(Shaun Burdick on the far right, with father Dick in the middle and brother Tyler on the left. Photo courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer/Ernest Coleman)
"Shaun Burdick just punted the fool out of the ball!" are the words I remember Head Coach Watson Brown saying shortly after UC's improbable 14-3 upset of Joe Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions. That came in Brown's post-game radio comments as diehards like me listened in shock.
It wasn't so much that Burdick was the star of the game (Donnie Goodman might say otherwise) it was that the Bearcats held Penn State to a field goal and Burdick's punts were crucial in the battle of field position.
He remembers it well.
"Game number one," explained Burdick. "We went up to Beaver Stadium at Penn State, the defending national champions and we knocked them off. It kind of went downhill from there. I didn't know that would be the pinnacle of my career."
Neither did Watson Brown, who likewise couldn't have scripted a better beginning for his career.
Forget that Brown would be gone 10 games later, on that early September afternoon, Cincinnati was the talk of college football.
"To hold them to three points--that's a huge accomplishment," said Burdick. "If I'm not mistaken, my first punt--at least as my Mom tells it--had me backed up deep in the endzone and she covered her eyes and said, 'Oh my God, they're going to kill my baby!'"
Fortunately, they didn't and Burdick's adjustment from 840 fans at Anderson High School's Brown Stadium to 84,000 in Happy Valley was successful (and happy).
From there, the history book shows that 1983 went gradually downhill. They nearly knocked off Jimmy Johnson's Oklahoma State team at Nippert a week later but fell short 27-23. After a 3-2 start, Watson Brown's quarterback was hurt and UC limped to a 4-6-1 finish, with Brown skipping town shortly for the warmer climate of Rice in Houston.
"Basically, Troy Bodine went down and it kind of all went down from there," said Burdick.
Bodine ran Brown's pass-friendly, often no-huddle offense and had three receivers who could rival any Bearcat wide-outs to date in Bill Booze, Deno Foster and Jason Stargel. UC historians may recall the group in a poster in an airport control tower wearing leather aviator caps, or the marketing phrase, "Fly Watson Air" on your grocery store bags.
Replacing Watson Brown was Dave Currey who 1982's coach, Mike Gottfried, had beaten at Riverfront Stadium when Currey headed up Long Beach State. Currey also liked to throw, but a miserable athletic budget led to UC becoming the NCAA's "unofficial designated Homecoming foe".
"Way too many Homecoming games," said Burdick. "I think the season-high was seven or eight Homecoming games. When you're playing Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Miami (FL), Florida State, Virginia Tech--it can be brutal."
And it was.
In Shaun Burdick's four years, UC played #20 Penn State and #8 Miami (FL) in 1983; #10 Miami (FL), #17 Florida and #20 Auburn in 1984; #2 Penn State in 1985; and #5 Penn State, #1 Miami (FL), and #9 Auburn in 1986. Even some of the unranked opponents were perennial juggernauts when you add games against Florida State, Alabama, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the mix.
That same formula of scheduling doomed the Dave Currey era teams that Burdick played on for his remaining three years.
"The first two or three games were competitive, or we'd get through the first half of the game very competitive," said Burdick. "Then, it was over. Whether it was people banged up, or worn out physically--I mean, we had people dropping like flies at the end of the season."
Despite that, and despite that Burdick led the city in receiving as a senior at Anderson, he was relegated to dropping the ball and booting it skyward during his Bearcat tenure.
"That's the reason I went to UC," said Burdick. "I knew I'd be kicking the ball a lot."
Burdick's sense of humor allowed him to maintain perspective during those rough Bearcat years.
It's also what got him into a Sports Illustrated issue in 1986 when he paid $35 to have a chauffeur drive him to practice in a limo and escort him to the field with a bag of balls. It was in that season that his kicking coach left, leaving him alone on the sidelines to enjoy chewing tobacco and his FM radio hidden inside his helmet.
Not really what the NFL would be after, huh?
Wrong. Shaun Burdick averaged 42 yards a boot in his last two seasons and spent time in NFL camps with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. He is second on UC's all-time list in punting yards and third in career punts.
While he was obviously athletic, fake punts were not exactly on UC's menu during his tenure, although Burdick does admit to the occasional toting of the loaf.
"I put it down every now and again," he said. "It got to a point in my senior season where I had six kicks blocked. We used to time our long snapper with a sun dial. It got to a point where I told myself I'm not getting anymore blocked so I put it down and paid the price."
Going on 24 years removed, the only price Burdick pays these days is admission into Nippert Stadium to watch the current Bearcats. Like many that played in the leaner days, he sits in envy of today's larger home crowds.
"When we went there, we were lucky to pull 10 to 15,000," said Burdick. "I think at halftime the fraternities and sororities (in attendance) were looking for bars."
Now, the fraternities and sororities don't have an easy way in as even student seats are hard to come by. Sellout crowds are no longer reserved for when a big-time opponent comes in. The big time school IS UC.
"Absolutely awesome," said Burdick. "It almost takes you to a level of jealousy because you didn't get to experience what those guys are experiencing. It is great. I'm down at every game. My kids go to the game, we tailgate, we go on the road to the bowl games. I've been everywhere I can get to."
When he's not at games, you can find Shaun Burdick coaching his up and coming fifth-grade quarterback son. Thanks to Play Station, Burdick's Guardian Angel squad has one of the more innovative offenses going, with a 10-year-old calling the shots.
Other times, Burdick is at his family's trucking and warehousing business that he began with his brother and father. Burd Brothers Trucking is located just outside of the Eastgate area.
"We opened in '93 and moved out next to the Clermont County airport in '99 and have been there ever since," said Burdick. "It's supporting a number of families. We're 50 employees strong and we just started an expansion phase, so to speak. We're looking to move down South a little bit."
Burd Brothers has gone from a local operation, to a nationwide truck service. While they accommodate loads to many cities and all 50 states, I'm told they particularly enjoy deliveries to the State College, Pennsylvania area....