Coach O, Joe Burrow And The LSU Tigers

9 12 2019


  By Timothy D. Naegele[1]

Scott Rabalais, Sports Columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate, has written:

Two Februarys ago, Ed Orgeron returned to his native Larose for a banquet. He made what sounded like an audacious promise:

“I’m going to get some negative comments,” Orgeron said only a few weeks after going from LSU’s interim to permanent coach. “I’m not everyone’s first, second or third choice. But I got the job, and I’m going to work day and night to get this program back on top.

“Some of the naysayers will laugh about this, but in a very short period of time, LSU will be back in the SEC championship game and in the (College Football Playoff) final four series for the national championship. I promise you that.”

Saturday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Orgeron and his Tigers made good on his vow, defeating Georgia 37-10 for LSU’s first Southeastern Conference championship since 2011, and looking to the horizon for even more riches.

And naysayers? They’re looking for someone else to bash. Someone not named Ed Orgeron, who is now 9-1 in his past 10 games against top-10 opponents.

This championship wasn’t won with luck. It was a combination of things: Orgeron’s guts to remake LSU’s offensive culture, to hire Joe Brady to turbocharge the offense and to recruit Joe Burrow to shine it to a high gloss. It wasn’t won by backing into it with some other team or teams crumbling unexpectedly.

LSU went out and beat everyone in its path for 13 Saturdays this season. Few championships have ever been more deserved.

When Les Miles led LSU to the 2007 BCS national championship, overcoming a pair of triple-overtime losses along the way, detractors said he did it by just taking Nick Saban’s program and keeping it on auto pilot. That was unfair, but it was also a stigma Miles never quite shook.

There are a few key players still on LSU’s roster recruited under Miles — seniors like defensive end Rashard Lawrence and left tackle Saahdiq Charles and fourth-year junior center Lloyd Cushenberry. But in large part because of Burrow and Brady, and the offensive vision Miles would not embrace, no one is saying this title isn’t of Orgeron’s creation. Crafted by his touch.

The coach Ole Miss and Southern California once cast off is now in his natural habitat, leading his home state’s team to glory in the sport Louisiana loves like no other. Making a bunch of guys from a state ranked 48th in this and 49th in that the best in the nation’s toughest conference. And, quite arguably, the best team in the nation, period.

“I love that guy,” Burrow said amid postgame streamers and title T-shirts. “If you don’t want to fight for him, something’s wrong with you.”

They fought for him, all right, a guy dug out of the Louisiana swamps with a voice, as ESPN’s Rece Davis said, that sounds like it came from inside a cement mixer.

Orgeron is Louisiana, and Louisiana is him. Swamp water courses in his veins. And doesn’t it mean a little more to LSU fans to have a coach who could be one of them, working on an oil rig or a shrimp boat, than someone who came from West Virginia via Michigan for a business opportunity?

Orgeron’s Tigers leave here with a trophy and confetti in their hair and seeking more glory. The final College Football Playoff rankings are released at 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN, and one defies the CFP committee not to rank LSU No. 1.

The Tigers now have wins over current CFP teams ranked No. 4, No. 9, No. 11 and No. 12. Two of those wins — Georgia here, in what was essentially a home game for the Bulldogs in Mercedes-Benz Stadium — and at Alabama, over teams ranked in the top five at the time. Ohio State might pass some sort of purely subjective eye test, but LSU has an unmatched résumé.

And emboldened in victory as you can expect, they’re ready to take on all comers in their CFP semifinal, whether it’s back here in the Peach Bowl or back in Arizona in the Fiesta.

“You can take us to Canada, and we’ll play on a gravel lot,” Burrow said. “It doesn’t matter where or who we play.”

One thing that definitely doesn’t matter: what any other Heisman Trophy contenders do in the face of the magnum opus Burrow finished off Saturday.

Against the nation’s No. 2-ranked defense, which had not allowed more than 20 points or 343 yards in any game this season, Burrow went off for 406 total yards (349 passing, 57 rushing) and four touchdowns. His double-duck scramble around Georgia defensive end Travon Walker to hit Justin Jefferson with a 71-yard pass in the third quarter is a Heisman moment for the ages.

“It was all improvised,” Burrow said. “Justin ran a 6-yard hitch route and saw me scrambling and took off deep. We’ve got a great feel for each other. I knew exactly where he was going to be when I got out of there.”

Last season, Orgeron famously put another memorable quote out there about what he saw as the inevitable rise of his LSU program.

“We’re comin’,” Coach O said. “And we ain’t backing down.”

LSU has arrived, at least to this point, undefeated and unbowed. After what is sure to be a week of awards for Burrow and Orgeron and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase for a start, the Tigers begin their quest for a CFP national title.

“We’ve got two more games to play,” Orgeron said, referring to a CFP semifinal and the national title game in New Orleans. “So we’re getting to work tomorrow.”

Another bold statement from Orgeron. Based on Saturday’s results, it’s hard to second-guess him.[2]

Regardless of what happens in the next two games, Coach O has proved himself, and vindicated the judgment of lots of us—especially cross-town rival UCLA alums and fans—that USC made a huge mistake in letting him go.

With his Cajun accent that is difficult to understand at times, he’s a winner who has brought great joy to LSU, its alums and fans, and to the state of Louisiana.  And yes, LSU is ranked number one in the nation as this article goes to press.

Go Coach O, Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers, all the way!

 

 

© 2019, Timothy D. Naegele


[1]  Timothy D. Naegele was counsel to the United States Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and chief of staff to Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal recipient and former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass). He and his firm, Timothy D. Naegele & Associates, specialize in Banking and Financial Institutions Law, Internet Law, Litigation and other matters (see www.naegele.com and https://naegeleblog.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/timothy-d.-naegele-resume-20-1-1.pdf). He has an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as well as two law degrees from the School of Law (Boalt Hall), University of California, Berkeley, and from Georgetown University. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon, where he received the Joint Service Commendation Medal (see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commendation_Medal#Joint_Service). Mr. Naegele is an Independent politically; and he is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who in Finance and Business. He has written extensively over the years (see, e.g., www.naegele.com/whats_new.html#articles), and can be contacted directly at tdnaegele.associates@gmail.com

[2]  See https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/sports/lsu/article_252da048-1947-11ea-a13f-8b58a378ed24.html (“Rabalais: LSU’s SEC title delivers on first half of Ed Orgeron’s bold promise”); see also https://www.theadvertiser.com/story/sports/college/lsu/2019/12/05/ed-orgeron-lsu-football-coach-louisiana-native-leads-undefeated-tigers/4277712002/ (“LIKE THE ROUGAROU, THE INFAMOUS SWAMP MONSTER OF LOUISIANA LORE, LSU HEAD COACH ED ORGERON HAS SEEMINGLY SNUCK UP ON THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL WORLD”—”‘Finally we have a coach that doesn’t have an accent'”)


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4 responses

9 12 2019
morrow321

As a Bama fan, I agree.

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15 12 2019
Timothy D. Naegele

Joe Burrow Wins The Heisman, Coach O Is The Coach Of The Year, And The LSU Tigers Just Keep Rolling! [UPDATED}

Tom Fornelli has reported for CBS Sports:

The nation’s top-rated passer, who led his team to the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, has earned a key piece of hardware as he seeks a national championship trophy at season’s end. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow won the 2019 Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, beating out three fellow Heisman finalists in Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, Ohio State QB Justin Fields and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.

Burrow, who is on pace to set an FBS single-season record for completion percentage (.779) and has 48 touchdowns to six interceptions on the year, is the fourth straight quarterback to win the award and the 12th to win it in the last 14 seasons. He is the second Heisman Trophy winner in LSU program history and the first since Billy Cannon earned the honor in 1959. Burrow is also the first SEC quarterback to win the Heisman since Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in 2012.

Burrow’s victory shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who had been paying attention this season. He was such a heavy favorite heading into Saturday night’s ceremony that many sportsbooks stopped accepting wagers on the Heisman winner. It wasn’t so much a question of whether Burrow would win but rather how much of a margin he would carry.

After beginning his college career at Ohio State, Burrow transferred to LSU as a graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining ahead of the 2018 season. His first year with the Tigers was good but nothing like what we saw in 2019. He finished the 2018 season with 2,894 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Then LSU overhauled its offensive philosophy, and Burrow took off. His 48 touchdowns on the season are not only an LSU school record but an SEC record, as are his 4,715 passing yards.

See https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/2019-heisman-trophy-winner-qb-joe-burrow-captures-lsus-first-heisman-since-1959/ (“2019 Heisman Trophy winner: QB Joe Burrow captures LSU’s first Heisman since 1959“) (emphasis added); see also https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7793633/LSU-QB-Joe-Burrow-wins-Heisman-Trophy-landslide-vote.html (“LSU QB Joe Burrow wins Heisman Trophy in landslide vote“)

Josh Auzenne has reported for WAFB9 in Atlanta:

Quarterback Joe Burrow won the Walter Camp, Maxwell, and Davey O’Brien awards. Burrow has thrown for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns this season. Both are LSU and SEC single-season records. He has completed 78 percent of his passes. He is also the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

Safety Grant Delpit is the Jim Thorpe Award winner, which goes to the best defensive back in college football. Delpit has 56 tackles on the season, with 32 of those being solo. He has two interceptions and a sack. He also recovered a fumble.

Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase won the Fred Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the most outstanding receiver in college football. Chase has caught 73 passes for 1,498 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

See https://www.wafb.com/2019/12/12/lsu-players-up-college-football-awards/ (“LSU sweeps college football awards“) (emphasis added)

Go Tigers, ALL the way!

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17 12 2019
Timothy D. Naegele

Joe Cool [UPDATED]

Every once in a while, words capture a moment in time. A photograph will do that: the moment never occurred before, and will never occur again.

It is much harder to do it with words, but to her credit Hallie Grossman—an ESPN Staff Writer—has done it in the article that follows. Often I will highlight portions of articles that convey the essence of why I cited them, but not with respect to this article. All of it is important, from its beginning to the end:

A WOMAN DECKED out in a purple-and-gold sequin dress, looking for all the world like a Mardi Gras disco ball, is trying to be stealthy. She nudges her companion, lest she miss this incredible stroke of good luck, to show her who’s standing right there across the sidewalk. The friend, whose fandom is less flashy — just an LSU No. 9 jersey for her — looks up to find a mass of 30 or 40 people milling around a white canopy, mostly wearing No. 9 themselves. She doesn’t even offer the courtesy of pretending not to stare.

Those are his parents! The two women nod to each other, then walk away, their celebrity sighting duly confirmed.

They’re right, of course. There, among the dozens tailgating in the shadow of Tiger Stadium, are Jimmy and Robin Burrow — Joe Burrow’s parents, which is mostly how they’re known in this town. Which is why they’re celebrities in this town, the kind who attract a stream of gawkers to their tailgate. Baton Rouge has fallen hard.

Joe’s crew isn’t exactly taking great pains to obfuscate. Jimmy and Robin are wearing Burrow jerseys, his plain, hers a bedazzled version, the purple No. 9 sparkling when the sun hits right. Joe’s oldest brother, Jamie, has a jersey on too, except the Cajun spirit got him and he sports one that says “Burreaux.” A family friend from back home in Athens, Ohio, went with a purple and gold tee that proclaims, “We are EAUX-HI-EAUX.”

It’s the final frenzied hours before Burrow plays in Tiger Stadium for the last time, against Texas A&M, and what do you know, more lookie-loos “happen upon” his family’s tailgate. A middle-aged woman hollers in Jimmy’s direction, “The next Joe Burrow is with us! No. 7, right here!” Her No. 7 is a high schooler, her son presumably, with a mop of dirty brown hair and a Leonard Fournette jersey. Next-Joe-Burrow’s family stops to chat up actual-Joe-Burrow’s family, then they take a picture together for posterity. Everyone is desperate to capture this moment.

Jimmy is silver-haired and ruddy, his cheeks a forever shade of crimson, so he constantly looks tickled, like this is all still a hoot to him. Like he still can’t believe this is what his son has done. He smiles and shrugs. It’s all he has left to offer. What can he say? These are strange times.

These people, the Burrows, are close to Joe, and so they are close to the sun.

He still tries to visit the tailgate, Joe does. Even as his numbers soar silly high and he whack-a-moles LSU and SEC passing records. Even as the team barrels toward its first playoff berth. He comes by after games, though each week it devolves into a more complicated affair.

After LSU beat Arkansas in late November — earning a spot in the SEC title game for the first time in eight years and becoming the first team in SEC history to claim a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher all in the same season — the team coordinated Joe’s arrival for his postgame family reunion. It was an undertaking befitting a head of state, which, if we’re being honest, Burrow is by now in the state of Louisiana.

Handlers hustled Burrow from deep inside Tiger Stadium into an unmarked police car, which shuttled down South Stadium Drive, then deposited him in front of his family’s tailgate. It was a very official, mostly futile attempt to shield him from the onslaught.

“I’ve never seen a frenzy like this,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron says. “Never in any school I’ve been in.”

TWO DAYS AFTER his quarterback’s final home game, Orgeron sits on a couch tucked in the northwest corner of Tiger Stadium and tries to make sense of what Burrow has done in — and to — Baton Rouge this season.

When the game ended that Nov. 30 night — Texas A&M’s soul well and truly crushed after Burrow and the Tigers offense did unmentionable things to the Aggies — Burrow beelined for the delirious LSU student section. He blew kisses to the crowd like a jubilant beauty queen; he clasped his hands, raising them high above his head, waving them to and fro like a conquering prizefighter. There will be a Heisman won, a playoff game or two to come — yet more work to be done, starting with Oklahoma, to hold on to this a little longer, college football’s most raucous mutual admiration society.

“He can do what he wants,” Orgeron jokes about his quarterback. Probably. He probably jokes.

Burrow himself joked later that night that he bum-rushed the students for a reason. He doesn’t go to class — he came to LSU as a graduate transfer by way of Ohio State, degree in hand, and now takes online courses toward his master’s — so this was his shot to thank them, these people who adore him but don’t ever see him, don’t really know him at all beyond the mythic vision they watch on Saturdays.

He doesn’t really roam campus at all, holing up in his apartment, mostly emerging to make the five-minute drive to the football facility. That part of his fishbowl experience, at least, is familiar. Celebrities can’t go out in public, not really, and that’s what he is here: the state’s brightest star. His parents, who travel to every game, home or away, do his grocery shopping for him when they land in Baton Rouge on Fridays. When LSU went on the road for two weeks, first to Alabama and then to Ole Miss, Jimmy and Robin weren’t in town to restock, so he just … went without groceries.

“Yeah, this is different,” Orgeron says.

There’s a lot of that this fall: the old ladies who saw Burrow walk into a clothing store, on the hunt for a new suit, then followed him in; the fans who camp out in the parking lot for autographs, for who knows how many hours, scouting out the entrance to the practice facility, waiting for their mark — Burrow — like they’re on a sting; the locals who’ve gotten wind that he frequents Brocato, a one-room salon that looks nothing at all like a salon and everything like a worn-in cottage, where Matt Brocato, the owner, sees to Burrow’s hair once a month. When he needs a breather from the mayhem of the season, this is where he retreats to, Brocato, because it feels “old school … like I’m in the ’80s or ’90s,” Burrow says.

Brocato takes care to protect Burrow’s privacy, even though virtually all his customers have asked for a heads-up when Burrow’s on his way. “No way,” he tells them. He’s 61 — hippie-bookish, with thick black glasses and a mess of brown hair — and a Baton Rouge lifer. He was born 5 miles from Tiger Stadium but never once went to a game until he took on Burrow as a client.

“Right now, he owns the city,” Brocato says. “He really does.”

Oh, you’ve heard this one before? The one about the star football player who’s a huge hit with the football-loving college town? Rohan Davey has heard it too. Like Burrow, he was a quarterback here who broke records. In 2001, Davey became the first passer ever to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season for the Tigers. He’s seen prolific quarterbacks come through (Matt Mauck, JaMarcus Russell) and beloved stars (Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette) and championship-hopeful teams (2003, 2007, 2011), but he professes, as Orgeron professes, that this is different from all those other people and all those other times. He knew it on Nov. 22.

He emceed the Bengal Belles Senior Luncheon that Friday afternoon, and as he sat in the Raising Cane’s River Center ballroom, he looked up as Burrow’s name was announced. Two police officers walked in front, two trailed behind, with Burrow sandwiched in between. They stood at attention, watchdogs guarding how close the public could encroach.

Did Davey ever experience anything like that?

“No. Hell no,” he says.

Mathieu? Fournette, even?

“No. Hell no,” he says again. “Nowhere near.”

In a neat trick, Burrow seems at once pretty unruffled by it all and keen to stoke this gumbo-soaked fervor. Clandestine operations to get him out of the stadium? Crowd control on his person? “Never in a million years thought I’d be doing that,” he says.

He’s sitting on a bench in the team’s weight room, wearing a Looney Tunes sweatshirt, as he is wont to do. “Joe is … definitely himself,” says his former Ohio State teammate J.T. Barrett, as does nearly anyone who has ever spent any amount of time with Burrow.

Burrow has a tendency to rake his hands through his hair midsentence. He smiles a lot too, never too wide, mind you, so that you’re never quite sure whether he’s letting you in on the joke or you are the joke. Between his flair for odd fashion and perpetual half-smirk, he looks a little mischievous, which is appropriate for a guy who could pass for a grown-up Kevin McCallister. A grown-up Kevin McCallister after he has chucked a brick at Marv’s face.

The first time his youth coach, Sam Smathers, laid eyes on him, Burrow walked — strutted, according to Smathers — up a hill wearing a pair of sunglasses. Burrow, the third-grader, suffered from some sensitivity to light at the time, but Smathers didn’t know that. He knew only what he saw. “Hey, there’s Joe Cool,” he thought to himself that day.

Burrow shows flashes of that now too. Hey, there’s Joe Cool, pageant-waving goodbye to departing, defeated Texas fans. Hey, there’s Joe Cool, smiling coyly at the camera when asked if he has anything to say to Nebraska, the school where his father and older brothers played football but which didn’t really give him a look. Twice. Hey, there’s Joe Cool, handing the SEC title game ball off to Orgeron, then saying he’ll keep the national championship game ball for himself.

Hey, there’s Joe Cool, sunglasses on once more, cruising down the Tiger Walk.

His parents have met him there before every home game this year, waiting for him at the end, just outside the entrance to the locker room. Jimmy and Robin leave their tailgate early, knowing that as they navigate to the Tiger Walk, they’ll be stopped five, 10, 15 times by fans along the way.

“They have fun out there,” Burrow says, then smiles his half-smile. This is all still a hoot for him too, you see. The fans who not only love him but love his whole family by proxy. The grateful Louisianans who thank them all for coming to their state.

“My whole family’s like, ‘Well, thanks for resurrecting my career.'”

BEFORE HE WAS a Heisman winner, Joe Burrow was a quarterback without a home.

The May before last, Orgeron did his damnedest to sell Burrow on the prestige of playing quarterback in Baton Rouge. Burrow, at the time, was a newly minted free agent in the college football transfer market, having thrown all of 39 passes in his three years at Ohio State. Still, Orgeron’s offer was one without much historical merit, the program mostly able to push out good but not exceptional quarterbacks. LSU’s most recent undisputed star at the position, JaMarcus Russell, is now best known for his all-time flameout as a professional.

Burrow wasn’t a proven commodity either — not quite castoff, but not quite can’t-miss wager. He came to Baton Rouge by way of Columbus, having bided his time behind a historically ridiculous assembly of quarterback talent at Ohio State — Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, oh my. But by the time those guys cleared the decks, he still wasn’t the clear choice to be starter — Dwayne Haskins had logged precious minutes as a backup in 2017 while Burrow battled a broken hand — so he decided to take his talents somewhere new.

Orgeron and Burrow convened over crawfish at Mike Anderson’s, a seafood haunt that’s been around since the 1970s and greets its patrons with a hulking deer, its antlers nearly scraping the ceiling, sitting in repose over a brick archway. That day, the two took the first tentative steps toward this partnership, the one that has upended everything in Baton Rouge.

“He fell in love with me,” Burrow says. “And I fell in love with him.”

A few days before the SEC championship win against Georgia (four touchdowns, 349 yards, 96.3 QBR and one Heisman-icing performance for Burrow), Orgeron stood on a podium in front of a roomful of media expounding on all the reasons he thinks Burrow is unlike any quarterback he’s been around. “I think it’s a combination of smarts,” he said. “It’s a combination of grits,” he went on, likely — in his exhilaration — landing on some fusion of grit and guts. Or maybe he just meant grits.

Later, back on the couch in a quiet nook in Tiger Stadium, Orgeron the coach, Orgeron the native Louisianan, comes right out and says it. Or starts to.

“To me, he’s been the most important …” Like any coach fluent in coachspeak, Orgeron’s inner diplomat kicks in, putting a muzzle on all that effusiveness. A bit. He smiles. “I guess I can’t say that. One of the most important people in LSU history.”

THERE IS A strange desperation in Baton Rouge these days.

These people have been waiting for so long for exactly this — a Heisman-caliber (now crowned) quarterback steering a 21st-century offense — that they all seem frantic to not just revel in this success but to remind themselves that it’s a real thing and that it’s happening here.

In the hours before kickoff against Texas A&M, former LSU players paced the sideline, their credentials around their necks listing their names, like ID-tag-toting guests at a reunion, which in a way, they were. Hi, my name is Joseph Addai.

Addai won a championship here 16 years ago, won a Super Bowl a few years after that with Indianapolis, yet he still finds himself daydreaming about what it would be like to play now, with a quarterback like this, in a system like this.

“I would’ve loved it. It’s so different,” Addai said to another LSU old-timer, the two stationed about 30 yards from where Burrow stood warming up. He said it quietly, shaking his head, like if he spoke it out loud, poof, it would vanish. It’s a real thing, and it’s happening here.

“It’s cool as hell,” JaMarcus Russell says. He stood outside a Tiger Stadium elevator on his way up to his seats for the Texas A&M game, one more LSU alum on hand to bear witness.

Here we are, at the end of 2019, and we’ve spent an entire fall in bizarro Baton Rouge: LSU is scarily dominant on offense. More, it’s scarily modern. Is that the Tigers going … no-huddle? (It is! On 67% of plays this season, compared with 34% the five seasons prior.) Is that the Tigers throwing … on first down? (With gusto! On 61% of first downs, fourth most in the FBS and nearly twice as often as they did just two years ago, when they ranked 115th.) Is that the Tigers trotting out … three-plus-wide-receiver sets? (Why, yes! On 708 plays, twice as many as last season.)

This team bears so little resemblance to its ground-and-pound lineage that it feels almost futile to try to capture the distance between then and now.

Six months ago, in the dead heat of summer in Louisiana, Burrow vowed that this team would score 40, 50, 60 points a game. His bravado felt foolhardy, fantastical. At the very least, it was critically ahistorical. For one, Burrow’s first season at LSU was mostly just … fine. He threw for 16 touchdowns in all of 2018, a number he eclipsed in one month (one month!) this season. For another, you had to go back to 2013 to find an LSU team that even approached the right to be called a scoring machine, and even then, even with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry lining up together, the Tigers cashed in at 35.8 points per game. Twenty-two teams outpaced them that season. That we now do expect 40, 50, 60 points a game, that we’re now surprised when they don’t hit those marks — LSU has scored 40, 50, 60 points a game in all but three outings so far this season — is a feat of sorcery.

Or at least meticulous planning. Planning from Orgeron, who pulled the plug on the old way. After Alabama blanked LSU 29-0 last season, Orgeron told his offensive coordinator, Steve Ensminger, they had to go to the spread. Planning from Ensminger, who told Orgeron that yes, of course he’d be willing to let someone new come in here and teach this team a new offense. Planning from Joe Brady, who was that someone new, by way of the New Orleans Saints, and who arrived this past offseason armed to the gills with these newfangled run-pass options and three-receiver sets and up-tempo play. And planning from Burrow, who executed it all in his first year in this particular system.

Those dominoes, incidentally, hit every other domino right on its sweet spot to produce this: historically great accuracy (Burrow’s 77.9% pass completion rate is on pace to be the best mark in FBS history, a point higher than the previous record, set by Colt McCoy in 2008); gluttonous production (48 touchdown passes, an SEC record); and, you know, wins (13 of them to date).

Along the way, Burrow metamorphosed from fringe draft prospect to first-player-taken prospect, a rise that leaves people who study this kind of thing for a living flummoxed, stumped on naming a proper comparison. “His ascension has been ridiculous,” says Jim Nagy, the Senior Bowl’s executive director and a draft analyst. “It really is a little unprecedented. At the quarterback position, man, I’m struggling to come up with one.”

The police escorts and the unmarked police cars and the mania that has settled around Burrow makes a certain kind of sense then. It feels like an actual physical relief to watch him and his offense operate, for the old players who missed out on this system and for the fan base that clamored for it year after year after year.

“I’m just so happy that it’s finally here,” Rohan Davey says. “Thank [G]od.”

JUST ABOUT A thousand miles away, in a breakfast and lunch diner in The Plains, Ohio, a pair of older men are hashing out the latest betting odds for Burrow to win the Heisman, pondering just how astronomical the quarterback’s chances can balloon. (Spoiler: Burrow’s Heisman win will be seismic. His margin of victory, 1,846 more points than Jalen Hurts, will go down as the largest gap in history.) They’re sitting in the second-to-last booth by the wall, under a banner that reads “Gigi’s Country Kitchen of Baton Rouge.”

Travis Brand, the owner of Gigi’s Country Kitchen, which is very much not in Baton Rouge, passes by and catches wind of the topic at hand. It’s the topic at hand at a lot of diner booths here in The Plains, Burrow’s hometown, and Athens, the town just a few streets over.

“If he said, ‘I’d like to be a mayor down there,'” Brand says, “I think the mayor would say, ‘Here, let me give you my salary.'”

Brand has seen it for himself, this Baton Rouge-Joe Burrow lovefest. That’s where the banner came from, in fact. Gigi’s has morphed into a semi-tourist trap these days, with Brand to thank for it. Over the swinging door that leads to the kitchen: an LSU license plate; “HERE WE GEAUX JEAUX 12 AND 0” spelled out on the Gigi’s sign that lords over North Plains Road; and that custom Gigi’s banner, a gift from some friends he made down in Louisiana. He went south for the Texas A&M game, and a few LSU fans who had seen and admired Brand’s LSU-centric decor served as tailgating tour guides, upgraded his hotel room and bestowed him with this customized memento.

Gigi’s is a five-minute drive from Burrow’s childhood home, a two-story colonial with an LSU flag hanging on its front door, tucked away on a winding road. Inside, there’s not all that much evidence that a Heisman-winning quarterback once lived here, not downstairs, anyway. Joe’s LSU jersey is draped over a dining chair; a tea towel hangs in the kitchen, showing a map of the United States with a heart over the state of Ohio, another over Louisiana and the caption “It’s really not that far …” (The shrine — yes, of course, there’s one — resides in the basement.) Jimmy sits down among these tokens and tries to explain what has happened to his son. What his son has made happen.

“Just to think that …” he starts, then cuts himself off. “There’s this one picture.”

He pulls up his phone, then swipes until he finds the shot he’s after, the one someone snapped of Joe and Jimmy on the field during the pregame senior presentation before the Texas A&M game. Joe’s got that half-smile, his eyes trained on the camera. Jimmy can’t seem to take his eyes off Joe. He’s beaming at his son.

Everyone back home is a little lovesick, really: the Burrows’ neighbors, the dozen who have planted LSU flags in their front yards; the especially zealous neighbor who made what looks to be a 6-foot banner — it’s so big the metal fencing over which it’s draped is buckling under the weight; the locals who flocked to Little Professor Book Center. The shop, in nearby Athens, had to release an apology on Facebook: “Bad news folks, our magazine distributor contacted us today and let us know they are not able to provide us with extra copies of the Joe Burrow Sports Illustrated.”

“People were rushing to the stores. ‘Oh, Piggly Wiggly has 20 copies! Oh, that was 30 minutes ago. I know I’m too late.’ It was pandemonium, people wanting this Sports Illustrated,” Brand says.

There’s a bizarre, unlikely marriage between Ohioans and Louisianans these days, even as the specter of a possible Ohio State-LSU national championship matchup looms. They’re infatuated with the same man.

Back in Baton Rouge, Patrick Wilkerson, the owner of the boutique LSU clothing shop Bengals & Bandits, fields, oh, 30 calls a week from LSU fans asking if his store carries any Burrow-branded gear, which of course it does not, in compliance with NCAA restrictions. Wilkerson’s theory is that it’s Burrow’s very otherness that works in his favor.

“I don’t know that if he was from here if he would have been embraced as much,” he says.

Burrow didn’t just come to LSU, is what he’s saying. He adopted the whole darn state.

So he does things like commission a Burreaux jersey one day, going full Cajun, and becomes a literal billboard for Louisiana appreciation. Really. The billboards went up the Tuesday after he wore the jersey. And he thanks an entire state for allowing him to become a native.

“Isn’t that cool?” Orgeron says, the gravel in his voice turning to boulders he gets so choked up. “Isn’t that something?”

“Oh, he knows how to capture them,” Orgeron says.

JOE BURROW NEVER got the chance to capture Billy Cannon.

Burrow chose Louisiana two days before Cannon died on May 20, 2018, but his daughter, Bunnie, suspects he knew. She hopes he did. She would like to think he at least heard the name of the man who will now always be tied to him. Cannon won the Heisman 60 years ago, the only player from LSU to win it — until Saturday night.

Bunnie wears a silver charm on her necklace with the imprint of Billy’s fingerprint. He used to point that finger at her when she landed in trouble, and now it’s her reminder to behave. Bunnie always looks for him, keeps an eye out for his No. 20, and found one when she arrived in New York on Friday. Her cab pulled to a stop in front of a building, No. 20 of some street she can’t remember now, but its address big and bold, even from her seat in the taxi.

“It’s so obvious everywhere I go,” she says.

Billy Cannon’s here, in New York too.

Bunnie and her mother, Dot, wrote a letter to Burrow because they wanted him to know that. He read it on the way to Manhattan. The private plane that shuttled Burrow and his family from Atlanta, for one set of awards, to New York, for more, sat only one person per row, so he read the letter by himself. Loneliness is a part of this story too. Burrow passed the letter to his mother, who sat across from him. She gave it to Jimmy, who sat behind him. Before Jimmy knew whom the letter was from or what it said, he looked at his son’s face and his wife’s face and understood it was one more thing they’d want to hold on to after all this is done.

Dot Cannon told Burrow that he reminded her of Billy in all sorts of ways. Dot goes to every home game, arriving two hours before kickoff to sit in the seat her husband used to occupy, and she watches. Burrow’s strength and character make her think of Billy.

“And his little crooked smile,” Bunnie says.

Billy Cannon never wanted to be this team’s only Heisman winner. He won the award, then spent the rest of his 80 years waiting for someone to join him, would wonder with Bunnie at the start of every football season whether this was the year someone might. He was ready for someone new to take over.

She put these thoughts to paper, telling Burrow to take his friends and family with him on this journey. There were also some things she didn’t say but she wants him to know. He’ll always have to be on now. The luxury of his anonymity is gone. Whether Billy showed up to a pizza joint or a white-tablecloth restaurant, an airport in California or an airport in Montana, when he entered a room, people swarmed. He was always being watched, always seen.

“Everybody’s going to want something from him,” Bunnie says. “This is the pinnacle of every kid’s dream, but there’s a price to pay for it.”

At 10:22 on Saturday night, a Heisman winner for less than two hours, Burrow walks into a dimly lit room and people swarm. He’s come to the back of a rooftop bar of the Knickerbocker Hotel, a view of Times Square and the billboard that already coronates him visible below. His parents are here, his high school coaches. Orgeron arrives about 30 minutes after Burrow; Joe Brady does too. Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, is at the meat-carving station toward the back, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards stops in also. “That’s one of the richest men in Louisiana,” one partygoer says, nodding to another man in another dark suit. “Shale oil.”

All these people, who know Burrow or just want to, toast his success and their proximity to it, with champagne in flute glasses and beer in disposable cups with Burrow’s number in purple.

Burrow comes in, and this roomful of people stops. They’ve been waiting. They break into applause while juggling their phones, lifting them up like torches to get a picture of the man at the center of this bedlam. He snakes his way through, shaking hands and stopping for photos, and the 50-foot journey from one end of the room to the other takes him nearly half an hour. He eventually sits, parking himself on a U-shaped sofa in the corner of the room. He looks happy and spent, like the emotion of his speech — he took 30 seconds to gather himself before starting; he took 13 more before he was able to thank Coach Orgeron — tapped him dry. It is hard to be a 23-year-old head of state.

He’ll stay here, mostly sequestered, for the better part of two hours, sipping at champagne, his girlfriend to his right and his mother to his left and a wall of people that inches inward.

There are distractions. When Orgeron walks in, he’s met with an ovation too. Someone in a suit brings in Burrow’s Heisman Trophy, his name and the school’s name now engraved in gold plating, and for a while, that’s a shiny toy for the crowd to focus its energy on. But they return, always, to Burrow, a moon controlling the tide. When he stands up to greet another well-wisher, the room actually feels as if it tilts sideways as the masses creep closer, taking more photos. When he briefly leaves the room, standing in the hallway just behind it, the crowd gravitates there too.

After about two hours, Burrow starts the slow process of leaving. He shakes more hands and takes more photos, until a handler steps in to carve a path forward.

“Excuse us, excuse us.”

The handler leads the way, Robin following the trail he leaves open. She holds out her hand behind her and her son grabs it, making his way out of the room and these strange times.

See https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/28285303/heisman-trophy-winner-joe-burrow-electrifies-lsu-all-college-football (“Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow electrifies LSU — and all of college football“) (emphasis in original)

Lots of us began playing football and other sports when we were kids. I grew up a mile west of the UCLA campus in Westwood, a suburb of Los Angeles; and we played in the street after school. I was the quarterback, and I loved it.

In the summer between my sixth and seventh grades, I was playing baseball in the same street, and I went after a ball and slipped on some pebbles and broke my right wrist, which was my throwing arm. The wrist was in two separate casts for nine months, because the bones shifted, and the wrist had to be reset with a pin placed in it.

After it healed, my throwing accuracy was never the same. Our high school coach let me try out for quarterback, but my accuracy was off; and with almost 4,000 students in the school, he had lots of talent to choose from.

When talent like Joe Burrow comes along, it sets much of the football world aglow. I started following Coach O when he was coaching for my alma mater UCLA’s cross-town rival USC. They let him go; he went back to Louisiana, and LSU; and the rest is history.

Yes, talent like Joe Cool can be torn apart by the fame; and LSU might not win its last two games, including the national championship. But the ride so far has been nothing short of amazing. Football fans across this great nation have become fans of a Cajun Coach O, a QB from Ohio, LSU and the State of Louisiana.

As Coach O would say: Go Tigers! 🙂

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29 12 2019
Timothy D. Naegele

Coach O, Joe Cool And The LSU Tigers Crush Oklahoma [UPDATED]

One more game to go: the national championship against Clemson on January 13, 2020.

Go Tigers! 🙂

See also
https://media.wwltv.com/embeds/mobile/video/289-c3993288-18a1-4529-8805-6b8543ee51b3/amp#amp=1?jwsource=cl (Post-game press conference) and https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7834625/LSU-quarterback-Joe-Burrow-learns-death-Carley-McCord-LIVE-television-interview.html (“LSU quarterback Joe Burrow learns of the death of Carley McCord during LIVE television interview“) and https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/12/26/ed-orgeron-voice-lsu-football/ (“You can learn a lot about Ed Orgeron just from the sound of his voice”—”Listen meticulously to the lionized voice of Ed Orgeron, and you might think you hear the gators sloshing, the mosquitoes buzzing, the oil-rig helicopters chuffing. You might picture the muskrats out swimming just before dawn, the Spanish moss hanging, the crawfish puffing through their gills, the shrimp trawlers’ outriggers above the bayou. You might even detect the French and the Southern in their singular dance. You might feel a certain, for lack of a better word, gumbo. The voice of the beloved LSU football coach embodies the region from which he hails, a tightknit part of the country not much of the country ever visits, a region that bloats southward from New Orleans, even if most visitors to New Orleans don’t drive down to see it because most visitors to New Orleans shouldn’t drive anywhere. It’s marshland and bayous and towns and census-designated places with names such as Cut Off, Golden Meadow and Larose (Orgeron’s hometown), settled largely by Acadians whom the British expelled from eastern Canada and northern Maine in the mid-1700s, and who ricocheted from France and resettled. . . . ‘He is just the embodiment of what ‘Down The Bayou’ means,” said Ian McNulty, the food writer for the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, and the author of a book, ‘Louisiana Rambles: Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland.’ ‘Down The Bayou’ is not a place. It’s not a sense of direction. It’s not something to which you give people driving directions. It’s sense of place and a sense of bearing. . . . Somebody’s character is ‘Down The Bayou.’ It means deeply rooted, way out there, deep in Louisiana. It’s not a vector point. It’s a mind-set. It’s a framework for identity. ‘Down The Bayou’ is who somebody is, or what something is. . . . ‘In that voice you can hear a defiance against the wind. You can hear a voice that shouts against the wind, that’s going to do things his way. It’s a big voice, but it’s not a scary voice. Firm, but it’s not harsh. It’s weathered. Callused, but not without tenderness. You know he could lift up a 55-gallon oil drum on the derrick if he had to. He also could brush back a newborn baby’s hair.’ . . . It sprouts from a region meshing Europe, the American South, the Caribbean, the one-time ownership by Spain (1763-1801), the blend, all with trucks going by oil-tool parts on their flatbeds and people with both names and nicknames. Orgeron’s parents, Cornelia and the late Edward, go and went by ‘Co Co’ and ‘Ba Ba.’ For Orgeron himself, it’s ‘Bébé.’ . . . It’s a voice that made former Tigers defensive end Michael Robichaux, a Raceland ear, nose and throat physician, dispense a legend-worthy line to Associated Press sportswriter Brett Martel in 2017: ‘LSU finally has a coach without an accent.’ And it’s a voice of which said Michele Theriot, associate professor of English at Nicholls State, ‘If good Louisiana gumbo could talk, it would sound exactly like Coach O’”)

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