Until they met, the coach and the quarterback were just specks of matter in the college football universe, moving their way around the map, looking for somewhere to stick, a place that would embrace them and offer a chance to go after a dream that with each passing fall seemed further and further away.
A phone call from Ed Orgeron, the Louisiana State coach one year into his tenure, to Joe Burrow, the Ohio State graduate transfer with 39 pass attempts in three years, got the cosmos started. A crawfish dinner in Baton Rouge clued in the fates that two shooting stars were about to cross, becoming brighter as they approached.
Monday night, after more records had fallen, after LSU stormed past defending champion Clemson 42-25 in New Orleans’ bloodthirsty Superdome to finish 15-0 and win its fourth national championship, it took a while for Orgeron and Burrow to find one another. Each was surrounded by a mass of cameras and eager human energy, an electricity that created separate orbits nudging their way slowly toward a stage being setup at the 10-yard line closest to the Golden Band from Tigerland.
To arrive at this lofty platform, where ESPN’s Rece Davis was waiting there to greet him, Orgeron had to go home. Oddly, he did not want to come back to his mama’s gumbo made just the way he likes it, with eggs and chicken and sausage. He wanted to stay in Los Angeles at USC, but he was given no choice. In 2013, he returned to his family and started over again.
Burrow’s rise to the top went the other direction. The native of Athens, Ohio, had to leave home to discover the greatness he had inside.
Of all the places, Louisiana, a steamy, easily ridiculed underdog of a state with less than 5 million residents, was the winner.
Up on that podium with the College Football Playoff national championship trophy shining gold, same as his wife’s blazer, all Orgeron had to do was say the word “Louisiana” and the building muted everything that came after. Except this:
“One team, one heartbeat!” Orgeron screamed.
Then he talked about his quarterback, the one who wasn’t good enough to start for three Ohio State teams that did not win this trophy but who went to LSU and won the Heisman Trophy and threw for a CFP-record 463 yards and five touchdown passes, breaking the Football Bowl Subdivision record with 60 for the year. He also ran for a score.
“He’s one of the greatest players in LSU history,” Orgeron said earlier. “He’s on a soapbox for the state of Louisiana and LSU. We are so grateful for Joe Burrow.”
Only after Burrow grabbed the microphone and spent his time in the spotlight thanking everyone from the team chefs to the equipment staff — “It’s not just me and Coach O, it’s everybody,” he said — did Burrow and Orgeron find each other and hug.
The world had marveled at their connection at the Heisman ceremony, where Burrow teared up when he arrived at the part of his story where Orgeron barreled into his life, pounding energy drinks. Everyone got to see them perform one more time Monday night, and in the coming weeks, reflections will be made on their magic.
Is LSU, which knocked off seven top-10 teams out of 15 victories — an FBS record — one of the best teams of all time?
“Not yet,” Burrow said of the reflections. “We’re still celebrating. Give us a couple of days.”
Did Burrow have the best season for a college quarterback in history? USC legend Matt Leinart said he thought he did on his Twitter account, so that was something.
While Orgeron and Burrow now can share Louisiana as a home, Clemson would be happy to never come back.
Playing in its fourth national championship bout in five years, this game itself has become home for the Tigers. It could be played on the moon, and Clemson would come out of the gate acting like it owned the place.
But LSU forced quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Clemson’s No. 1 scoring defense out of their comfort zone.
As the night went on, it was definitely a road game for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers.
“It was LSU’s night,” the coach said after seeing his team’s 29-game winning streak snapped.
It was Louisiana’s night, and it was only beginning. Nobody understood that more than Orgeron’s mother, Coco, the native of Larose, who speaks fluent Cajun French.
She watched her son celebrate on the field from a wheelchair, receiving congratulations at every turn, and he found her outside the locker room. He bent down to give her a kiss before striding into more celebration with his now-limitless football program.
“I’m so proud of you,” Coco said.
She wore socks with Tiger stripes on them and a white sweater that said “GEAUX” in purple stitching, and she was asked to somehow sum it all up, this movement of destinies that would have been unimaginable before the coach and the quarterback decided to team up in the winter of 2018.
“It all came to an end today,” she said, “all the dreams and the wishing, and we got to start all over again for next year. We got to keep on wishing.”
Next year? Already?
“Well, you got to plan!” she said with a wink and a smile, knowing full well that there was nobody who could have planned this one.