how nervous he was once the game ended. These coaches don't know, as they sit down to meet him, that Burfict had been shielded from reporters by Arizona State's PR team for three seasons. They don't know that before the combine, Burfict had done only a handful of interviews in his life. So his hands are sweating. And his stomach twists. And his eyes look down as he tells Bill Belichick, Yes, I can see myself playing in New England. Yes, I hope to have a great combine. Burfict didn't expect to run into the coach and have an impromptu interview in the lobby. And with Belichick straining to hear him above the din, he didn't expect to offer an answer most other hopefuls don't have to: No, I am not the dirty player people think I am.