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University of Missouri

Tiger Stripes and Rabbit Fur

Robert Burns follows Tiger and Jackrabbit tracks.

SDSU jackrabbits

For 38 years until his 2008 retirement, Robert Burns was a beloved professor of political science at South Dakota State University (SDSU), Mizzou football’s season-opening opponent 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Charcoal will ignite and “Fight Tiger” will echo throughout Columbia as the irresistible traffic swells and flows.

Some things never change.

My wife [Donna] and I lived in University Village Apartments [on Providence Road] in 1965,” says Burns, MA ’66, PhD ’73. Donna once tried turning left [north] out of the apartment complex during the first home football Saturday. “She got caught in traffic all the way to the stadium and had to convince campus police that she really didn’t want to be there — she was just out trying to buy groceries.”

The couple eventually came to appreciate head Coach Dan Devine’s era, which featured Tiger greats Charlie Brown, BS Ed ’67; Johnny Roland, BS BA ’66; and Roger Wehrli, BS Ed ’70. Mizzou defeated quarterback Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators in the 1966 Sugar Bowl while Burns worked toward his degrees.

Robert Burns

Robert Burns taught political science at South Dakota State University for 38 years and earned MU degrees during part of Dan Devine’s Tiger football era. Photo courtesy of Robert Burns.

The native South Dakotan earned his undergraduate degree through SDSU’s ROTC program, so in 1968, the U.S. Army called Burns to serve in the Vietnam War. He ultimately settled in Brookings, a quaint college town in eastern South Dakota and home of the Jackrabbits.

I was invited to teach a course on Southeast Asia,” Burns says. “My experience in Vietnam gave me some firsthand observations.”

Over the course of his career, Burns earned the College of Arts and Sciences’ teacher of the year honor six times. He was so appreciated, in fact, that the school’s student association declared “Dr. Robert Burns Day” after he announced his retirement.

As one might expect, Burns’ athletic loyalty is to the Jackrabbits, especially after his son, Tim, played on the football team with NFL-caliber SDSU alumni Adam Timmerman and Adam Vinatieri.

The Rabbits know they have their work cut out for them Saturday. We gave Nebraska a good run,” says Burns in reference to a hard-fought 17–3 Cornhusker victory in 2010. “We’re hoping we can do the same with the Tigers.”