It was quite a special few days for Louisiana residents.
Even if you’re not a die-hard sports fan, heck even if you aren’t a sports fan at all, there’s a difficulty in trying to reject the current quarterback for Louisiana State University, and his counterpart 60 miles away in New Orleans.
Yes, both wear No. 9 and both have found their way into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Louisianans – speaking of none other than Joe Burrow at LSU, and Drew Brees with the Saints.
Burrow, on Saturday, claimed the first Heisman by an LSU player since Billy Cannon in 1969. Brees, on his way to solidifying his place as one of the best quarterbacks to play the game, passed Peyton Manning’s touchdown record.
Brees now holds all the passing records for the NFL – yards, accuracy, and touchdowns. Burrow, on the other hand, cleaned house along with his fellow Tigers in the awards loop before returning to Baton Rouge for practice Monday.
But these guys just keep getting better. Both will tell you that while the awards and accolades feel great, it’s the winning that means the most. Both they and their teammates will stop at nothing for the next National Championship, or the next Super Bowl.
And that’s part of what makes both of these men so special. They understand the stage upon which they play on Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes Monday) night, and want to take their play to new heights. Burrow is always seen outside of his masters courses buried in a play book, while film was released on Sunday afternoon showing Brees as the only one left in the practice facility, mocking plays and calling defenses all by himself.
Leadership is not the only trait, however, that makes the two B’s so charismatic. No, it’s deeper than that – it’s a root in a bayou cypress that took hold in muddy water.
For most, when a Louisiana native goes somewhere else they are taken in as the ‘Crazy Cajun’ person – even if they aren’t Cajun at all. It’s just a name that sticks and a moniker that’s so easily filled by a crazy lifestyle that seems inherent in the blood of anyone from the Bayou State.
Rarely does it happen the other way, though. Especially in football, where Louisiana often feels as if it’s on the wrong end of a bad joke, it’s almost a nation-wide trend to give fans of the LSU Tigers or New Orleans Saints plenty of ribbing after a bad call.
It’s almost expected, and it’s taken as a badge of honor.
Joe Burrow and Drew Brees looked passed all that. In the 2000s, after a massive hurricane in Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Brees doubled-down with recently hired Saints coach Sean Payton. Brees bought a home in Mandeville, began donating and working local charities, opening businesses in the area, and participating in any way he could.
He became an icon of the Big Easy and, not too long after, led the expansion team to it’s first ever Super Bowl and solidified his place with the Manning family as New Orleans royalty.
Burrow did much the same. After taking a huge risk in transferring from a well-known, offensive program to an also well-known, but very stubbornly defensive program the kid from Ohio didn’t know what to expect. The first year was difficult, to say the least, culminating in a seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M in which Burrow nearly collapsed after the game. Just a few weeks later, LSU would take on the University of Central Florida in Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Down 14-3, Burrow got was hit, blindside, and taunted.
At the time, he had a meager 12 passing touchdowns and five interceptions.
After that hit, and the subsequent hiring of Joe Brady (from the Saints no less) Burrow went on to toss 52 touchdowns to six interceptions.
With that transformation, the subsequent awards, and (hopefully) a national championship Burrow has cemented himself among the LSU greats.
But it’s the way that he did it which leaves him as a great in the minds of Louisianans, football fans or not. He came down, ate 15 pounds of crawfish with Coach Ed Orgeron (who forced the restaurant, that didn’t serve crawfish, to go get some), and bought into a program in a state full of crazy people.
And he became one of those crazy people.
On his senior night, with the whole Louisiana football nation watching, he donned the ‘Burreaux’ jersey, and forever became an adopted son of the Bayou State.
Louisiana has been blessed with two men who not only excel in football, but have taken their service to the community and the state to give it their all on the gridiron.
And we, as a state in turn, have been lucky to have them.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.