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Sam Hubbard and Joe Borough: Friendship is at the heart of the Bengals’ renaissance

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CINCINNATI – Like most great friendships, the one that developed between them Sam Hubbard And Joe Burrow put on meals.

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Not just any meals, though. Frequent gluttony attacks on the digestive system.

Hubbard was a sophomore backup at Ohio State, in the process of making the transition from Mueller High School safety to college defensive lineman. Burrow, who runs in the shadows of JT Barrett at quarterback, has had a redshirt season focused on remodeling a skinny frame coming out of Athens High School.

Inside a group conversation of about 10 football friends at Ohio State, a definite series of events kept unfolding.

“I always said, ‘Who wants to get some food?'” Hubbard said. “Nobody ever wants to go—except Joe. He and I would always go to all you can eat BDs Mongolian Grill or Hibachi in an effort to gain weight the next day. We just kind of always bonded that way when you were back up and trying to gain weight together.”

Stacks of Asian fry may help reshape their bodies, and they won’t realize at that moment, reshape an image Bengals football.

These meals allowed two Ohio State boys to play in a sea of ​​the nation’s most talented prospects to communicate about similar upbringings, views on nurturing others, attitudes toward football, and approaches to leadership and winning.

The outgoing type wasn’t constantly attracting locker room attention or interested much in the distractions that come with playing major college football.

They just discovered a real connection. And $10 all-you-can-eat stir-fry.

“We have similar mindsets,” Burrow said of their days in the Columbus dorms. “We always had similar goals and always worked hard. I had some fun times too. When you go through it all together in your formative years, you develop a bond that lasts forever.”


On December 14, 2019, Burrow took the stage at Palladium Times Square in New York City to receive the Heisman Trophy and deliver his acceptance speech as inspiring and poignant as his record-breaking senior season at LSU.

He has stood as one of the most recognizable faces in the world of sports.

Just three and a half years ago in New York, he stood beside Hubbard as a humble intern at Goldman Sachs.

“Wolves of Wall Street,” was the caption of a photo Burrow took alongside Buckeyes future Austin Mack to post to Instagram about their week inside the monster business with a player training program. Just one of many adventures over the years and since they both left Ohio State in 2017. Hubbard declared for the NFL Draft and Burrow moved to LSU.

What followed were trips to Nashville where a close friend, fellow Buckeyes, and group chat member— Nick Bosa He was selected second overall by 49ers In the 2019 draft. They took a golf trip to Arizona and played for Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker. They traveled to Ohio State for last year’s game against Notre Dame. And the list goes on.

A notable meeting came in the months leading up to the 2020 draft. Hubbard was training in Fort Lauderdale after his sophomore season, a demoralizing 2-14 campaign that ended with the Bengals receiving the first overall pick.

Burrow was destined to make the television and radio rounds during Super Bowl week in Miami after winning the Heisman and national championships. Bossa was playing in the match for 49 players. Like any good friend a few weeks after graduating from college, Burrow offered to let Hubbard crash in his hotel room rather than walk the 45-minute round trip.

Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap He noted via ESPN that Hubbard was “his flirt into the Bengal world”. The legend of Hubbard’s “recruitment” grew.

Burrow Wednesday laughed as he looked back.

“Nah,” he said. “We were just hanging out. I haven’t seen him in a while so it was good to see him at the time.”

Hubbard recalls the same thing, once their old question was asked again: Who wants to get some food?

“We only went to a few dinners,” he said, “and it wasn’t like I was recruiting.”

No, recruiting was not the word. There was talk that Burrow might not play in Cincinnati. The national media fanned the flames. Burrow had always played for the Bengals and any combo otherwise was promptly scrapped after weeks at the NFL Scouting Combine.

But Hubbard served as one of the first points of contact about what his future would look like in Cincinnati. These are close friends. They were about to work together after three years of separation. Burrow will be counted on to save the franchise — the Hubbard City franchise, by the way.

Hubbard wanted to do what a good friend would do in this situation: be transparent.

“I was just telling him about (Bengals coach Zack Taylor),” Hubbard said. “You’re really going to love this guy. We got a bad name. But it’s not as bad as it seems, I promise. I’m not going to lie to you.”

It’s fair to say that three years, two AFC North titles and a Super Bowl appearance later, Hubbard didn’t.


Fumble recovery Sam Hubbard returned a fumble 98 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the wild card game against the Ravens. (Karim the Butcher/USA Today)

Did Taylor need that seal of approval for Burrow’s arrival in Cincinnati to help turn the tide on the organization? number.

But undeniably, the unfiltered, trusted vote of confidence mattered.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Taylor said, “to paint a proper picture of what a player like Joe Burrow is going for from someone who has supported this franchise since birth, probably, and has been a big part of what we’re building. That was an important part of that process.”

Taylor took time in his senior season and in that year’s exit meeting to cement what he saw in a man Mike Tirico had dubbed the “Cincinnati Kid” during Sunday’s iconic moment of his 98-yard return for a touchdown in the face of crows. He saw what a leader looked like Michael Brookers was to Los Angeles Rams. A cultural staple around which this entire project can be built.

“He was the first person in my freshman year where I would push, ‘Hey, this team respects you when you speak,’” Taylor said. “He was still a young player. And he was still finding his way through it all. But he’s always been that consistent piece that everyone always looks to set the standard. If Sam does it that way, this is how I have to do it.”

Hubbard uniquely understood the process at hand with the Bengals and the path to changing the history and image of the franchise. The approach made sense in the same way as his friendship with Burrow.

Sitting on Zoom near the visiting locker room at Arrowhead Stadium this past January with worn black paint dripping down his cheeks and an AFC Champions League hat over his eyes, Hubbard couldn’t help but think back to that moment in Miami, a contemplative conception. What they can help build together.

Hubbard said after OT’s 27-24 win over OT heads. “We’ve won our whole lives. I’ve been so miserable with so many of my teammates losing matches in the last few years. I said to Joe, ‘We need you. You’re the guy who turns us around. I know he is.’ I embraced it.”


When Burroughs first came to Cincinnati, it was usually no starting place with Hubbard at his side. They were few and far between in the early months of the pandemic, but rehearsals at Black Sheep Performance came regularly and by the end the majority of their teammates were following them there waiting for training camp to open.

Periodic dinners around town and helping Burrow acclimate to Hubbard’s hometown made him a natural tour guide.

Inside the building, finding a way to implement a culture that needed to change gradually began to be found. add players like DJ Reader, Von Bell And a crew of others with a similar approach to the game populated around them trying to figure out what they had.

Hubbard and Burrow were both circling the ball. No drama. No major speeches unless justified. Uncompromising approach to doing the work and caring for his teammates. Those values ​​and mindsets that brought them together at BD’s Mongolian Grill were essential to their infiltration into Paul Brown’s court.

Taylor called it “dealing with your work culture.” “These guys go about their business every day. You know what you get into every day. And we’ve managed to add a lot of people like them.”

Those who are not like them stood out and were eliminated.

“They being leaders, and having that chemistry is great,” said Reeder. “They’re both from Ohio, a real sense of pride so it means a lot to the entire locker room.”

Running to Super Bowl LVI only strengthened the foundation.

The world knew all about the difference Burrow made. His face was plastered across buildings all over Los Angeles during Super Bowl week. His name is on everyone’s lips NFL analyst in the country.

His titles and classification were discussed. His clothes are discussed and immortalized.

Then there was Hubbard, in charge as much as everyone else, chasing after Patrick Mahomes Round every blade of Arrowhead turf for over three hours to showcase a drive that helped inspire the team and a defense designed to play in its image. He repeated the process this year enjoying one of his most productive and well-rounded seasons with 56 pressures, 33 stops and nine sacks, via PFF. Only eight other edge rush tools can make the same claim.

“It’s what this whole thing is built on—toughness, hard work, and drive,” said Burrow. “Those are the kind of guys we’re trying to get here. He’s one of my best friends and he makes big plays over and over again. He gets his job done, he has a positive locker room attitude. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.”

Burrow understands the deeper impact. Team members, coaches, and staff do internally, too. While the Burrow MVP case raged weekly, Hubbard, the team’s back-to-back Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, played the role of an unknown defensive lineman.

until sunday.

Suddenly, the dynamic shifted. After “The Fumble in the Jungle” and a moment that will live in franchise history for generations, all eyes are off Burrow and toward his best friend.

Hubbard was standing next to Burrow during a post-game interview with NBC’s Melissa Stark. They walked together, the crowd shouting their names, game balls in their hands, smiles on their faces, Hubbard admitting his now famous fear of being caught from behind.

Hubbard with NFL Network and ESPN was on the court after the game. An interview request from The Wall Street Journal, Bengals content, and national television partners suddenly fell into his tight schedule. He even did such a good job with his friend that a joint interview request with Hubbard and Reeder from CBS freed up what would have been another round of 25-minute media commitments for Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase together.

For Borough, the center of attention who rarely prefers to be the center of attention, he was understandably happy to see his friend enjoy the 98-yard dash to eternity.

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“I texted him (Tuesday),” Burrow said. “I was like, Man, he’s crazy. You had a 98-yard touchdown in the playoffs! He was like, Man, I know! It’s wild. It was amusing.”

Back to the facility Wednesday to prepare for buffalo It means leaving Sunday behind. The culture of handling your business demands a lot while trying to re-center and survive yet another breakup wave their standard helped create.

Not surprisingly, for Borough and Hubbard, that meant a meal.

“We just had lunch,” Hubbard said. “When I talk to Joe, I don’t talk to a top quarterback. He doesn’t talk to me like a spinning defensive end (star). It’s just two guys, two friends hanging out. That’s what’s good about our relationship. When things get tough or go well in Team, we kind of have this guy, buddy in your corner in Joe to go set the record straight and have this assurance that we’re going to get through whatever it is.”

(Top photo: Dylan Boyle/Getty Images)

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