From the damaging sexual assault charges and the turmoil that followed for Florida State’s program, to the alleged autograph selling and the media-fueled public attacks that deaded his chances to win back-to-back Heismans and shifted the focus from his extraordinary play to debates about the quality of his not even legal drinking-aged character—even in those gutter moments Jameis Winston shines as a leader.
Maybe not the kind of politically correct, polished, All-American boy that the NCAA prefers to use to market its billion dollar slave trade, but history has shown us that media, politicians, teachers, cops and psychologists don’t choose our leaders. Everyday people do, and my eyes tell me Winston is the supreme leader in college football.
The road to his second consecutive National Championship begins in the Rose Bowl by taking a long journey across country to battle No. 2 Oregon and this year’s Heisman-darling Marcus Mariota, who Kush-convoluted heads are calling the “best QB in college football.”
No. 1 Alabama will meet No. 4 Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The semifinal winners will meet in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12.
As if life isn’t one big grudge match for Winston already, add the New Year’s matchup to his list of purpose games. And unless history means nothing to you, I wouldn’t bet against Jameis in that game. Championship games can make and break a career. The 21-year-old Mariota is a Redshirt Junior still trying to prove his c'hip-chops. Winston has been there and done that. As a sophomore, he's already a proven commodity.
Gridiron "G" Funk
Leaders are people who the masses depend on to bring calm to a state of chaos. Magnetic characters with the gift of persuasion and inspiration. Imploring others to hop on his or her back and ride across the finish line. Be dragged across if necessary. Leaders aren’t cordial all of the time because they can’t afford to be caught slipping. Having a nasty streak is part of a leader’s DNA. They are internally constructed and wired to spearhead the charge towards team victory. Circumstance and a combination of social phenomena anoint them as the best person for that role. Followers accept and toe the company line. Leaders speak the harshest truths, give the greatest praise, create balance and go against the grain when necessary.
Winston passes the eye test for leadership every time and few can argue that. Some cats just don’t dig the idea of him being the face of college football.
Those pundits who totally disrespected a defending-Heisman winner in Winston and pumped and hyped Mariota to front-runner status, still can’t do anything but watch Winston try to lead his team to a second consecutive title—this time as part of an inaugural four-team playoff format. Despite some hatorade being tossed FSU's way concerning strength of conference and schedule and "ugliness" of victories…yada yada…The 12-person committee featuring such respected football minds as former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, wasn't going to snub a 13-0 defending national champion that just became the ninth school in the AP Poll era to win 29 straight games.
The Rebirth of Sick…Wit It
Winston’s presence may ruffle a few conservative feathers, but no more than former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon did when he broke every rule at Brigham Young University (a strict Mormon university with an Honor Code that includes athletes abstaining from sexual activity) back in the 80s and spent most of his time there on probation, and then super-sized his anti-establishment behavior as a pro in the Windy City. ESPN called him a rebel without pause.
The establishment couldn’t control him and opposing fans and media either got a kick out of him or detested his wild antics and cockiness. As Obama said when Prez honored the '85 team at the White House in 2011, "McMahon was the Rock-N-Roll QB, who lived life with very few rules…he had kids wearing headbands and shades to school."
However, when he led the Bears to a Super Bowl in 1985, all of his deviance was forgotten by mainstream America.
BYU and the Bears tolerated his junk because he was more than just a football player. A dude like McMahon becomes the pulse of your squad. Winston similarly possesses the kind of infectious personality that lures everyone into the conversation–good or bad. The only thing the teammates of McMahon and now Winston probably agree on is the fact that they will trust whatever diagnosis and prescription these nutty professors offer for victory.
It’s the stuff you put up with when a guy is giving you everything you want on the field and exemplifying the in-game character that makes teammates hearts melt and makes head coaches millionaires.
It’s quite simple. Some cats choose to look at Winston’s cup as half-empty and others choose to see it as half-full. Those who don’t agree with the negative attention his off-the-field shenanigans have garnered him, speak about FSU as an ACC power that lacks the champion’s heart to repeat last season’s success. Because they haven’t steam-rolled opponents in 2013 fashion, most of college football nation has been waiting for FSU’s “luck” to run out.
"Last year's team was dominating, this year's team to me the word is more amazing, the resiliency in which they have," said HC Jimbo Fisher. "They compete together, they excel together. They've had some struggles together, and that's makes them so tight."
Those who wanted Winston removed from the National Championship conversation are shit out of luck. All he had to do was lose at least once like every other squad in the country and FSU would have been dropped in the polls and erased from contention. Instead, he looked every adverse situation in the eye, like a military paratrooper in Vietnam and got the “W.”
In NCAA Football and at Florida State, that’s what it’s all about. That’s how you earn your stripes as a legendary player at a football factory full of titan ballers.
Late Game Goonies
This season Winston and The Comeback Crazies (13-0) have been swimming in fire with gasoline draws on and coming out unscathed. They trailed by a touchdown at halftime against Clemson. They trailed 31-21 in the third quarter against N.C. State; they trailed 27-24 in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame; they trailed 24-7 in the third quarter against Louisville and 23-17 heading into the fourth quarter against Miami. It took a late field goal to squeeze past pedestrian Boston College 20-17. Florida was a handful, but FSU pulled out a tough 24-19 win and it took a flawless effort by Winston to edge a ground-hogging Georgia Tech squad 37-35 in the ACC championship.
In the end, however, they all got Jameis’d.
Add college playoff outcasts TCU and Baylor to the list too. The Big 12 co-champs didn't meet FSU, but Winston's undefeated season punctured their playoff hopes just the same.
Entering the Georgia Tech game, Winston haters chose to focus on the bucket of first-half interceptions he’s thrown this season, rather than the way he has consistently corrected any early deficiencies and got his Vanessa Williams on.
Winston’s been brushing his shoulders off and rising to the occasion since he became the second freshman in NCAA history to win The Heisman. He gave the college football world a dose of that elevation against the Yellow Jackets on Saturday night. After missing his first two passes, he hit 12 of the next 15 for three touchdowns to give the Seminoles a 28-21 lead. He aired out 309 yards and no interceptions. He’s 10-0 in prime-time games, and he averages 334.9 passing yards.
Rather than find cracks in Winston’s armor, the sophomore should be praised for his Harry Houdini impersonations. It makes for some dramatic football and a much-maligned, perhaps misunderstood champion like Winston is the stuff Hollywood movies are made of. He's the out-of-control, disillutioned QB whose team and coach ride-or-die with. To certain elderly football purists, Winston's a menace (but he plays baseball too so the thug label doesn't fit), but the 6-foot-4, 230-pound man-child is a superhero to young kids throughout the country looking to pitch pigskin at a powerhouse.