The Tragic Real Life Story Of Joe Burrow

The following article includes mentions of mental health struggles.

With the Cincinnati Bengals winning the AFC Championship and making it to the 2022 Super Bowl for the first time in over 30 years, per NBC Sports, it appears that all eyes are on quarterback Joe Burrow. The athlete impressed football fans with an 18-point comeback against the defending conference champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, before winning the game in overtime.

Not only would Burrow be playing in his first Super Bowl in only his second year as an NFL player, but the win came only two years after he won the College Football National Championship while at Louisiana State University. Burrow revealed to the press (via WLWT), "I think if you would've told me before the season that we'd be going to the Super Bowl I would've called you crazy but we played a whole season, and nothing surprises me now." As of this writing, he now has the chance to make history as the first quarterback to win the college football national championship, a Heisman Trophy, and the Super Bowl. 

Burrow may be enjoying his new superstar status (decked out in a giant diamond chain, no less!), but this QB didn't always have it easy. Yet he did claim, according to 247 Sports, "I think I am who I am because of the difficult times that I went through in my career. ... If you look at all the quarterbacks that were in the playoffs, a lot of them have gone through a lot of adversity throughout their careers." Let's break down those tragedies that made Joe Burrow the player he is today. 

His NFL career almost ended his rookie year

In November 2020, when Joe Burrow was only in his first season of playing in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback suffered a serious knee injury that almost ended his entire football career. According to 247 Sports, while playing against the Washington Football Team, Burrow "tore his ACL and MCL and partially tore his PCL and meniscus." His father, Jim Burrow, recalled to the New York Post, "Once they called us from the locker room, Joe and the doctors — and we knew it was a significant injury." Despite the grim outlook, Jim added that his son "was just already focused on getting it fixed and rehabbing and being ready for the first game."

Joe had to sit out the rest of that year and went on to have reconstructive surgery. But recovery wasn't easy, with the QB dishing to SI, "It was pretty miserable. ... It was tough for me to do anything by myself, whether it was shower, go to the bathroom, all of that."

Of course, he went on to play the next season, yet that too came with a few close calls. In early January 2022, Joe Burrow suffered another knee injury during a game, but explained (via, "It's my right knee that was a little sore. ... I just re-aggravated it a little bit." He sat out another game before the playoffs, too, claiming, "Any time you can get a little break at this point in the season ... bodies are starting to wear down a little bit."

Joe Burrow struggled with his mental health

Joe Burrow's knee injury and recovery didn't just cause him physical pain, it also led him to struggle mentally. It seems the former college champion knew that his injury could mean an end to his NFL career, and having to make a major comeback with physical limitations was understandably tough on the athlete. In 2021, he explained to CBS Sports, "At the beginning of [training] camp, I was going through a little mental hurdle that I had to get over." The quarterback added that he overcame it by "attacking every day with an intensity that I think is necessary to get me back."

Burrow admitted his confidence was shaken, though, revealing to "Inside Training Camp Live" (via 247 Sports), "I didn't really expect it to be that way, but the first week there was a lot on my mind." The NFL star went on to say of his recovery, "It's a mental thing, getting back to playing football against top-level competition."

However, Burrow didn't seem worried about opening up about his internal struggle, perhaps because he's spoken about mental health before. In 2019, during the SEC Media Days, Burrows told reporters (via Fox17), "We are shifting towards being manly is expressing your feelings." He continued, "I think one it is important to talk about adversity that you've faced and low points in your life to show that it is okay to be depressed. It is okay to be sad and anxious and have anxiety."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The quarterback endured several other injuries

If a near career-ending knee injury wasn't enough for Joe Burrow to deal with, the Cincinnati Bengals star suffered two more serious injuries in 2021 that caused some setbacks. ESPN reports that in October of that year, the quarterback experienced a painful throat contusion during a game against the Green Bay Packers. The injury was apparently so bad that Burrow had to be admitted to a hospital for treatment instead of being cared for by his team's doctors. Reporter Kelsey Conway tweeted at the time, "He's having trouble speaking. He won't be made available to the media as he usually is following the game." Burrow went on to sit out several media availabilities because he had to be on voice rest.

In December 2021, Burrow got injured on the field again, breaking his pinky finger during a game against the Los Angeles Chargers. What made matters worse, though, was that it was his throwing hand. He explained to the press (via ESPN), "Any time you have a finger injury on your throwing hand, it's gonna take some tweaking to see how you're gonna be able to throw the ball."

That wasn't the only time Burrow hurt his throwing hand, either. According to Eleven Warriors, the athlete sat out part of the 2017 season at Ohio State after breaking a bone in his right hand. Burrow recalled to "Letterman Row," "It happened during inside drill. Chris Worley thought I had the ball, realized it late, and hit my hand. It was just a freak thing."

Joe Burrow moved around a lot as a kid

Joe Burrow may call Cincinnati home these days, but the Bengals' quarterback moved around a lot as a child because of his father's job. While the Burrows originally hailed from Northern Mississippi, per SI, Joe spent the first few years of his life Ames, Iowa, where dad Jim Burrow worked as a football coach. However, when it comes to Joe's memories there, Jim told the Des Moines Register, "Ultimately, what he knows is what he's been told. He was pretty young back then."

From there, Jim got a job as an assistant coach for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. NBC Sports reports that because of that, Joe spent some of his childhood in Lincoln, and apparently hoped to return to play college football there. He dished to "College GameDay" (via 247 Sports), "I had one offer after my junior year of high school, and it was my dad's team. I wanted to go to Nebraska."

The Burrows then moved to Fargo, North Dakota for a few years, once Jim became the defensive coordinator for the North Dakota State Bison. Eventually, Jim landed a job at Ohio University, which brought Joe to Athens, Ohio, the place he considers his hometown. While it had to be hard for Joe to constantly have to make new friends every few years, it seems he got through it by playing sports. In terms of Athens, his dad told WGNO, "A lot of people at this school ... and here around town have a lot to do with his journey."

The NFL player lived in an impoverished area

Fans may not know that NFL star Joe Burrow grew up near a poverty-stricken area of Ohio. It appears that seeing some of his friends and classmates go hungry really impacted Burrow. The football player even shed light on the issue in his 2019 Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. He explained, per, "Coming from Southeast Ohio, it's a very impoverished area. The poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There are so many people there that don't have a lot." Burrow made it clear he hadn't forgotten where he came from, adding, "I'm up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school."

Although Burrow revealed to The New York Times, "I'd lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods before we moved to Athens and The Plains," he claimed when it came to the town he calls home, "I understood it was a poor area when I was young. ... You see these low-income homes that I hadn't really seen before." The NFL star did add, though, "You don't really understand the magnitude until you get older."

The quarterback not only went on to create the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund, but his Heisman speech led to an increase in volunteers at Athens food pantries, per the Bengals' website. One volunteer even admitted, "Joe Burrow is the reason I'm here. ... I saw his speech and I thought, 'I'll volunteer for the food pantry.' ... He inspired us."

Joe Burrow struggled at Ohio State

It's no secret that Joe Burrow had a hard time at Ohio State University. Despite getting recruited for football, he barely got on the field, serving only as the team's backup and then third-string quarterback during his time there. It probably didn't help that his then-coach, Urban Meyer, was apparently especially hard on him, even reportedly telling him (via 247 Sports) that he "threw like a girl." Burrow recalled, "When he gets a new quarterback there as a freshman, he kind of pokes and prods them to see what they can take. ... So he would be back there yelling at me."

Apparently, the pressure he was under was noticeable to his parents. His mother, Robin Burrow, told SI that because of it, she would often visit her son at college just to take him for an ice cream. She even added, "I would drive up on Sundays and trade out his laundry with a new batch that was clean, so he didn't have to worry about that." Robin explained why she felt that helped, saying, "Little things, so we could keep life as normal and stress-free as possible ... so he'd keep pushing through it."

While Ohio State didn't necessarily work out for Joe, he appears grateful for that difficult period, explaining (via 247 Sports), "I wouldn't be the same player that I am today without those trials and tribulations that I went through there." He continued, "Part of what makes certain people great is the adversity that they've had to go through."

The athlete faced a heartbreaking decision

Things not going as planned at Ohio State led Joe Burrow to having to make the difficult decision to transfer to Louisiana State University late in his college career. In 2019, he explained to "College GameDay" (via 247 Sports) that he initially thought, "I'll sit for two years ... and then I'll have a great career," adding, "That's just not how it worked out." Being told he "wasn't good enough" to start had to hurt, too, but it was apparently something that he was used to hearing "since recruiting" began, as he admitted, "Ohio State was really my only big-time offer."

Joe eventually had to leave Ohio State so he could play more football, but the decision was seemingly heartbreaking. He recalled, "It was pretty emotional. They didn't want me to leave. And I didn't want to leave." The future NFL star added, "That was my first career. That's where I went to college first. ... That's where I learned to become a man. ... It was hard."

Dad Jim Burrow reiterated his son's feelings to the New York Post, saying, "That was a tough time for Joe. ... He really had good friends and good teammates." Jim continued, "He went there to win a national championship, so his thought process was he willing to move on and give up that chance? It took a while for him to make that decision." These days, Joe Burrow has advice for college players who may be in a similar situation, revealing, "I always tell them don't make it an emotional decision."

Joe Burrow heard about a plane crash while on air

It's obvious that Joe Burrow's time at Louisiana State University was special to him in that it helped launch the NFL career he has today. It's also safe to say that Burrow was close to his team and coaches there. That's why it was presumably devastating for him to learn that offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger's daughter-in-law, Carley McCord, was one of five people who died in a plane crash.

According to the New York Post, the plane went down not long after taking off in Louisiana on December 28, 2019, with McCord on the way to watch Burrow and the rest of the Tigers in the Peach Bowl. What made things even more tragic for Burrow, in particular, was that he was first told of his coach's family member's death by ESPN reporter Dari Nowkhah while live on air. Viewers watched Burrow appear stunned after Nowkhah asked him about the tragedy, before uttering, "Oh my gosh." He then told Nowkhah he didn't know, adding, "That's a tough one. I'm going to have to go see coach [now]." He continued, "Obviously, he's a great man, great family. I hope the world is praying for him."

It's clear Burrow was not only upset about McCord's shocking death, but wanted to immediately find his coach to comfort him. Nowkhah later tweeted an apology to Burrow, writing, "I obviously feel horrible to have been the one to have broken the news of Carley McCord's passing to Joe. ... We never intended to hurt Joe."

Joe Burrow's family suffered a heartbreaking loss

Joe Burrow appears to be very close with his family. That's why it had to be very hard on the whole clan when his older brother, Jamie Burrow, and his wife, Codie, lost their unborn twins when she was four months pregnant in 2019, per SI. Jamie explained why he chose to open up about the loss, saying, "We're all about talking about our strengths in my family. This was one of our family's weakest moments."

However, the Burrows got through the tragedy together. "We've got a good extended family," Jamie revealed, noting that his "dad dropped everything and came to town" to show support during the difficult time. He was also sure to point out that little brother Joe's Heisman Trophy victory that year helped them get through the loss. "The way I was raised, in the darkest moment, you find a silver lining," Jamie said, adding, "One of the positives is that now we were able to watch all of Joe's games. We were just like, 'Let's just enjoy Joe's last [college] season.' It's bought us time to heal." Their father, Jim Burrow, also seemingly feels that Joe's football career has helped the family. He dished to "ESPN," "It's brought our family more together than it's ever been." 

It seems that while Joe Burrow has faced many tragedies in his life, he's continued to overcome every obstacle while on his way to making NFL history.