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State Of Euphoria As Joe Burrow Comes Home No. 1

Joe Burrow in the Bengals hat.
Joe Burrow in the Bengals hat.

You know you're big when an American governor tweets you in the middle of a pandemic that has shut down everything but the NFL Draft.

How big is Joe Burrow? Once Mike DeWine got the word, Thursday night that Cincinnati had kicked off the most viewed and necessary sports event in years by taking Burrow No. 1, he went to his feed to congratulate his fellow "Ohioan," and told the world he can't wait to see him play.

If DeWine has emerged as one of the nation's most admired leaders during the past month for his handling of the crisis, the naturally cool Burrow knows why Bengals head coach Zac Taylor phoned the 740 area code.

"I think it's leadership," said Burrow when the Cincinnati media Zoomed into his first pro press conference to ask him what his best attribute is. "I've always been really, really good at bringing everybody together to form a common goal. And I think my work ethic kind of permeates throughout the team. I'm excited to get around all the guys and everybody within that building."

It was clearly a night for the home team. Jimmy Burrow, the old coach who raised him and spent the last 15 years of his career coordinating the Ohio University defense, felt that way after the call came to the Athens home he lived all those games and parented an overall No. 1 pick with wife Robin. Joe sat between them on the couch when Taylor called.

"It's a big night for Joe, our family, for Athens, for the Bengals, Cincinnati and the state of Ohio," Jimmy Burrow said. "It's where we always wanted to go. I know people never believed it. We're extremely happy he's been drafted by the Bengals. That's in his mind that this is his home. He's been here since we moved here when he was in the second grade."

They were supposed to be in Las Vegas Thursday night, but it felt like they should have been right there since this will always be remembered as the draft of the Area Code T-Shirt. Joe Burrow wore a simple white one with the southeastern Ohio digits of 740 enclosed in an outline of the state of Ohio. Jimmy Burrow could sense this was more than a big night, but a historic one.

"It did mean more," Jimmy Burrow said about this draft. "For the NFL to stick with this, it's a credit to them. It's a big moment for a lot of different people. It's an outlet for sports fans across the nation to get their mind off it. We'll never forgot how hard the times are, but we'll remember how everybody embraces pro football."

His son's feelings for his hometown were made quite clear when he picked up his Heisman Trophy last December. The city's mayor, Steve Patterson, recalled the part of his speech that meant everything to Athens County took just 32 seconds to say. Grown men and women living in the 740 area code called each other to weep.

"Coming from southeast Ohio it's a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average," Burrow said that night in New York. "There's so many people there 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. You guys can be up here, too."

Those words spawned Facebook donations of half a million dollars to the local food pantry and you have to feel like Burrow is going to be talking about more plans like that judging by what he said Thursday night as the Heisman looked over his shoulder while explaining how the shirt came to be.

"It was mine," Joe Burrow said of the idea. " I signed with Nike and they made some great custom stuff for me, and this was something I kind of wanted to represent, and we have some more things in the works the next couple weeks as far as foundations go that I'm very excited about to help my hometown."

In a way, he's still feeling his way around the fallout of the speech.

"It was pretty overwhelming. It's tough when you're in the middle of the season to think about it because you're so focused and dialed in on just winning football games," said Burrow of the speech's impact. "But after the season and especially during this quarantine it really hit me how many that it has helped. A lot of paychecks aren't coming in right now and that food bank money and that food pantry money is helping a lot of families during this tough time."

Burrow has a lot in common with Bengals president Mike Brown. Both quarterbacks raised in Ohio by coaching fathers. Leave it to Brown to strike just the right understated Midwestern hometown note when his type-written letters to both Burrow and his parents reached the house Wednesday, complete with No. 9 Bengals jerseys for Jimmy and Robin.

"Classy," Jimmy Burrow said. "That's when it hit home it was happening and it made us look forward to tonight even more."

Joe Burrow: "That shows the kind of person he is, and I'm excited to be his quarterback for a long time." 

  Those are the sweetest possible words for a team seeking its next franchise quarterback. Jimmy Burrow wore the jersey as the first round lurched on. Joe Burrow, who wore No. 10 leading Athens to record-setting glory before he took it to Ohio State, took LSU's No. 9 for a reason.

"I did think about 10 a little bit, but I had some not-so-great memories of 10 the last time I wore it," Burrow said, "and 9 had some great ones, so I decided to stay with it."

Taylor didn't promise him the job and said he would be competing for it and Burrow, like a good Ohio kid, just said he'd put his head down. After hearing from two new friends, Bengals running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd, and an old friend, Bengals defensive end and former Ohio State teammate Sam Hubbard, Burrow met the press and, as expected, he said all the things that made them draft him during his Queen City media debut.

Such as, here's a guy that's so detailed he knows he can't lead with a quavering voice.

"That's exactly how I expect to do it as well. I'm going to come in and compete and try to be the best player I can be," Burrow said. "I have to get mental reps in from missing these rookie minicamps and OTAs. I'm going to have to get in this playbook really hard and kind of go through the process of calling the plays in the huddle and getting really comfortable because the thing about being in the huddle, you have to be stern in your voice because if you are in there wavering and wobbling and fumbling over words, all the guys are going to be like, 'What is this guy doing in here, Coach? Get him out. Get someone else in.' So, that's something I'm going to be really focused on."

The Bengals sense Burrow is one of those guys that is going to turn on the locker room lights and turn them off in the same day.

"There's the old saying that there's always someone out there that's getting up earlier and working hard. I've always tried to be that other person," Burrow said. "When people say that, I try to be the guy that they're talking about. So that's something that I've always prided myself in."

Another reason they liked him so quickly is they heard he loved to grind tape and then when guys like offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and quarterback Dan Pitcher started Zooming him three times a week, they found out it was all true. He's very particular about watching tape, too.

"I think a lot of people, they say 'I spent five hours watching film yesterday.' OK, well what're you watching?" Burrow challenged. "Were you watching the quarterback make a great throw?' That's not how you watch film. The key is being efficient with your time and I really homed in on that this year and I had a very structured routine"

All the right things?

How about that $150 million they dropped in free agency?

 "I was very excited about it," Burrow said. "It shows the direction that this franchise wants to head. I think it's going to be a winning franchise for years to come and I hope to play a big part in it."

No. 9 is home.

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