After the final game of his college career, the boy who grew up dreaming of the national championship sat on a couch as cigar smoke wafted above his head. Joe Burrow crossed one leg over the other. He leaned into the cushions and draped one arm over the back of the furniture.
Still wearing his uniform, Burrow raised the cigar toward his lips. He inhaled slowly and narrowed his eyes. Burrow exhaled as he lowered the cigar, and smoke seeped from his mouth. Burrow nodded.
A purple hat rested on his lap. It read "Big D--- Joe" in gold letters across the front.
Less than an hour earlier, Burrow lifted the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy. LSU had defeated Clemson 42-25 on Monday night to win its fourth national title. Burrow scored six touchdowns, completing the greatest season by a quarterback in college football history. His 463 yards passing set the record for the most in a BCS or CFP championship game.
Trevor Lawrence had never lost a game in college.
Clemson had not allowed three touchdown passes in one game this season. Burrow matched that number before halftime. By the end, he had broken the NCAA single-season record for touchdown passes with 60.
"This..." Burrow said, trailing off. "was a long time coming. I'm kind of speechless right now. This was fun."
On Saturday morning, two days before the championship game inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Burrow looked at a picture of himself as a boy. The image showed Burrow standing in front of his brothers. He wore an oversized white polo shirt. He hadn’t grown into his arms.
That boy wanted to win the national championship — not the Super Bowl. He thought it would happen at a different school, maybe Nebraska, where his brothers played, or Ohio State, where he began his college career.
“What would you tell this kid right now?” one of LSU’s in-house reporters said.
“Looks like a national champion,” Burrow said, tightening the cap of his water bottle.
For Burrow to realize the childhood dream, he had to pull LSU from its largest deficit this season. LSU had trailed in a game five times this year, never by more than a touchdown, before Clemson took a 10-point lead in the second quarter.
Clemson had varied its defensive looks, and Burrow couldn't predict the blitzes. Clemson sent more defenders than LSU's offensive line could block. Burrow spun from the pocket. The LSU offense looked shaken. Its receivers struggled to create separation. Burrow had completed half his passes, well off his season average.
Burrow told teammates to remain calm. He never flinched, and neither did the rest of the offense. Burrow noticed Clemson using man coverage on wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, and on LSU’s fourth possession, he unfurled a 52-yard touchdown pass to Chase, tying the score. The throw sparked LSU’s offense. It scored touchdowns on three of its next four drives and took the lead.
Before the end of the half, Burrow got pummeled when he released his third touchdown pass. As he walked off the field, Burrow gasped for air. He bent over at the waist when he reached the sideline.
"I was fine," Burrow said later. He smiled. "I was just fine."
Barely 24 hours after meeting his childhood idol, Joe Burrow marched off the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome much like Drew Brees has don…
Burrow didn’t miss a snap. He directed LSU to two more touchdowns in the second half. He improvised when Clemson forced him from the pocket, his creativity on full display. He gained 58 yards rushing. He scored more points against Clemson than any other opponent had this season.
After Burrow’s fifth touchdown pass, he walked off the field pointing at his ring finger. The LSU fans soon broke into their "Neck" chant, and Burrow waved his arm up and down along with the crowd. He smiled.
Twelve minutes remained, but with LSU leading 42-25, Burrow knew the end of his career was near. Within two years, he had traveled from the bench at Ohio State to the Heisman Trophy at LSU. He had transformed the program, leading the Tigers to their first undefeated season since 1958. He kissed the championship trophy.
"We wouldn't be here without Joe Burrow," coach Ed Orgeron said. "We know that."
Cigar clippings were scattered on the locker-room floor, a haze of smoke flooded the air and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow emerged with a stogie …
As Burrow emerged from the LSU locker room, the cigar hung from his mouth. He sauntered toward an interview room, holding the hat in one hand. He sucked at the cigar. Smoke wafted above him.
Behind a curtain, Burrow handed the cigar to an LSU staffer before he stepped onto a stage and national attention. He pulled the hat on backward and sat behind a podium.
Burrow spoke about his teammates and how good it felt to win the national championship. He mentioned the extra work LSU needed to get here. Despite everything he has accomplished, he still — like he has all season — did not reflect on his accolades. Monday night, he just wanted to celebrate.
In 2020, perfection has a name.
"I think what we did tonight can't be taken away from us," Burrow said. "I don't know about the whole hero thing, but I know this national championship will be remembered for a long time in Louisiana."
Burrow soon rose from the stage. His LSU career had ended. Orgeron, remaining behind to answer more questions, looked over his shoulder.
"Take it easy on that cigar, boy," Orgeron said.
Instead, Burrow grabbed the bundle of tobacco, smoking it as he walked back to the locker room. He turned around the hat. And why not? Joey Burrow had won the national championship.
The Advocate’s offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette are open Tuesday morning and stocked with extras newspapers and high-quality …
If you're not already and Advocate | Times-Picayune subscriber, we've got a deal you can't pass on.