Win or lose, Joe Burrow already champion in Ohio

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — For people in southeast Ohio, where poverty lives among them, the wait to watch their 2022 Super Bowl Joey Burrow was endless.

“I spoke to so many fans today who were like, ‘Man, I’m gonna have to get some nerve pills,’ or I’m gonna double my blood pressure meds tomorrow,” a man from the name of Travis Brand on Saturday night.

“I mean, we’re on pins and needles here.”

Brand has owned Gigi’s Country in Plains, Ohio since Nov. 1, 2011, where customers arrive in No. 9 swimwear and chant Who Dey or order the $7.99 Burrow omelet.

Joey Burrow: Just a kid from Athens… Just a kid from southeast Ohio. There was not a dry eye in any home in Athens or southeast Ohio when Joey Burrow gave his name to Heisman’s unforgettable speech, a speech that uplifted so many and helped fill local pantries with much-needed contributions.

So no matter what happened on Super Sunday Night, as much as they pleaded with the football gods, their Joey Burrow was a champion, whether or not he lifted the Bengals to their first championship against the rams.

“The other thing he achieved through his accomplishment,” Brand said. “takes small town kids and turns them into [wanting] be Joe Burrow. When you know that a legend or, in my mind, already one of the greatest has come three doors down from where you live, or two blocks away, or let’s say in the same math class you’re in, I mean if it doesn’t inspire you as a kid to try harder and push for things.

Joe Terrier
Joe Burrow watches before the Super Bowl.
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“I think in small towns in the United States, it’s too easy to feel left out. Let’s go to something simple like the power grid, if the whole state of Ohio loses power, I’m pretty sure Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and all those places will take priority, and we all know that we are the armpit of the world here below. Knowing that a kid from your small hometown has made it, I can’t imagine growing up thinking, “Man, I wonder if Joey sat in that seat.” I bet if I play my hardest this weekend, I’ll get noticed and maybe get some college scholarships. ”

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Gigi’s opened at 8 a.m. on Super Sunday and closed at 2 p.m. as always, and then Brand watched the Burrow Bowl from home.

Joe Burrow delivers his Heisman Tyophy acceptance speech.
Joe Burrow delivers his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech.

“The reason you’re talking to me on the phone right now is I’m nobody to Joe Burrow,” Brand said. “I flip burgers and omelettes for a living. But you’re calling me because of Joe Burrow. His first interview in Death Valley, he spotlights my restaurant, for no other reason than the fact that it’s awesome. Every time someone puts the spotlight or camera on their face, they divert that attention in a different direction. Our local food pantries, our labor needs… I’m sure you know his Heisman speech. Consider that he did it at 22. I don’t know how many 22-year-old kids are going to get up there and make a sincere speech about the issues and needs of others in an area where he’s from. This is for me the reason why I am most proud of Joe Burrow.

Imagine how third- through sixth-year Athens Bulldogs coach Joey Burrow felt on the eve of the Burrow Bowl.

“My feet aren’t even on the ground right now,” Sam Smathers said. “My chest has been out for two or three weeks.”

He was there at the start. True competitive child in the exercises.

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“A silent third-year student going out for the first time playing organized football,” Smathers recalled. “I then noticed a lot of qualities in him to memorize pieces and do things on his own.”

He was having a small Burrow Bowl party at his Plains home, just behind Joe Burrow Stadium.

“He opened a lot of people’s eyes to southeast Ohio in a good way,” Smathers said. “The other aspect that he did is that the athletes coming out of Southeast Ohio now probably have looks that others never would have had.”

A road sign at the village limits of The Plains, Ohio.
A road sign at the village limits of The Plains, Ohio.
A Joe Burrow banner in Athens, Ohio.
A Joe Burrow banner in Athens, Ohio.

Brand grew up as a Bengals fan in Cincinnati.

“A lot of people were nervous for his well-being,” Brand said with a laugh.

And of course, Burrow would need reconstructive surgery on his left knee last season after a Week 11 disaster against Washington. And sure enough, Joe Burrow got up and picked up a team and a hometown and a state with him.

“Typical Joe fashion,” Brand said. “It makes it look easy, and does it in a year and a half since he really didn’t get a chance to play last year.”

As much as his Southeast Ohio fans yearned to hear the Athens High School victory bell ring Sunday night, in their hearts and minds, their Joey Burrow was already a champion.

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