Tiger Rag High 5: LSU’s all-time best football player

Welcome to the 14th category of our Tiger Rag High Five, the best football player.

A 15-member media panel with a collective 582 years of sports journalism experience picked LSU’s five best athletes, coaches, moments, and individual game and season performances in 21 categories covering all present and past sports.

Voters on the panel were provided information of six to 10 nominees and were asked to rank one through five. The panel voters could also write-in their own candidates.

Scoring was tallied as 5 points for a first-place vote, 4 for second-place, 3 for third-place, 2 for second place and 1 for last-place. Ties were not broken.

LSU football has won four national championships, the latest last year’s perfect 15-0 run to glory. The Tigers have won 12 SEC titles, the latest last season.

The winner of the best-ever LSU football player is. . .

Joe Burrow 68 (9 first-place votes)

2. Billy Cannon 64 (6)

Winner of 1959 Heisman Trophy, led LSU to 1958 national championship

3. Tommy Casanova 20

A safety who remains the only three-time All-American in school history

4. Jerry Stovall 17

1962 Heisman Trophy runner-up regarded as LSU’s all-time best all-around player

5. Kevin Faulk 17

LSU’s all-time leading rusher who’s now the Tigers’ running backs coach

Here’s Burrow’s story:

Late last June on a typically hot, suffocating south Louisiana afternoon at the Manning Passing Academy, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was holding court with the media.

As always, the affable and entertaining Burrow was full of a string of non-stop opinions on everything from his closely-cropped hair (“It’s like 100 degrees out there. . .my hair was like if you put a bag over your head, so I had to cut it”) to his love of playing physical (“If you can’t get down and dirty like your O-line, how can you expect a guy to play for you?”).

The conversation turned to the Tigers’ new offense, injected with first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady’s New Orleans Saints concepts mixed with RPOs.

“I think we’re going to score a lot of points, and I don’t think a lot of people are used to LSU scoring 40, 50, 60 points a game,” said Burrow, a Ohio State graduate transfer who was about to start his second and final season in his adopted bayou home.

It’s not what LSU teams had done through years of conservative offensive schemes and head coaches who often sat on two-touchdown leads in second halves when they ordered almost all rushing plays to keep the game clock moving.

The media at the Manning camp that day certainly admired Burrow’s chutzpah. But they also thought he was delusional and might have been suffering from heatstroke.

That is until the fifth-year senior burned 15 opposing defenses to ground with 5,671 passing yards and an NCAA single-season record 60 touchdown passes, becoming the first and only SEC player ever to throw for 5,000 yards and 60 TDs in a season.

Burrow collected a museum full of national awards, including winning the Heisman Trophy by a record vote margin. Then, he held the College Football Playoffs 2019 national championship trophy over his head to cap a 15-0 season and declared at the Tigers’ national title celebration that operating LSU’s offense was like “having all the answers to a test before you take it.”

Couple that with his two-year record of 25-3 as a starter including 12-2 against ranked teams, and it’s why the 15-person Tiger Rag Magazine High Five voting committee selected Burrow as LSU’s greatest football player of all-time. LSU’s second ever Heisman winner edged the late Dr. Billy Cannon, LSU’s first Heisman winner in 1959.

Cannon died on May 20, 2018, two days after Burrow committed to LSU when he decided to leave Ohio State following spring practice when he was told he would be the second-team quarterback.

Cannon would have loved everything about Burrow, from the way he won over his new teammates during informal workouts (“The first day we ran 16 110s, Joe won every one of them and didn’t say a word,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said) to his toughness (“If your quarterback isn’t tough, your team isn’t going to be tough and you’re going to lose a lot of games,” Burrow said) to the confidence he inspired (“Joe throwing it to us kind of makes our job easier. . .all we have to do is catch the ball,” Tigers’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson said).

Signs of Burrow’s greatness began emerging at the end of his first LSU season in 2018 when he threw for 10 TDs in the Tigers’ last four games. He capped a 10-3 season with 394 passing yards and four TDs in a Fiesta Bowl win over UCF.

Brady’s new passing schemes, the cooperative planning efforts of Brady, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and Burrow and the intense off-season work between Burrow and his receivers led Burrow to boldly express his confidence to the media at the Manning Passing Academy.

Once the season started, a pattern emerged that never waned.

It seemed no matter what opposing defenses tried, Burrow and company adjusted and went on some of the most astounding scoring tears ever seen in the SEC, such as 28 first-quarter points in 15 plays at Vanderbilt and an astounding seven straight TD drives in the CFP semifinal blowout of Oklahoma.

“We always have a lot of stuff in our back pocket we can go to,” Burrow said.

He was so well-prepared he actually welcomed the challenge when an opponent scored on the Tigers. Burrow and his offensive weapons responded with points more than 60 percent of the time immediately after an opponent scored.

“Our guys knew that Joe Burrow wasn’t going to let us lose,” Orgeron said.

Not once did Burrow ever say he had played his best game. He believed satisfaction spawned complacency which would have led to losing.

“If we want to get where we want to go, we have to get better,” he insisted. “If we’re satisfied with the performance we have every Saturday, then we’re not going to get any better.”

Burrow’s humility – “I’m just a kid who came down from Ohio chasing a dream,” he said – and his philosophy that he tried “to leave a legacy of hard work and leadership and loyalty and let the rest take care of itself” made him an LSU legend.

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