Burrow's Heisman Trophy is 'for LSU, Ohio State, southeast Ohio, and all of Louisiana'

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE — LSU's first Heisman Trophy won by halfback Billy "Atomic" Cannon happened so long ago — 60 years ago this Dec. 9 — it was almost like it didn't really happen.

Viewing olden times, black-and-white, newsreel footage of the event with then-vice president Richard M. Nixon giving Cannon the award in the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City makes you feel as if you're watching a Hollywood movie as opposed to real, reel life.

In fact, the 1988 movie set at LSU and loosely based on the Frank Deford novel of the same name, "Everybody's All-American," plays out somewhat like the fairy-tale, but flawed, ultimately victorious life of Cannon. And it actually opens with strikingly similar newsreel footage of a 1956 star Louisiana halfback named Gavin Grey as played by Dennis Quaid.

They filmed parts of the movie in Tiger Stadium in 1987 during games with fans dressed in suits and hats, which was game night attire at the time. Quaid with the same classic crew cut Cannon wore was standing right there on the sidelines next to reporters as Alabama beat LSU, 22-10. This all just added to the mythology that ran alongside Cannon's story book Halloween Night Run to the Heisman in 1959 for six decades and five days.

LSU won the Sugar Bowl, albeit played in Tiger Stadium, for the national championship in the movie with Grey scoring the winning touchdown against Georgia as time ran out.

The Hollywood-like tale of LSU and the Heisman was updated in color and embellished with truth Saturday night on ESPN at the PlayStation Theater in Manhattan.

Quarterback Joe Burrow, whose family is from Mississippi, as was Cannon's, won the award as college football's greatest player after he led the Tigers to a story book, 46-41 victory at Alabama on Nov. 9 and to the SEC championship last week with a 37-10 win over Georgia. This one is new and true and even more fairy tale like as Burrow was not even seen listed as top 10 Heisman candidate last summer with 200-to-1 odds to win it.

Heisman Moments: Burrow sealed the award at Alabama

Cannon's college career was storybook with a national championship in 1958, but without a happy ending, as LSU had only one more game to play after he won the '59 Heisman. The Tigers, 9-1 at the time and No. 3 in the nation, lost unceremoniously, 21-0, to No. 2 Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1960, in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans at a time when final polls came out before bowls.

Burrow still has one or two games left in the college football playoffs — something that did not exist until only 2014. He will lead the No. 1 Tigers (13-0) against No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) and Heisman runner-up quarterback Jalen Hurts on Dec. 28 in Atlanta in one semifinal at 3 p.m. on ESPN.  The winner will advance to the Superdome in New Orleans for a Jan. 13 national championship game against the winner of No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) and No. 3 Clemson (13-0), which play at 7 p.m. Dec. 28 on ESPN.

Burrow won the award with fantasy-like, "atomic" numbers during the season and in the voting.

No Heisman Hype Needed: Burrow did it on the field

He brought in the highest completion percentage in NCAA history at 77.9 on 342-of-439 passing for a SEC record 4,715 yards and a SEC record 48 touchdowns.

He left with the highest vote margin in Heisman history at 1,846 points, beating the previous mark of USC tailback O.J. Simpson, who won in 1968 by 1,750 points. His 90.7 percent of the first place votes beat the record of 86.7 percent held by Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith since 2006.

"Love you so," his mom, Robin Burrow, said with a kiss on his way to the podium.

"You're the man," his dad, Jimmy Burrow, said as he hugged him..

"Proud of you," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said with another hug.

Burrow went on to greet Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Senate President John Alario, LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, pass game coordinator Joe Brady, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and others.

Then Burrow delivered one of the very best acceptance speeches in the 85-year history of the award and its most emotional since Penn State running back John Cappelletti's tearful tribute in 1973 to his dying, 10-year-old brother Joey, who died three years later of leukemia.

"Whew," Burrow said at the podium. "First thing I want to say is," and he had to stop.

Twelve seconds went by as Burrow got choked up and applause broke out. Eight more second went by as he tried to compose himself.

"I want to thank my offensive line first," he said. But he still couldn't go on and knocked on the podium.

Then he giggled and put fingers to his crying eyes before listing those linemen — left tackle Saahdiq Charles, left guards Adrian Magee and Ed Ingram, center Lloyd Cushenberry, right guard Damien Lewis and right tackles Austin Deculus and Badara Traore. He went on to mention tight end Thaddeus Moss, wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Justin Jefferson.

"All my teammates have supported me, welcomed me with open arms — a kid from Ohio coming down to the bayou and welcoming me as brothers," he said.

NCAA college football player, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, right, and head coach Ed Orgeron pose for a photo after Burrow wins the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason Szenes)

"It's an honor to stand on the same stage as all of you guys," Burrow said while turning to the row of previous Heisman recipients with Notre Dame's Paul Hornung (1956), USC's Mike Garrett (1965) and Florida's Steve Spurrier (1966) seated closest to him.

Nebraska receiver/back Johnny Rodgers, who won the award in 1972 and played with Jimmy Burrow at Nebraska, was also close by along with USC tailback Marcus Allen (1981) and Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie (1984). 

"It's just an honor to be on the same stage and eat dinner with you guys. It's been so awesome, and you've all been so kind to me," he said. "My parents. My dad — first time in 51 years that he wasn't a player or coach. Him retiring this year (to watch all his son's games in person) has been a dream come true for me and my family. My brothers in the audience (former Nebraska players Jamie and Dan).

Game Changer: Joe Burrow transfers to LSU

"I'm just so thankful for LSU and Ohio State (where Burrow was at from 2015 through the spring of 2018 before transferring to LSU). Playing at two of the best programs in the country, great coaches at both places. My journey, I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world."

Burrow acknowledged the other Heisman finalists seated — Hurts, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young in third and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in fourth. Like Burrow, Hurts and Fields are transfers.

"I tried to leave a legacy of hard work and dedication and preparation and loyalty wherever I go," Burrow said. "I'm surrounded by such great people that make that so easy."

Then Burrow, a native of The Plains, Ohio, in Athens County, took his speech to a unique place — reaching out to those less fortunate.

Burrow Family Tree: It's deep in Mississippi roots

"Coming from southeast Ohio, it's a very impoverished area," he said. "There are so many people that don't have a lot. And I'm up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. And you guys can be up here, too."

After another round of applause, Burrow addressed the residents of another state with some of the most impoverished areas as well.

"I'd like to thank Louisiana, the entire state," he said to more applause. "Like I said earlier — just a kid from Ohio coming down, chasing a dream. And the entire state has welcomed me and my family with open arms and invited us to be native Louisianians. I've learned to love crawfish and gumbo."

Also a true story.

"He's a full Louisiana guy now," LSU defensive end and Monroe native Rashard Lawrence said after Burrow donned a jersey with "Burreaux" on the back for Senior Night against Texas A&M on Nov. 30. "Oh yeah, man, he's always in the cafeteria eating gumbo and turkey legs and everything. I don't know if we've got him sucking the heads on crawfish yet, but we're working on it."

Burrow knows what follows football season here.

"During crawfish season, Coach O makes sure we have pounds and pounds and pounds of crawfish," Burrow said. Then he teared up again, starting tapping the podium.

"Take your time," someone from the audience shouted as Burrow gathered himself once more.

The Orgeron Story: Having fun with Coach O on the Bayou 

"You have no idea what you mean to my family," he said to Orgeron with his voice shaking and his nose sniffling. "You know, I didn't play for three years. You took a chance on me, not knowing if I could play or not."

Burrow paused and took a weary, teary breath.

"I'm forever in your," he whimpered and stopped again. "I'm forever grateful for you. Can you imagine a guy like Coach O giving me the keys to his football program? He just means so much to me and my family and to LSU. I sure hope they give him a lifetime contract because he deserves it."

Bonus Baby: Orgeron collects a $1.7 million pot

Robin and Jimmy Burrow laughed, and Robin kissed the hand of Orgeron's wife Kelly.

"So, thank you to everyone," Burrow said. "So when I lift this trophy again, it's for LSU, Ohio State, southeast Ohio, and all of Louisiana. Thank you."

Roll credits. 

The End.

For now.