If you ask a group of Cincinnati Bengals fans under the age of 30, most of them would probably say that Chad Johnson was their favorite player when they were young. Johnson’s impact transcended more than just toe-tapping catches on the sideline. His personality alone made him one of the more influential names in the game of football.
The Bengals have found another major source of influence in Joe Burrow.
While he doesn’t go viral for touchdown celebrations and on-field soundbites, Cincinnati’s franchise quarterback has cultivated a following that reaches fans from all over. Burrow’s down-to-earth aura makes him relatable to a wide-range of folk, as does his innate ability to code-switch between different demographics. His choice in fashion doesn’t hurt either.
It’s for these reasons, along with his talent as a quarterback, that esteemed NFL columnist Peter King has listed Burrow in his top 22 most influential NFL people. Burrow not only takes the No. 12 spot on the list, but King sees validity in a comparison to Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath.
In today’s sporting/social landscape, it’s almost as important to be groovy as it is to be good. And Joe Burrow is Joe Cool. In leading the formerly woebegone Bengals to the Super Bowl last year, Burrow not only become a top-tier quarterback but a major influencer. Or, as the New York Times said during the playoffs last February, “The Bengals quarterback has achieved a crossover appeal that has inspired Joe Namath comparisons.” The reason why I think Burrow has shot to the top of NFL Q ratings is not only his ability and his Gen-Z-appealing fashion sense, but also his attitude. He really has some Namath in him, the ability to play like the ultimate tough guy and at the same time having an I-could-care-less-what-you-think-of-me attitude. He doesn’t get nervous or tight in big moments. And if his line could have blocked Aaron Donald down the stretch of Super Bowl LVI, he would have had the time to win it. Whether he’d have made the plays necessary to win, that would have been on him. But he just didn’t have enough time.
The essence of Burrow is simply walking the walk in order to talk the talk. Burrow’s confidence remains clear of arrogance because of the genuine work and effort he puts into his craft, and the output almost always reflect the input. But he’s not some old-head who’s out of touch with younger generations; he maintains an old-school mentality while sporting a youthful charisma.
For me, this was best exemplified when he gave advice to younger players looking to establish themselves in the eyes of recruiters.
“Focus on getting better.” Burrow said during Super Bowl week. “Don’t have a workout and go and post it on Instagram the next day and then go and sit on your butt for four days and everyone thinks you’re working hard but you’re really not. Work in silence. Don’t show everybody what you’re doing. Let your game on Friday nights and Saturday nights and Sunday nights show all the hard work that you put in. Don’t worry about all that social media stuff.”
Kids aren’t gonna listen to that if it’s coming from a source disconnected to the target audience. They hear that from the guy wearing a Krusty Krab t-shirt after dropping 525 yards on the Baltimore Ravens and they’re gonna take it for all that it’s worth.
On top of that, who else is launching Tik Tok careers thanks to the origination of several nicknames? Hell, Burrow even caused a boom in knock-off Cartier framed glasses because he thought they looked cool.
If that’s not the embodiment of influence, I don’t know what is.
Still, it’s wild to see a third-year quarterback who’s played just over 30-career games rank higher than two owners and arguably the greatest coach of all-time, but King’s reasoning holds weight. Burrow’s impact is already transcending beyond his spirals, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.