NEW YORK — On a stage in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday night, the blonde-haired gunslinger from southeast Ohio received the highest honor bestowed on a college football player.
Joe Burrow was named the 85th winner of the Heisman Trophy.
Amid a prolific senior season at Louisiana State, Burrow captured the award as the runaway favorite, ahead of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, the runner-up, as well as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, though not invited to the ceremony as a finalist, came in fifth to round out the top-five of the voting.
The odds of Burrow winning were so high after ballots were cast in the lead-up to the ceremony that Fields remarked Friday he had not worried about writing an acceptance speech in preparation. If he won, he’d wing it, he joked.
It was a landslide victory for Burrow as he beat out Hurts by 1,846 points, the largest margin of victory ever, and received 841 first-place votes, the second most all-time behind former Southern California tailback O.J. Simpson, who totaled 855 in 1968.
In his speech, Burrow fought back tears at various moments.
“That was the most I cried in 23 years of living,” Burrow said.
It was unexpected emotion.
“When I got on the stage,” he added, “all the names of the people that helped me along the journey started rolling through my mind.”
Burrow emerged as the front-runner as he led the Tigers to an unbeaten regular season and top seed for the College Football Playoff, shattering school and Southeastern Conference passing records.
The selection marked a moment of pride on the Bayou.
It had been 60 years since an LSU player picked up the bronze stiff-arm trophy, when running back Billy Cannon did in 1959 as the school’s only Heisman winner until Burrow.
The late Cannon’s remaining family members wrote a letter to Burrow this week as he arrived in New York for the award’s festivities.
“They just told me to take it all in,” Burrow said. “It was great to hear from those people.”
But the triumph also brought pride to his home state, including the Athens area, where he spent most of his childhood, and among the legions of Ohio State fans who watched him spend his first three seasons in college with the Buckeyes before leaving as a graduate transfer.
“When I lift this trophy, it's for LSU, Ohio State, southeast Ohio and all of Louisiana,” Burrow said as he concluded his speech.
At one point, Burrow noted southeast Ohio as one of the more impoverished areas of the country.
“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,” he said. “You guys can be up here too.
As he reflected on the acknowledgement later, he said, “As much as I can give back to that area, I’m going to do everything. They mean so much to me.”
Burrow said he made notes prior to the speech. Other parts were unscripted.
Once he was announced as the Heisman Trophy winner, he also embraced Ohio State coach Ryan Day and Mickey Marotti, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, who were in attendance.
Day was the quarterbacks coach for Burrow for two of his seasons with the Buckeyes.
“I love Coach Day and Coach Mick with all my heart,” he said. “I’m forever grateful for them.”
Burrow still held some loyalty to the first college he attended.
In a news conference before the Heisman Trophy ceremony, Burrow still referred to Michigan, the archrival for the Buckeyes, as “The Team Up North.”
Throughout the season, Burrow, despite playing for another school, still continued to receive support and well-wishes Ohio State fans.
Most never held his departure against him.
“Honestly, I didn't know how it would be taken,” Burrow said, “but I think everyone understood why I left. And I got my degree, so I'm a Buckeye for life. Having that support means so much to me, and I just want to voice that.”
At LSU, Burrow continued his development, which was accelerated this season with the arrival of Joe Brady as the team’s passing game coordinator.
This was Burrow’s fifth season in college.
“If you ask the guys at Ohio State how good I was when I first got there, they would tell you that they would have taken my scholarship away,” Burrow said. “I’ve come a long way.”