James and Dot Burrow of Amory are understandably proud of their grandson, “Joey” Burrow. (Photo courtesy of Monroe Co. Daily Journal)

Joe Burrow, the superb Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, inherited much of his remarkable athletic ability from a northeast Mississippi gene pool on his father’s side of the family.

His dad, Amory native Jimmy Burrow, was an all-star safety on a Nebraska national championship team after walking on at Ole Miss and then transferring to the Cornhuskers. His uncle, Johnny Burrow, was a starting safety at Ole Miss. His grandfather, James, was the starting point guard for Mississippi State basketball in the early 1950s.

Rick Cleveland

That’s a lot, but that’s not all. His grandmother, Dot Burrow (the former Dot Ford) once scored a state record 82 points in a high school basketball game for Smithville, six miles up the road from Amory, and averaged 49.5 points a game for an entire 30-game season.

In fact, when someone mentioned that Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in a game for the Los Angeles Lakers, Joe Burrow quipped, “Yeah, but Kobe’s still one short of my grandma.”

Late Sunday afternoon, James Burrow, 92, and Dot Burrow, 91, will watch the grandson they still call “Joey” and the Bengals take on the Kansas City Chiefs from their living room in Amory, where they watch all his games.

“Joey has told us he’ll send a jet to fly us to the games,” James Burrow said Tuesday by telephone. “I told him, ‘But, Joey, we’re too old to do all that walking, especially up all those steps.’ So Joey said we wouldn’t have to walk and that we can take an elevator up to his private suite. The truth is, we’d just rather watch here. That’s a lot of travel when you’re our age.”

From the Jan. 28, 1950 Jackson Clarion Ledger. (newspapers.com)

Both of Joe Burrow’s paternal grandparents were fine athletes in their day — as James puts it, “back in the dark ages.” James Burrow walked on at Mississippi State and became a two-year basketball starter at point guard for Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Paul Gregory. He averaged 10 points per game, third highest on the team, as a senior. But James will be the first to tell you his high school sweetheart, Dot, was the better basketball player.

“When I was at State, I told all my teammates about my girlfriend back in Smithville who was averaging 50 points a game,” James Burrow said. “Nobody believed me, so I took a couple of them to a game when Smithville played near Starkville in Hamilton. Well, she scored 72 that night.”

A few nights later, nearly the entire State team went to nearby Caledonia to watch the amazing Dot Ford. “That was the night she scored 82, breaking her own state record,” James Burrow said.

Asked whether he ever played his future wife in a game of H-O-R-S-E, James Burrow chuckled and answered, “Oh no, I didn’t want to mess with her.”

Years later, James Burrow was involved in Mississippi sports history in another way. He was the Amory schools administrator who hired high school football coaching legend Bobby Hall as the head football coach at Amory High.

“When he interviewed, I warned him, ‘Bobby, our cupboard is bare. You might not win a game,’” James Burrow recalled. “Bobby said, ‘If you hire me I guarantee you we’ll win more than we lose.’ Well, he won seven that first year.”

Three Amory state championships followed. Bobby Hall went on to win 309 games as a coach. Yes, and when Southern Miss head coach Will Hall (Bobby’s son) attended his first day of school in kindergarten in Amory, Dot Burrow drove the yellow school bus that delivered him to his dad’s football practice that afternoon.

“The Burrows are salt of the earth, good as gold,” Bobby Hall said.

James and Dot Burrow haven’t always been too old to travel to watch grandson Joey play. During summers, they would travel to Athens, Ohio, and watch him play Little League baseball and summer league basketball. Said James, “Joey could hit the baseball a mile and field every position. In basketball, he could shoot it from anywhere on the court. He played varsity in the ninth grade. He played varsity in the ninth grade in football, too, both offense and defense, but when they went to the spread offense in his 10th grade season, he really took off.”

Joe Burrow, center, surrounded by parents, Jimmy and Robin. Credit: Burrow family

Most football fans know the rest of the Joe Burrow story. He was the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior and signed with Ohio State. He transferred to LSU in 2018 and led the Tigers to the national championship and a 15-0 record in 2019, throwing for seven touchdowns in a semifinal victory over Oklahoma and six touchdowns in the national championship game against Clemson. That’s perhaps the equivalent of scoring 82 points in a 32-minute high school basketball game.

That 2019 season, Burrow threw for 60 touchdowns, while throwing just six interceptions. Said Archie Manning, who knows the Burrow family well, “I really believe that’s the best season any quarterback ever had and probably ever will have.”

It is difficult to imagine a better one. Naturally, Joe Burrow was the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Through three NFL seasons, Joe Burrow has thrown for nearly 12,000 yards and 82 touchdowns. When the situation calls for it, he runs for crucial first downs as well. His original NFL contract called for $36 million over four years, but he becomes eligible for a contract extension this off-season. The Bengals would be fools not to act on it. They will need a calculator with fresh batteries.

Needy children in Ohio and Louisiana will surely benefit, as they already have. The Joe Burrow Foundation, founded just last fall, has already donated $200,000 toward helping children facing food insecurity and mental health issues.

Said James Burrow of his grandson’s passion for helping children who desperately need help, “We’re proud of Joey for a lot of reasons, especially that.”

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) signals for a touchdown during an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Orchard Park, NY. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.