From Ohio, Joe Burrow descended to Louisiana. To Ohio he has returned.
The Cincinnati Bengals used the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to make official what we've all presumed for months: The Heisman Trophy LSU quarterback is going back home.
Burrow reflected on the moment inside his boyhood home in The Plains, Ohio, wearing a white T-shirt he designed with Nike showing off his 740 area code, and stared into a self-built broadcast station during a social-distancing-approved interview.
"This is something that I wanted to represent," he said, the first pro player picked amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nothing was prying Burrow away from the Bengals.
Even when the Miami Dolphins offered multiple trade options, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, the Bengals weren't budging.
"There's nothing that can make us trade that pick away," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Thursday night.
The Dolphins instead picked Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5. The Bengals are scheduled to play in Miami in 2020, so long as the season unfolds as planned.
Cincinnati owner Mike Brown sent the Burrows a letter and No. 9 Bengals jerseys Wednesday, officially welcoming Joe to the franchise, saying he was "looking forward to building championship football teams for many years to come."
Au revoir, Louisianans might say.
And perhaps, on va se revoir.
How does a state say goodbye to a man who made the LSU Tigers a national champion again?
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No worries, cher. The player who advocated for collegiate compensation is about to receive his award: a projected contract value, according to Spotrac, of $37,166,330.
Such a fortune shrouds the $100,000 deal Billy Cannon signed with the Houston Oilers as the AFL's No. 1 pick 1960, but still wouldn't breach the $68 million deal JaMarcus Russell signed as the Oakland Raiders' No. 1 choice in 2007 — back before the rookie salary scale was knocked down in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
Kristian Fulton narrowed it down to three suits.
Oh, yes, LSU's third No. 1 overall draft pick in history will be paid grandly.
But typing Russell's name evokes a warning: With great wealth comes great accountability.
Russell was out of the NFL after three years and a 7-18 record as a starter in Oakland. Even the late Billy Cannon, a three-time AFL champion and two-time All-Pro, still faced criticism that he didn't live up to his legendary name.
"The Heisman brings the prestige," said Bunnie Cannon, Billy's daughter. "The No. 1 draft pick, that brings money, and that opens up a whole new can of worms."
Joe Burrow's most impossible task dropped on his doorstep almost a week ago: an unassembled package of tripods, of iPads, of wires.
Bengals fans are expecting a hometown hero — an Athens High graduate who nearly won a state title in 2015, who, after attending Ohio State, transferred to LSU and broke records and earned the Heisman and won the program's fourth national championship — to lift their franchise to its former glory.
If a small college town like Athens turned into a purple and gold province of a southern state for Burrow's LSU career, just think what Ohio will be like when their son returns home?
"He's going to have such a huge fan base just because Ohio people love football," said Zacciah Saltzman, Burrow's close friend and high school teammate. "People will all definitely rally behind him. Just look at the way they all became LSU fans. This is Ohio State World. They're selling LSU shirts in the local Walmart because of him."
Ed Orgeron wished he was spending Thursday night in Las Vegas, but as NFL teams make selections virtually to meet social distancing guidelines, Orgeron still thinks the draft can let LSU shine, boosting the Tigers’ recruiting efforts.
Hope won't be enough.
Cincinnati might be apathetic to the notion at this point.
Burrow is the fifth quarterback the Bengals have selected in the past decade.
Ryan Finley (fourth round, 2019). Logan Woodside (seventh round, 2018). AJ McCarron (fifth round, 2014). Andy Dalton (second round, 2011).
Dalton was nearly a franchise quarterback, leading the Bengals to four straight wild-card rounds from 2011 to 2014 before he fractured his thumb in 2015 after a 10-3 start.
Now, after recording a 20-35 record in the past four seasons, it appears Dalton's time is over.
Whoo boy, Cincy fans are used to first-round exits. Think an eight-year losing streak to Alabama was long? The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1991.
No first-round quarterback taken since has been able to change that.
Not Houston's David Klingler (No. 6 overall, 1992) and his 4-20 record in three seasons.
Not Oregon's Akili Smith (No. 3 overall, 1999) and his 3-14 record in four seasons.
Not even Southern Cal's Carson Palmer, the last Heisman Trophy quarterback the Bengals drafted No. 1 overall, who, from 2004-10, couldn't lead the franchise past the Pittsburgh Steelers (2005) and New York Jets (2009) in the postseason.
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No, of the 37 quarterbacks the Cincinnati Bengals have drafted in the Super Bowl era, locals hope Burrow takes after Ken Anderson (third round, 1971) and Boomer Esiason (second round, 1984) — the only quarterbacks to each led the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance.
Esiason, now an NFL analyst, already presented Joe Burrow with a Bengals helmet when the LSU quarterback visited the set of "The NFL Today" in December.
"I want to welcome you from one Bengal to the next Bengal," Esiason told Burrow then.
Boomer Esiason presented Joe Burrow with a Bengals helmet when he visited The NFL Today.Burrow's reaction: pic.twitter.com/eOu6ehNKOT— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) December 15, 2019
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Burrow received the helmet and smiled.
He knows the struggles that will come with going to the NFL's worst team.
"You don't sacrifice your standards for anything," Burrow said Thursday night.
He knows why the NFL, to some, stands for Not-For-Long.
The Green Bay Packers drafted his father, Jimmy, in the eighth round of the 1976 draft, and Jimmy played for one season before embarking on a six-year career in the Canadian Football League.
His older brother, Jamie, was cut in training camp by the New York Jets in 2002.
Burrow has experienced setbacks himself, Jamie said. Getting benched for Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State, struggling as a junior at LSU "magnified traits he already had."
"You just take it to the next level," Jimmy said. "I'm sure Joe will use those things that got him to be as successful as he was this year and carry that over to the NFL."
So after the draft week media circus, after the commercials and promotional videos, after the coronavirus lockdowns subside, Burrow will be right back at the start of another journey, right where those close to him say he's always thrived.
"All the success Joe has had maybe has erased that chip on his shoulder a bit," said Nathan White, Burrow's offensive coordinator at Athens High. "But it's like, welp, here's another great thing to put it right back there."