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How Joe Burrow became the coolest QB in the NFL

Like him or hate him, there’s no denying that Joe Burrow is cool as hell.

Joe Burrow is cool. He’s effortlessly cool. He’s cooler than me, he’s cooler than you — and he’s cooler than 31 other quarterbacks in the NFL.

Quarterback, by nature, is not a cool position. You’re the hall monitor of the roster. The first one in, the last one out — constantly being pulled into coach’s office to “take the temperature” of the locker room. Everyone knows you’re the narc, and while teammates are going to defend the quarterback to the ends of the earth, because they understand his success is the meal ticket for everyone, it’s not normally a person people want to be around.

Hanging out with the quarterback is like being invited out to drinks with your boss. You tolerate it because you have to, not because you want to go — and ultimately making a perfunctory appearance is more important than the act itself.

Joe Burrow is different. He’s transcendent. This is the dude who’s crossed the blood-brain barrier, something that’s only been achieved, really, by one other quarterback before.

Joe Namath Photo by Dan Farrell/NY Daily News via Getty Images

It’s truly impossible to understand just how cool Joe Namath was in the ‘60s. Hell, I’ve only taken in stories by osmosis, through my dad who grew up on Long Island as a Jets fan during Namath’s peak. Broadway Joe came along at a time of enormous social upheaval in the United States, and because he was playing in New York rather than the midwest, it afforded him the luxury of showing his personality in a way athletes never did before. At the time, parents wanted their kids to say their sirs and ma’ams, wear a suit, have a flat top haircut like Johnny Unitas and carry themselves like an altar server at church. Sports were about discipline, not swagger — and playing football was designed to teach a man how to lead men, preparing them for the military or a career in management.

Namath rocked onto the field in his alligator boots, his bellbottoms, and a fur coat — topped off with a mop of shaggy hair, transcending sport in the process. He dated movie stars, he was photographed rubbing shoulders with cultural icons, except they wanted to be around him.

People genuinely want to be around Joe Burrow. That’s what makes him so unlike other quarterbacks of this era. When he struts around the locker room with a cigar hanging out of his mouth there’s not an ounce of it feeling contrived. You might not like the guy, but he’s unapologetically himself.

There’s no pretense of building a “brand,” or maintaining an image. When quarterbacks around the league were fumbling to give canned responses to questions about social justice in America during the summer of 2020, terrified of alienating part of their fanbase or losing a sponsor, Burrow stood up for what he believed in.

This was before he took a damn snap in a regular season game. At a time where every rookie is desperately trying not to make waves and find their way in the NFL, Burrow cannonballed into the most divisive issue in the country and didn’t give a crap what anyone thought of him. It wasn’t just on Twitter, as behind the scenes Burrow was doing the same with his teammates and cementing himself as a leader, a friend, an ally who could be counted on.

Burrow recounted a story to his teammates of witnessing racial injustice on his high school team. He reportedly broke down in tears. When asked about it by the media later Burrow didn’t use it as a chance to get some clout, but offered no comment. His words were for his teammates — not the world.

We’re now in year three of the Joe Burrow era. With each game he’s cementing his legacy in Cincinnati, and beyond. In an era where everyone is so intensely aware of their personal “brand,” and willing to sell out any and all personal morals to maintain a carefully crafted public image, palatable to the widest audience, Burrow is being himself. He’s effortlessly cool in the process, and honestly, who wouldn’t want their kid to idolize Joe Burrow? Genuine in an era of frauds, honest in a time of liars, empathetic when so many are concerned only with themselves.

Debates over who the “best” quarterback is in the NFL will rage forever. Maybe Burrow will win a Super Bowl and enter that conversation, perhaps he won’t. He could constantly fall in the top 10 names mentioned, and be perfectly content with that so long as the team surrounding him is winning.

What’s not up for debate is how beloved Joe Burrow is. By his local fans, his teammates, and everyone is his orbit — all while marching to the beat of his own drum and not selling out for anyone.

That’s cool as hell.