Slice by slice: Getting to the truth about the Nate Burleson pizza incident

Leon Halip

We know that Nate Burleson's season is delayed because of a pizza-related car accident. The rest of the story is still becoming clear.

For all the data and stats and meticulous 30 For 30 episodes and as-told-to biographies, sports keeps sending us running into the limits of what we can know. For all the bottomless tape to be broken down or statistics to be committed to memory, the boundary is always in sight -- we know what an athlete does, but we can't know what that athlete feels or thinks in the crucial moment. They can tell us, and we still won't know much more than the words; we are outside it, on the wrong end of a vast secret. We can only know so much.

I am writing, of course, about the recent incident in which Lions receiver Nate Burleson got into an accident while trying to rescue a pizza that was sliding off the seat of his car. Burleson wound up breaking his arm in the accident, which occurred in Farmington Hills, MI a little before 2:30 on Tuesday morning. We do not yet know the rest of the story.

Since then, the truth has revealed itself slowly, steadily -- there was not one pizza but two; they were from Happy's Pizza in Farmington Hills. The pizzas were deep dish; the pizza that catalyzed the accident had pepperoni on it. But even as the story continues to come into focus, the unknowns rise and rise, like so much pizza dough not yet tossed.

What were the toppings on the second pizza, about which we've heard so suspiciously little? And the revelation that Burleson had a "handful of pizza" at the moment the accident occurred -- "handful," like how the Incredible Hulk would eat pizza? And why Happy's, when Buddy's -- just a few miles away -- seems by far the superior pizza option? Questions, lonely and without answer.

The truth -- it can seem like a quaint thing sometimes, an old and sentimental idea. But if we don't pursue it here, can we live with anything less? Here, then, is what we know so far. We are through the looking glass, people. But this journey is a long way from over.

Monday, Sep. 23

8:30 p.m. - Burleson and some acquaintances descend on Happy's Pizza & Pub to watch the Oakland Raiders face the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Details of the accident were revealed later in the week (see below).

"It's kind of one of my new hangouts," Burleson tells Matt Dery of 105.1 Sports in Detroit during a Friday interview.

Tuesday, Sep. 24

12:30 a.m. - After "closing the place down" Burleson leaves, taking two pizzas with him. He looked down, looked up and overreacted to a car in front of him. He hit the brakes and his 2009 GMC Yukon starts to fishtail. The car swerves, then hits the median. Burleson has his seat belt on, and the airbag deployed, preventing more serious injuries

9:00 a.m. - Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson broke his arm in a car accident.

10:00 a.m. - CBS Detroit provides the first look at the cause of Burleson's accident; he was reaching down to keep a pizza from sliding off the seat of his car. Burleson hit the median on I-696 near Drake Rd. in Farmington Hills.


12:30 p.m. - The Lions reveal that Burleson will not land on the injured reserve list.

1:00 p.m. - Strapped for receivers, rumors surface that the Lions will look at potential options on the trade market.

5:24 p.m.USA Today reports that Burleson had the accident after leaving a promotional appearance at Happy's Pizza & Pub in West Bloomfield. He was there with teammate Stephen Tulloch.

Wednesday, Sep. 25

3:30 p.m. - The Lions hope to have Burleson back by November.

Friday, Sep. 27

Details about the accident, Burleson's pizza preferences and local endorsements begin to emerge.

11:20 a.m. - Burleson reveals that he was trying to save a deep dish pepperoni pizza.

1:43 p.m. - Kyle Meinke of MLive shares details from an interview with Burleson, providing hungry fans more insight into the accident. Another crucial detail from accident emerges.

2:07 p.m. - Burleson tells Dery that he's heard plenty of jokes about the incident.

2:11 p.m. - Burleson admits that he almost saved the pizza before the accident.

2:36 p.m. - The veteran receiver hints at the potential for future product endorsements with Happy's Pizza & Pub.

"It's a lesson learned," Burleson said during the interview with Dery. "I'm definitely not going to be multitasking while I'm driving ... it's just not worth it."

Ryan Van Bibber added toppings to this report.

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