Success has never been foreign to LSU football. Championships, draft picks, and All-Americans are abundant. The one element that had been lacking, not just the past decade but the past sixty years was a Heisman.
Until Joe Burrow.
One of the hallmarks of the 2019 football season was that you knew the team would kick your ass, and there was nothing that could be done. Knowing the outcome did not make the result any less special. Quite the opposite in fact.
Burrow’s ascension to the Heisman wasn’t subtle. He was the presumptive favorite even before the Alabama game, beating the Tide and winning the SEC locked it up. His massive margin of victory was just another form of domination Burrow and the rest of the team had all season long.
It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a relief that was a long time coming.
The season looked promising as early as Georgia Southern. To the untrained, this seems like an eye roll moment, but it was easy to see that not only was the whole playbook being used, it was run with flawless execution. This wasn’t an offense that needed to be sneaky, it called its shot and dared you to stop it.
Then came Texas. It is one thing to have a finely tuned machine capable of crushing any of its foes, it’s another to maximize its output in the most important times. That’s Joe. 3rd and 17 happened. It was a magical moment, where the full magnitude might not have been completely clear. Even the most optimistic would be hard pressed to say they knew definitively it was the birth of a legendary campaign.
Burrow would blitz through the next three games including a pair of back-to-back 60 point performances.
The next stretch turned the Tigers from unstoppable to inevitable. It began with Florida who persisted for a half, and then got squashed, with LSU averaging close to a point per play in the win. Next, a pesky Mississippi State team that kept LSU out of the endzone for almost 20 minutes until the Tigers ripped off 27 unanswered and Burrow set the single season TD record. It was week seven. Finally, Auburn at home. Keven Steele did all he could but still couldn’t stop a 368 total yard performance from Burrow.
Alas Alabama arrived. It was the Heisman game. When the LSU machine had arrived at Bama in the past, the machine shutdown. Understandably. With Burrow, the machine would play at its highest level. Need an example? Pick one. Dime to Chase in the first quarter, back shoulder TD fade to Chase, the wheel route TD pass to CEH, the amazing pass to CEH on 3rd and ten, the two 4th quarter runs, the draw fake pass to Chase, and of course the kneel down.
The final three games were just sitting on cloud nine. You could even throw Georgia in that mix. The Dogs held LSU to “just” 37 points while Burrow casually put up 349 yards passing and four touchdowns.
So one Saturday later, with all eyes turned to the Heisman ceremony, you knew it was an eventuality.
And still, that speech. Man, that speech.
It wasn’t so much an acceptance speech as it was a thank you speech.
You’d never hear an argument that the Heisman is a team award. But it is a program award. For all the play’s Burrow made during the season, it’d be impossible to overlook the, at the time, smaller moves prior to 2019 that set up such an incredible season. Hiring Bill Busch and Joe Brady, holding a scholarship spot for Justin Jefferson, and even being able to secure some last minute crawfish. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a program, a culture, a community to raise a Heisman. Burrow’s Heisman proved LSU could take an elite player and raise them to the highest benchmark.
His speech was a thank you to his offensive line, his receivers, to past winners and his past coaches at Ohio State, to the people of Louisiana, and the culture of the program.
Most of all, it was a thank you to Orgeron. When they met for the first time they were fiery competitive souls with serious doubters. The coach, who was perpetually tied to a debacle at one job and was viewed as unqualified for the job he held. The quarterback, an accomplished field general who was unused in his last destination, looking for another chance to apply his skill and leadership. At first it seemed an odd combination, but in practice, its results were undeniable.
The magic would hit its summit over the following month. Burrow would thrash the Sooners in the semi-finals. An early 17-7 deficit against Clemson in the national championship game would quickly be forgotten in the 42-25 victory, crowning the Tigers national champions of the 2019 season.
He dominated Death Valley and he stood atop the college football mountain. He broke the records and redefined a position. He was the best player on his team and in his game. He is a legend, a champion, and a Heisman. Joe Burrow will forever be LSU.