ATLANTA — Joe Burrow has a cold.
And he’s a little tired, to be honest.
Tired from crisscrossing the country, making star turns at an endless processional of awards shows and banquets, and hauling literally every trophy he was up for back home.
“Yes, ma’am; I will be checking a bag.
“Make that bags. Unless my Heisman can fit in the overhead.”
Follow live as Oklahoma and LSU face off in the Peach Bowl for a spot in the College Football Playoff Championship.
OK, LSU fans, you've waited a few weeks for this one.
There’s one more trophy even the Heisman-toting Burrow has his eyes on, one he might even trade the famous bronze statuette for if you pressed him. It’s that big, gleaming gold-and-silver-plated thing. it resembles what you’d figure an urn would look like if you found it on The Sharper Image website.
It’s the College Football Playoff trophy.
After a season of planning, practicing, lifting, grunting, heaving, sweating, winning, pleading, crying, cheering, booing, surviving and advancing, four teams are here in the national semifinals.
LSU and Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.
Ohio State and Clemson in the Fiesta, where LSU beat UCF on Jan. 1 to really get this whole, seemingly inexorable ball rolling.
The 13-0 Tigers, in their first CFP appearance, find themselves as the No. 1 overall seed. There is pressure on all four playoff teams to win and advance, of course. But for LSU, there is a little something extra, something that compresses the eardrums if you take an elevator from the 47th floor of the Tigers' team hotel here down to the lobby swarming with the purple and gold faithful. Fans delirious over having an offense, a quarterback, a team that has made LSU football nationally relevant again.
All four teams want, dream of, plan on winning and advancing. But the Tigers are not only trying to win but to go home, to the national championship Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Burrow believes his teammates grasp the overarching goal.
“I think we have a really mature team that understands the situation and understands that we still have things ahead of us,” he said.
A fifth-year senior who has spent two already legendary seasons at LSU, Burrow is the embodiment of that maturity. That business-like focus. The Capt. Jack Sparrow of it all.
“Take what you can … give nothing back.”
ATLANTA — John Robinson settles into a leather chair in a hotel lobby and jokes how little he's needed.
LSU players and coaches have taken virtually every award they’ve been up for this month. So many prizes and plaudits it’s almost shocking when a cornerback like All-American Derek Stingley doesn’t win SEC freshman of the year. Or Friday, when Ed Orgeron lost out on the Bobby Dodd coach of the year award to Utah’s Kyle Whittingham.
That would be the same Utah team that choked on a chance to be here in this CFP semifinal instead of Oklahoma. Instead, the Utes lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. But we digress.
After Burrow, Louisiana’s Caesar, led LSU across the Rubicon of the Alabama game, the Tigers’ die appeared to be cast in terms of their championship march.
It certainly feels that way.
There are concerns, like the most talked-about hamstring on the planet, belonging to tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Jalen “Tiger Killer” Hurts quarterbacking the Sooners. But like when LSU was here three weeks ago to throttle Georgia 37-10 in the SEC Championship Game, there was a strong sense surrounding the Tigers that the game was merely the means to the ultimate end of getting to and winning the national championship game.
It is something more than Burrow’s always-lit competitive fuse and Orgeron’s gravelly, macho persona. It’s that void left unfilled since that night in the Superdome nearly eight years ago when another unbeaten, No. 1-ranked LSU team lost the BCS championship game to Alabama.
It’s the pain of an unrequited quest. An unfulfilled promise. A crusade cut short.
“These guys aren’t satisfied,” Orgeron said. “Though we’ve had some success this year, we’re not satisfied.”
ATLANTA — Don’t think you can get enough of the Peach Bowl through the traditional TV coverage on ESPN?
There have been amusing bowl things to do here. Game show-like competitions between the teams. Oklahoma won overall, though Burrow scorched OU in a basketball shooting contest that probably veered too close to a potential preview of the passing attack to come for the Sooners’ liking.
“Looked pretty good, huh?” said Burrow, an all-state point guard in high school (of course he was).
But for the most part, LSU players have had this we’re-going-to-beat-you-and-take-your-toys kind of look about them, from Burrow’s hot shooting to Patrick Queen throwing shade on the Sooners’ running game and blockers.
Like the hubris or not, it’s all part of the Tigers’ package. A bunch of guys looking more like they’re here in downtown Atlanta to close a takeover deal than put a lot of stock in your garden variety pre-bowl antics.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Burrow said of the bowl week. “But we know it’s a business trip.”
The business of LSU and Burrow this season has been winning games, smashing offensive records, claiming everything not nailed down and hauling it back to Baton Rouge.
Two more trophies are in play. There actually is one for the Peach Bowl champion, and the other one for the national champion. Both were on display Thursday at the College Football Hall of Fame during the teams’ media sessions.
I’m sure the Tigers figure it would be a shame, another unfulfilled story too bitter to contemplate, not to take them all.
Joe Brady, the 30-year-old passing game coordinator who has revitalized LSU's offense, collects clumps of grass from every stadium. He stores them in his closet.