In 2018, Joe Burrow was a good but unspectacular quarterback. Today, he is at the pinnacle of professional football. Who could have seen this coming?
Some have. Maybe you do too.
As Burrow prepares to lead the Cincinnati Bengals against the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s Super Bowl, some former players and a longtime LSU football watcher were asked when they realized Burrow was special.
Bud Johnson has seen a lot of Tiger football, having come to LSU as assistant director of sports advertising in 1958. He’s seen fewer harder hits than the one Burrow took on Jan. 1, 2019, at the Fiesta Bowl.
Burrow had thrown an interception when Central Florida’s 313-pound defensive end Joey Connors made a blind block and drove him into the turf. Burrow slowly got up on his knees, then rolled onto his back and lay there before being helped to the sideline.
After that? Burrow had four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards in LSU’s 40-32 victory.
“It was the revelation that he was a good quarterback,” Johnson said. “He was skimmed and came back from it and had a good ball game. … I think that was a clue to the people who were in charge at the time that they weren’t going to find a better quarterback to … throw the ball around a lot.
The rest is history: a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and professional success. And Johnson is big on history.
“Bert Jones averages 5 yards per carry in the NFL,” Johnson said, referring to the LSU star who had a 10-year professional career. “Joe was better than that. It’s not uncommon for him to average 5 yards in a game. Last season I was checking it out because I remember what Bert did.
This is not the only resemblance between Burrow and Jones, nor the most important.
Ben Jones, Bert’s brother and an LSU wide receiver from 1972-74, was on the sidelines Nov. 4, 1972, when the Tigers trailed Ole Miss 16-10. At Ole Miss 10 with 1 second on the clock, LSU coach Charles McClendon gave his quarterback instructions. Jones’ response was classic.
“He winks at Charlie Mac,” Ben Jones said. “There was a confidence”
He produced a touchdown pass and a 17-16 victory. Jones sees this in Burrow.
“When they walked into the huddle, you can be sure those 20 eyes looking up at him, they’re thinking, ‘Man, we’re about to do this! ‘” Jones said. “It’s indefinable, but you know it when it’s there.
“Joe doesn’t have the cannon arm that Bert had, but he’s just as accurate. He throws passes… and each one was precise. How can you throw a perfect pass every time? »
Especially the third and the 17?
Every Tiger fan knows that game. Jimmy Field, who was LSU’s quarterback from 1960 to 1962, was in Austin, Texas on September 7, 2019, and remembers it vividly.
Although LSU was leading 37-31 with 2:39 remaining, Texas was able to return the ball to its offense, which had already scored 24 points in the second half. But, as Burrow’s pass protection crumbled, he moved forward to his left before throwing to Justin Jefferson, who carried it 61 yards down the touchline for the decisive score.
“I knew then that he was special,” Field said. “That’s maybe one of the things that separates him. He’s able to sense where the rush is coming from and move around in the pocket while keeping his eyes on the pitch at the same time. … That’s the mark of a great quarterback.
If it had been a home game, it might have become the most memorable pass in Tiger Stadium history. This distinction applies to the “Earthquake Game” of October 8, 1988, when Tommy Hodson’s fourth pass to Eddie Fuller with 1:41 remaining gave LSU a 7-6 win over Auburn, inspiring a crowd reaction. so intense that it was recorded. on a seismograph on campus.
Hodson, who led the Tigers to two Southeastern Conference titles between 1986 and 1989, didn’t jump on the Burrow bandwagon early on.
“I’m the toughest critic of quarterbacks,” Hodson said. “When he was a junior at LSU, what impressed me the most was his tenacity. I’ve seen so many guys who are good pitchers, but can’t stay in the pocket under pressure and duress. This guy has guts in his pocket that you can’t teach. It’s rare. And that was when he was a junior, but he wasn’t much of a playmaker. I was, like, ‘He’s tough as nails, but can he make a game?’ Well, his senior year, he certainly answered that.
Hodson played six seasons in the NFL, which heightens his appreciation of how Burrow has developed in just two years. When Burrow struggled with interceptions midseason, he adapted, accepting sacks instead of turnovers, and the Bengals began to thrive.
“I just think he’s wise beyond his years,” Hodson said. “It’s not Tom Brady yet, and I wouldn’t go there. A coach once told me that it takes about four or five years to really say a guy can be successful in the NFL by as a quarterback, and if he can play four or five good, solid years, then he’s made it. Let’s not put too much pressure on him so soon. But, boy, what a great start.