We were well into a wonderful meal at the restaurant Oven Bird in Birmingham, when the conversation turned to a list of the best 10 athletes to come from the state of Alabama that one of the guys found on his phone.
We named several, but to our shame, we joined the long list of fans to somehow underrate Hank Aaron by not being able to come up with who had relegated Willie Mays to number two.
We also found out, between the hanger steak and the snapper fillet, that Bo Jackson and Jameis Winston are from the same tiny town, Bessemer, which is on the outskirts of Birmingham.
Imagine coming from a community of 25,000, winning the Heisman trophy as a college freshman, and still being the second-best athlete from your home town.
Jackson and Winston both starred in football and were also selected in the MLB draft, and both dabbled in juvenile delinquency, though this is the one area in which Jameis eventually outdid Bo.
(Read Jeff Pearlman’s The Last Folk Hero to learn about Bo when he was Vincent Jackson and not an icon).
Winston's Path To FSU
Coming out of Hueytown High, Winston was considered both the best quarterback (ESPN) and best dual-threat QB (Rivals.com) in the nation, but in his first year at Florida State, he redshirted while senior E.J. Manuel started for the Seminoles.
As the 2013 football season kicked off, Winston had very little profile and did not figure in the Heisman Trophy odds, which featured South Carolina defensive terror Jadeveon Clowney at +500 and Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller at +300, with a bunch of quarterbacks – A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater - also in the mix.
Winston quickly solved that profile problem, though, in a road game debut at Pitt.
“The story of the game was freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who came into the game having the unfortunate task of trying to fill E.J. Manuel's shoes,” SB Nation reported at the time. “Winston surpassed any and all expectations, completing 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and a touchdown. It was about as impressive of a debut as you can have in college football, and Winston's name will likely enter the Heisman race sooner rather than later.”
Oddsmakers quickly learned how to spell Jameis, and entering the second week of the season, he was one of eight players listed between +400 and +800.
The Pitt game was the start of a season-long tear for Winston, who led the Noles to an undefeated regular season, an ACC Championship blowout of Duke and a narrow win over Auburn in the BCS National Championship game.
Since FSU was smacking the crap out of everyone that year, Winston played every offensive snap of a game just three times, but still threw for 300 yards seven times and accounted for at least four touchdowns on six occasions.
Winston Heisman Season Highlights
Week 5 vs Maryland, 63-0, 393 yards passing.
Week 6 at Clemson, 51-14, 444 yards passing.
“Jameis Winston and Florida State didn't take long to hush Death Valley, making a statement that that could be heard from Alabama to Oregon,” said ESPN. “The Seminoles' remarkable redshirt freshman threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns and No. 5 Florida State crushed No. 3 Clemson 51-14 Saturday night.”
Week 8 vs Miami, 41-14, 325 yards passing.
The Heisman was now a two-man race, with Winston and Mariota both -110 during Weeks 9 and 10 of the season, with the next biggest threat Manziel at +1000, before Mariota fell off a cliff as Oregon fell to11-2, including an ugly loss to unranked Arizona.
Heading into conference championship week, Winston was -5000 for the Heisman, while Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch was in second spot at +1000.
As ESPN said of the ACC championship game, “Jameis Winston and No. 1 Florida State made it look easy again.
The Seminoles are headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship after one of the most dominant regular seasons in college football history.
‘This whole week has been very high emotion,’ Winston said. ‘We wanted to win this championship so bad. We were looking forward to having an undefeated season.’
Two days after prosecutors decided not to press charges against him in a sexual assault case, the 19-year-old redshirt freshman threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score, and Florida State stormed into the title game with a 45-7 victory over No. 20 Duke on Saturday night.”
Sexual assault? Yes, when Winston wasn’t impersonating Superman on the field, he was playing the role of entitled dumbass off the field, with a predilection for doing stupid/evil shit.
Less serious than rape, for which Winston was eventually sued in civil court and settled, his police blotter highlights also included stealing crab legs and crawfish from a supermarket, and two incidents involving pellet guns.
Winston and his roommate were handcuffed after they were reported to be shooting pellet guns at squirrels, and showed their remorse by, later that same night, shooting up their apartment. They weren’t charged because an official from FSU promised to reimburse the building management for the damage.
How is this relevant? Well, the mission statement of the Heisman Trust says "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."
Did this hurt Winston with oddsmakers? Hell, no.
Heading into the week of the announcement, Winston was -15,000 to win the Heisman, while “the field” was +2500.
But the sexual assault controversy had an impact on the actual Heisman voting.
Winston ran away with the ballot, earning 2,205 points for the seventh-largest margin of victory in Heisman history, with McCarron second with 704 points and Lynch third with 558.
However, Winston was left off 115 of the 900 ballots entirely, so either 115 voters didn’t watch any football that fall or character was an issue for them.
"Everyone has their own opinion," Winston said. "It's basically a numbers game, and I was blessed to have the majority vote."
He became the second freshman to win the award, after Manziel’s win the previous year. He also became the youngest to win the award, at 19 years and 342 days, and the third FSU QB to win, following Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.