Thursday, November 23, 2017
Colleges

Winston's play was Heisman-worthy throughout

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In the end, it was more about the highlights than it was the headlines.

In the end, it was more about a football trophy that honored a football player than it was the controversy that lingered after him.

In the end, it was all about Jameis Winston, one of the Heisman-est players in the history of the Heisman Trophy.

Finally, with the case being closed and the voters' eyes being opened, most Heisman voters recognized the amazing season of Winston. After all, there was no other choice. On the field, the Florida State quarterback was bright lights and fireworks all season.

For a while, however, scandal seemed to be the only thing in the way of Winston and the Heisman. As long as the sexual assault allegations lingered over Winston, voters expressed doubt. One month ago, an ESPN poll suggested that 30 percent of the respondents would not vote for Winston because of the controversy. Even with the case closed and no charges, 115 of 900 voters (12.8 percent) left him off their ballots.

But most voters looked at Winston differently. And what they saw was that magnificent night against Clemson when he threw for 444 yards. They saw the end-of-the-half scrambling Hail Mary pass against Boston College. They saw the 96-yard drive against Florida.

That's the thing about the Heisman. It isn't just about statistics, although Winston's are glowing. It isn't just about results, although Winston's team is undefeated. It's about the performance in big games, and in key moments, that sticks with you and earned Winston an enormous 668 first-place votes.

More than his arm, more than his legs, more than his vision, Winston is a player who seems to respond to the crucial moment. For instance, he has had wobbly first halves this year: against Miami, against Florida, against Duke. But each time, he finished with more than 300 yards, and his team won going away.

The 19-year-old has a presence. He has a way of looking at Jimbo Fisher, one of those that's-not-funny head coaches, and flashing him that goofy grin that says everything is going to be all right.

In the redshirt freshman's hands, you hope the Heisman is going to be all right, too. And that's the challenge for Winston. Going forward, away from the controversy, you hope that he makes sure there is never another reason to doubt him. From here on out, it would be nice if his reputation was pristine.

Remember this: Over the history of the Heisman, all winners are not created equal. Winston wasn't one of those so-so Heisman winners who you look back at later and try to figure out how he won.

He wasn't Eric Crouch, for instance, and he wasn't Andre Ware, and for crying out loud, he wasn't Paul Hornung (who had 917 yards passing and 420 rushing for a two-win Notre Dame team in 1956). He wasn't Rashaan Salaam or Gary Beban or Angelo Bertelli (who only played in six of Notre Dame's 10 games in 1943).

Nor was there an oddness to the vote. He wasn't Charles Woodson beating out Peyton Manning. He wasn't Mike Rozier beating out Steve Young.

No, Winston belongs up there with the crown jewel seasons of the best Heisman winners. Johnny Manziel's season last year. Cam Newton's in 2010. Danny Wuerffel's in 1996. Barry Sanders' in 1988.

In fact, you can put Winston's season up there with most of them. Consider this: Of the 30 quarterbacks who have won the Heisman, no one has had as high a quarterback rating as Winston's 190.1. Only six have thrown for more than Winston's 3,820 yards. Only five have thrown for more than Winston's 38 touchdowns.

It is a strange trophy, the Heisman. It comes in the first half of most players' career, and as such, there are many winners who have fizzled and flopped in the pros. Still, few trophies have the lasting power of the Heisman.

Put it this way: Can you name the Super Bowl MVP from, say, 1986? The Cy Young winner? The Hart Trophy winner? The Butkus Award? Probably not.

Yet, you probably remember that 1986 was the year Miami's Vinny Testaverde won the Heisman. There is no other award in sports that seems to last as long as this one.

This year, the award belongs to Winston.

Who knows? Maybe he'll win it again next year.

You know, just for grins.

     
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