Jimmy Oertell Burson, 81, passed away on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.
Mr. Burson is preceded in death by his beloved wife of 59 years, Harriett Huff Burson, and his mother Mary Lucille (Neighbors) Walls, step father, Hugh Walls, and sister, Mary Ellen Bonner.
Jimmy grew up in LaGrange, Georgia where he was an All-State performer in basketball, baseball, and football. It was football where he left his mark on the small town, as he helped LaGrange High School win the 1958 AAA State Championship his senior year. Burson was named a high school All-American, participated in several National High School All American games and received honors including All Georgia, All Region, and named the Atlanta Journal & Constitution AAA Running Back of the Year. This past June, Jimmy was named one of the top 100 candidates in contention for 36 spots in the inaugural Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame class to be inducted in October.
Burson became an “AUBURN MAN” after being a highly recruited football player out of high school, and eventually chose Auburn over rival Georgia because it was close to home, and the Tigers had just won the National Championship in 1957. Legendary Erk Russell was an assistant coach at Auburn at the time and visited Jimmy at his home with his scholarship to sign. Burson had quite a successful career at Auburn In spite of several injuries, including a detached retina and broken arm his senior year. He was considered a “Triple Threat” as he was a running back, defensive back and kick-off return man. Highlights include a 105 yard kick-off return in a 10-0 win over Chattanooga in 1960, a 108 yard game rushing against Tennessee in an exciting 24-21 win in Knoxville in 1961, and in the same year he ran an interception back for a touch down against Florida. His senior year in 1962, he led Auburn in interceptions with 4.
It was at Auburn where Burson first met the love of his life, then Harriett Huff from Waycross, GA. He saw a picture of Harriett in the Auburn newspaper, The Plainsman, where she was featured as the week’s “Loveliest of the Plains.” The feature led to their 1st date, and the two fell quickly in love and eventually married on December18th, 1962. Harriett was the joy of Jimmy’s life and he was deeply devoted to her up until her passing on December 14th, 2020.
Burson was drafted by the St.Louis Cardinals and Houston Oilers as a defensive back in 1963, however, it was the Cardinals Burson chose and enjoyed a 5 year career before eventually being traded to the Washington Redskins and thenthe Atlanta Falcons in 1968. Burson is listed as #78 on the Top 100 All-Time St. Louis Cardinals. Playing side by side Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, Burson picked-off 12 interceptions as a Cardinal including 5 in 1965. He also returned a punt back 68 yards for a touchdown vs the San Francisco Giants for a 23-13 win, and picked off two of Don Meredith’s passes in a 20-13 win over the undefeated Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in the same year. Burson finished his career as an Atlanta Falcon, after leading the club with 4 interceptions in 1968.
Both of Jimmy and Harriett’s children were born during his time in the NFL. Brett was born on November 7th, 1965 and announced at half-time of the St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburg Steelers game. A big day for Jimmy as the Cardinals won 21-17 and he enjoyed the arrival of his 1st born. Buffie was born in 1967, Jimmy’s last year in St. Louis.
Following Burson’s illustrious playing career, he became a high school football coach and teacher for over 30 years. This past June he celebrated the 50th reunion with his 1st team he coached in 1973, The Northside High School Tigers (now North Atlanta). He was also head coach at Milton during the 70’s, and early 80’s, and had several other coaching stops in Fulton County before retirement. Burson was known for his creative offensive mind, and a master at play design. Well respected as a coach through out the state of Georgia, Burson impacted and influenced hundreds of young men and women. His daughter Buffie, followed him in his coaching steps and has coached the University of North Georgia Women’s Basketball Team for over 28 years now. He and wife Harriett were fixtures at basketball games and found a great amount of joy watching their daughter coach.
Jimmy Burson is survived by his children Brett and Buffie Burson of Dahlonega, Georgia and his beloved Australian Shepherds, Gracie B and Cowboy. He leaves behind a legacy of excellence, kindness, and integrity.