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Believe It Or Not, March Madness On The Dot: Joe Burrow's Grandmother Joins Bengals Great Takeo Spikes In High School Hall


Joe Burrow, the Bengals' point guard of a quarterback with a shooter's lineage and a scorer's legacy, is enjoying a slice of his own March Madness this trip.

Word filtered out of Boston earlier this month that his grandmother is to be inducted this summer into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame. It turns out Dot Burrow was as smooth as her grandson Seamless Joe in the winter of 1949-50 in Mississippi's Hill County that rolls into the Tennessee border.

She was Dot Ford then, a feathery 5-10 averaging 50 points per game for Smithville High School when you rounded it up.

"Dot believe-it-or-not pitched in a nifty 82 points," reported a Jackson paper of Smithville's 88-39 win at Caledonia.

A few nights before, her future husband, starting Mississippi State point guard James Burrow, took a bunch of his teammates to her game near Starkville in Hamilton when they didn't believe his girlfriend was scoring 50 a game.

"She scored only 72 that night," says Jimmy Burrow, their son. "They were impressed."

It took a tornado to dig up Dot Ford Burrow's accomplishments more than 70 years later. After last spring's twister caused extensive damage to Dot and James' Amory, Miss., home, a wayward sportswriter looking for the high school baseball field instead was introduced to Jimmy Burrow cleaning up the yard of his shaken but safe parents. The men knew of each other and after they talked a bit, Jimmy Burrow said to Mississippi Today's Rick Cleveland, "You probably don't know about my momma."

Cleveland, the state's gifted doctor of letters and letter jackets, made sure he told the rest of the world what Jimmy had read in the family scrapbooks after he confirmed the startling numbers in the archives of

"We were kind of a basketball family first and evolved into a football family. It's probably one of the reasons Joe loved basketball so much," says Jimmy Burrow, the future college football coach who played in the Mississippi high school basketball all-star game and not in the gridiron classic.

"There was a point there in seventh, eighth, ninth grade where he was a good enough player we thought that maybe that was his future in college."

Lightning followed the twister. Dot Ford Burrow not only went into the National Hall of Fame, her four-member class includes one of her grandson's all-time ancestors in Bengals annals and fellow first-rounder.

Former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes is honored during the Bengals Legends Halftime Ceremony during an NFL football game against the Houston Texans on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Cincinnati. (NFL Photos via AP)

Takeo Spikes, the prolific, passionate linebacker who began his NFL career out of Auburn in the late '90s in Cincinnati the year after Boomer Esiason retired and played a game against the Andy Dalton Bengals in his last season in 2012 with the Chargers, also got the call for induction.

So did MLB's Joe Mauer and football's Tyrone Wheatley.

Before Spikes had more than 100 tackles in more than half his 15 NFL seasons and was a captain for four of his five teams, he caught 22 touchdown passes and had 240 tackles during his four-year career as a tight end-defensive end at Washington County High School in Sandersville, Ga., capped off by a 15-0 season.

"You know how we're in the locker room and we talk smack to each other?" Spikes says. "We always say everybody who made it to the league, a good percentage played on a state championship team. Everybody in the NFL was great in high school, right? But not everybody is in the high school hall of fame. A huge blessing."

Hall of Fames have become the norm for Spikes, who just turned 47, looks 27, and travels like he's 17. This week it's the Caribbean.  Home is Atlanta, as well as the sports hall of fames in Georgia and Alabama. A nomination for the College Football of Hall of Fame may loom. And if Zach Thomas is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shouldn't Spikes also be in Canton?

"I'm going to read up on him before I meet him in Boston," Jimmy Burrow says.

Start here. Spikes is an old-school linebacker who was still getting paid in the modern game. He played his first 79 of 219 games with the Bengals, his most with any team. Post-career, he visited the greatest linebackers alive and turned it into a terrific book, Behind The Mask.  He's an analyst for ESPN and the SEC. A podcaster. And he's a big Joe Burrow fan.

"I'm looking at Joe Burrow like he's a peer. Not that I could play a whole game. But I could go out and make a few plays," Spikes says. "When I heard his grandmother was going in, I was like, 'Damn, is time really passing me by like that?'  And his grandma is still alive? That's awesome. I want to take a picture with her and send it to Joe Burrow."

He may not have to.

Dot and James are in their early 90s and the hope is they all can make it to Boston for the July 1 press conference and induction. James told Cleveland that "Joey," has told his grandparents he'd send a jet so they could go watch the Bengals, but they've opted to stay at home instead of deal with a cavernous stadium.

Jimmy Burrow says his mother's mobility isn't the greatest, but they'll see how she's doing. If Jimmy's folks can make it, the plan is for the entire family to go.

Jimmy and wife Robin. Joe. His brothers Jamie and Dan, who followed Jimmy to Nebraska football as rugged Cornhuskers defenders. Uncle John Burrow, once a starting safety at Ole Miss. Aunt Jeannie.

"Long before Joe," says Rick Cleveland, "the Burrows were royalty in the Hill Country. There were a lot of LSU flags where Ole Miss and State fans were pulling for Joe because he's a Burrow."

Spikes is pulling for Burrow because, well, he's Burrow and a Bengal.

"Never met him. Love him. Absolutely love him," Spikes says. "I'm going to tell his dad I'm mad at him. If he'd had Joe a little earlier, I'd still be in Cincinnati.

"He's so special in the pocket. Kids who have deep backgrounds in sports or playing different positions, they start to understand things conceptually. When I see his game, it's not an accident. What I see is his ability to diagnose, he understands where to go with the ball pre-snap. More importantly, it's his ability to accurately get the ball to the guys he trusts that make him stand out more than anything."

A coach's kid. But then, Jimmy Burrow is a coach's kid.

Cleveland describes James Burrows as a ball-handler averaging about 10 points per game for those Mississippi State teams of the early '50s that were good enough to be in the upper half of the SEC but still chasing Kentucky. Even when he became a high school basketball coach and later a school administrator in Amory, James never played H-O-R-S-E against his wife.

"No way I'd mess with her," he told Cleveland.

Her kids did. Jimmy remembers her winning her share, a good athlete with a good eye. The Jackson paper wrote opposing teams would put two guards on "Miss Ford," while her teammates gave her high passes that she would convert with a two-hander or a hook shot.

"One time I came into my house after scoring 45 points feeling pretty good about myself," Jimmy Burrow says. "On top of the world. And she said I only needed 37 more to catch up with her.

"They struggled with her down low. I assume most of her points were down low, but she was a good athlete. She could shoot."

Jimmy almost followed Joe's football timeline. After Jimmy broke his arm his senior year in high school, the colleges were no longer looking at him for basketball and football was tough, too.

He tried walking on at Ole Miss and Mississippi State for football and was denied at both before his old high school coach, then a Nebraska assistant, said Jimmy Burrow could play in Lincoln.

And he sure did. With the No. 8 Huskers trailing No. 18 Florida, 10-0, in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve, 1974, Jimmy Burrow bolted from his safety spot to stuff the Gators on fourth-and-goal to spark Nebraska to the win.

"What Jimmy is famous for in Mississippi," Cleveland says, "is after that game he was getting interviewed on TV and he wished Happy New Year to Billy Kinard, the Ole Miss coach."

"Happy New Year, Coach Kinard," is how Jimmy's quote ended up in the paper.

So now you know where Joseph Lee Burrow got some of that swag, not to mention a sweet jumper. Jimmy is convinced the 6-4 Joe could have been a Division I basketball player if he went year-round. Jimmy Burrow, the Ohio University defensive coordinator, had a key to the gym and he and Robin spent a lot of hours rebounding while Joe was growing up.

"When he was playing AAU, he hit a lot of 3s," Jimmy Burrow says. "The parents on the other team would ask, 'Where's No. 10 going to college for basketball?' And we'd say, 'It looks like it's going to be football.' After he threw for so many yards at Athens when he was a sophomore, he knew football is where he was headed."

But he didn't give up basketball until college. Remember, Joe Burrow was all-Ohio in both. A few months later during that sophomore year, when Athens should have been having an easier time against Chillicothe in the state tournament, Bulldogs head coach Jeff Skinner approached Joe at halftime. Down 14, Skinner ditched the niceties after he and Burrow agreed they should be winning big.

"Do you also know you've only taken two shots? TWO SHOTS?" Skinner barked. "I don't know who told you to do that. Who told you to do that? If it was one of my assistants, I'll fire them right now."

The way Skinner recalls it, Burrow ripped off the first 16 points or so of the second half and Athens survived to advance.

He may be a facilitator, but Jimmy says, "Oh, he liked to shoot."

He recalls the week of the LSU-Oklahoma national semi in 2019, when the teams engaged in a shooting contest from all spots on the floor on Christmas Day and LSU saved Joe Burrow for last. He overcame the Sooners' big lead, draining 10 of 12.

But Jimmy Burrow can't ever remember his son scoring 45.

"And I tell him I didn't even have a three-point shot," Jimmy says.

And, of course, neither of them scored 82. Or 72 for that matter.

"He knew early on there were a lot of good athletes in the family," Jimmy Burrow says. "He said knowing about my mom in basketball always motivated him."

Dot-Believe-It-Or-Not Ford Burrow with an assist from the scrapbooks that the rest of us have now seen.

"Thanks for writing about my mom," Jimmy Burrow says.