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'It Seemed Like Every Single Person Had A Burrow Jersey'

The Athens contingent had seen it all before.
The Athens contingent had seen it all before.

The Luehrman twins, Adam and Ryan, who were Joe Burrow's best friends and favorite receivers growing up in Athens, Ohio, as well as lifelong Bengals fans, could have worn anything to their first game watching their buddy easing in as the franchise quarterback of their franchise Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

They've got everything from a No. 85 Chad Johnson to a No. 85 Tyler Eifert.

Ryan, who owns A.J. Green's color rush No. 18, almost wore the Eifert jersey, "because he's with the Jaguars. I miss having him and he's a good dude."

Adam, who has a throwback Boomer Esiason jersey, also has a Carson Palmer No. 9. But if they weren't going to wear Joe's No. 9, how could they wear that one? And how could you wear your friends' jersey without getting abused?

So Adam settled on a Bengals sweat shirt and Ryan went with a Bengals quarter-zip. They both had Bengals hats. On the drive back to Athens they ended up talking jerseys.

"It was surreal to see all the Burrow jerseys" Adam said Monday, the day after Burrow's first NFL win. "I didn't expect there to be that many. It seemed like every single person had a Burrow jersey, which was really cool."

Two of them were Jim and Robin Burrow, Joe's parents. "We joined right in," said Jimmy Burrow, a football coaching lifer who can go to games anywhere any time now that he's retired as Ohio University's long-time defensive coordinator.

Coach Burrow, whose brief NFL career ended in Riverfront Stadium 44 years ago, saw his son walk off another turf field Sunday in downtown Cincinnati knowing he'd be back again with his first NFL win under his belt.

That's the image Joe Burrow's dad drove home to Athens with from the 33-25 victory over the Jaguars. Joe, the last guy on the field after he took a knee. Running into the locker room. The fans cheering for him.

"When you see that and then I watched it again on a video today," Coach Jimmy Burrow said Monday, "you can just know he was excited about the day and any thing I'm reading today makes me even more proud that he's playing with Cincinnati, close to home and they got that first win."

How close?

"Not a bad drive at all," says Ryan Luehrman of the 150 miles as straight down Route 32 as Joe Burrow's 23-yard pass over the middle to tight end Drew Sample that started all of Sunday's 505-yard fun.

"We haven't had a game like that for a long time," says Luehrman, who was also a fan of Peter Warrick, the Bengals' first draft pick of the century. "We had three hundred yards passing and a running back with three touchdowns. That's nice."

They knew that Burrow became the first rookie quarterback to throw for 300 yards in three straight games. But only the second Bengal of any stripe. Andy Dalton did it twice.

"I didn't know that," Adam said. "It's the first time I've seen him play in person since high school. Still the same fun guy to watch."

How close to home? They used to get back from some of his OU games in the dead of night. Robin, who would try to squeeze out every minute with Joe when she went to LSU games, sometimes wouldn't get back from Baton Rouge until 1 in the morning. On Sunday they were pulling back into Athens about 9:30 p.m.

This one was more than a little different, of course. The Burrow contingent was part of just 6,000 or so fans. Not as many as the 10,000 that would jam the field now known as Joe Burrow Stadium that he and the Luehrmans and Trae Williams and the rest of the Bulldogs would light up on Friday nights in Athens.

But just small enough that Jimmy and Robin happened to put their car in the same parking garage the Luehrmans put theirs Sunday and they bumped into them.

"I guess you'd call it irony. We had met them for a little bit before the game before we went to our seats," Jim Burrow said.

The twins were with their mother and sister Ashley. Adam and Ryan had to get back with OU football beginning to gear up again for games. Because of pandemic protocol, Jimmy and Robin couldn't do what they did when Joe was in high school and talk to him after a road game before he got on the bus or what they did in Baton Rouge when they lingered outside the locker room.

Instead, they met him back at his house on the eastern edge of Cincinnati and spent an hour-and-a-half catching up before Robin had to get going. The principal of Eastern Elementary School in Meigs County, she's got a 35-minute drive to school in the morning.

"She wants to be there when the buses get there," Jimmy Burrow said.

Because of the win, the talk was easy.

"He's so competitive," Coach Burrow said. "We kind of base our conversation on whether his team wins or not. It was nice to see him with a smile. He was happy for everybody. He was really proud of the offensive line."

Ryan Luehrman couldn't remember orange and black fireworks like this. "I was too young to know what Carson Palmer and those guys were doing. " These were just some of the things the season-ticket holders were talking about on the ride back:

"Those crossing routes he hit to Tee Higgins," Ryan Luehrman said. "Tyler Boyd is getting eight to 10 catches a game, which is good to see. He knows when to run and stay in the pocket. He's still got that pocket presence. I liked it when they went with five wides. That's really good when they spread out the defense and let him read it. It looks like he's been playing for five years."

Coach Burrow has seen some of the same elements that have made the jump with Joe Burrow from high school to the college. On Sunday, he saw it again.

"The things that have helped his teams win games," Jim Burrow said.

He saw it with 5:24 left in the game and the Bengals holding an eight-point lead and badly needing a clock draining drive. On second-and-five, Burrow avoided a blitz and just kept running for 11 yards on a scramble that was the beginning of the end.

"Blitz off the edge. Come free," the coach said. "He's got his back to the guy. He senses it or saw it before the snap. A 360 down the left sideline for a critical first down.

"He's done that at all levels. Those are plays in his mind he's got to make. Escaping pressure has always been a strength," Jim Burrow said. "I've seen that before."

His Packers lost their third straight game of the year to the Bengals on Sept. 26, 1976. Burrow, a rookie safety, was cut the next week. Joe got the family that elusive first NFL victory and it made for a nice, short ride home.

"As long as you can avoid the deer," Coach Burrow, "you're in good shape."