It has been a whirlwind football season for Jim Burrow.
The former CFL defensive back retired from coaching last year so he and his wife, Robin, could watch their son, Louisiana State quarterback Joe Burrow, complete his senior campaign. After capturing the Heisman Trophy as American college football’s top player, the junior Burrow caps his university career Monday night leading the top-ranked Tigers (14-0) against No. 3 Clemson (14-0) — the defending NCAA champion — in the College Football Playoff title game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
“When I retired last February (after 14 years as Ohio University’s defensive co-ordinator) the reason was to be able to go to games and watch Joe in his senior year,” Jim Burrow said in a telephone interview. “My wife had gone to every game basically by herself and so I thought it was important we be able to spend his senior year together.
“I mean, we didn’t really anticipate all that’s happened but either way, we wanted to have the chance to watch Joe together.”
There’s certainly been plenty to watch.
Burrow threw a Southeastern Conference-record 48 TD strikes in leading LSU to its first College Football Playoff appearance. He received the Heisman Trophy after receiving 2,608 points and 841 first-place votes — a record 90.7 per cent of the available first-place ballots.
Burrow finished a whopping 1,846 points ahead of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, breaking the margin-of-victory record of 1,750 set by former USC star O.J. Simpson in 1968. Burrow is projected as the No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Jim Burrow was an eighth-round selection of Green Bay in 1976 as a defensive back. After spending that season with the Packers, Burrows joined the Montreal Alouettes (1977-80) before playing for the Calgary Stampeders (1980) and Ottawa Rough Riders (1981).
A two-time East Division all-star, Burrow appeared in three Grey Cups, winning in ’77 with Montreal in the infamous Staple Game. The Alouettes defeated Edmonton 41-6 on an icy Olympic Stadium field, thanks in large part to defensive back Tony Proudfoot and linebacker/punter Wally Buono coming up with the idea of putting staples on the bottom of their shoes for better traction.
“Tony went out with broomball shoes and regular cleats and neither worked,” Burrow said. “I think he and Wally came up with the idea of using a large industrial staple gun in the tips of our shoes and when he (Proudfoot) came back, he said, ‘This works.’
“We had pretty good traction that day. I don’t think anybody had ever done it so nobody new if it was legal or illegal but it worked.”
Burrow said he has fond memories of his CFL days.
“I mean we’d have 68,000 people at Olympic Stadium,” he said. “We’d play before 50, 55,000 fans at old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto and when you went to Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton they had 50,000 there so it was a great experience.
“I still keep in touch with a few of the guys and hope to get back there. That’s kind of on my to-do list now that I’ve retired.”
Burrow’s first year in Montreal was legendary head coach Marv Levy’s last there before he joined the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Levy, now 94, led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances (1991-94) and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He was such a smart coach and just a smart person,” Burrow said. “He had a way of making sure there was discipline on the team but he also made sure we had fun.
“He did a great job of letting us know he cared about us.”
While Burrow has enjoyed watching his son play this season, he admits he can go into coach mode.
“I’ll see what Joe and LSU are trying to do and watch what the defence is trying to do to our offence,” he said. “I do feel I can watch the game and know more of what’s going on on the either side of the ball than maybe your average fan.”
After spending over 50 years in football as a player and coach, he had to make some adjustments.
“It wasn’t an easy decision when you’ve been involved in the football for so long,” he said. “It’s kind of scary.
“On Aug. 1, it was the first time in 51 years I hadn’t been on a practice field either as a player or coach so you feel a little lost. But I really haven’t had time to second-guess my decision and there’s no reason to anyway. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Retirement has allowed Burrow to enjoy the full football experience.
“We’ve had a chance to tailgate,” Burrow said. “When you’re a coach, you don’t really know what that is.
“So I’ve kind of had to learn my way around tailgate areas . . . being just a fan has been awesome.”
Another quarterback on Burrow’s radar is Canadian Nathan Rourke. The Oakville, Ont., native capped his Ohio University career Jan. 3 leading the Bobcats past Nevada 30-21 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Rourke was the game MVP with 241 total offensive yards (144 yards passing, 87 yards rushing). He was ranked third on the CFL scouting bureau’s top-20 prospects list in December for the league’s 2020 draft.
“He’s an unbelievable runner but has a strong enough arm and his accuracy has improved every year,” Burrow said. “He’s a smart guy and there’s no reason why he won’t have a chance to play professionally for a long time.
“His brother (Kurtis) is a redshirt freshman and talking to coaches they feel his future is bright also.”