Column: Rose Bowl features contrasting Heisman winners in Mariota, Winston
One Heisman is bursting out of his jersey, all smiles and certainty.
“I always have a win-win mentality,” Jameis Winston says.
The other Heisman is swallowed up by his jersey, all lowered eyes and mumbles.
“I really don’t care about legacies,” Marcus Mariota says.
One Heisman loves the attention, stepping powerfully into a hotel ballroom filled with media as if he’s walking into his wedding reception.
“I enjoy y’all,” Winston says. “Any time I can get a chance to give a shout-out to my team … is a great opportunity for me.”
The other Heisman hates this.
“I don’t like being in the limelight. I don’t like the spotlight,” Mariota says. “I would prefer just to go about my business and not have to deal with some of the stuff like this.”
For only the fourth time, two Heisman winners will be competing on the same college football field when Florida State plays Oregon on Thursday in a national semifinal game at the Rose Bowl.
The quarterbacks share the same short-term goal of winning a national championship. They share the identical long-term dream of being a top draft pick in the NFL this spring.
But the two Heisman winners will be playing very different games.
Winston, the Florida State quarterback who loudly won the Heisman Trophy last season and has never lost in 26 collegiate starts, is playing to remind everyone that it’s all about the quarterback.
“They follow me, I’m their leader,” he says of his teammates. “I think my confidence rubs off on them because I believe we can win any time in the game.”
Mariota, the Oregon quarterback who quietly won the Heisman Trophy this season, is playing to remind everyone that it’s all about the team.
“It’s easier to handle some of this spotlight stuff when the team gets it,” he says. “Honestly, they deserve it, because without them, none of this stuff would be possible.”
Winston will be playing for redemption after two seasons filled with off-field controversies, from rape allegations to a citation for stealing crab legs from a grocery store.
“‘I’ve got to let my actions speak louder than words because of past things,” he says.
Mariota requires no such redemption after a college career blemished only by a speeding ticket issued in November during an encounter with police in which he apologized to the patrolman.
“I was driving a bit fast. I think I was, um, going like 85. I’m really sorry,” he told the officer, according to police transcripts.
“Actually, it was 80,” said the officer.
Winston, who looks like a powerful linebacker in his uniform, will be playing loudly, brashly, with the sort of confidence that led Florida State downfield in the final minutes to beat Auburn for the national title in Pasadena last season. He can be so full of himself that after beating Notre Dame this season his coach, Jimbo Fisher, actually urged him to cool it for the cameras.
“Now here’s what you’ve got to do,” Fisher said in Winston’s ear, not knowing his words were being caught on tape. “Calm down, don’t give them that overexuberant look.… Act very passive here and get people back on your side. Do you understand what I’m telling you? Humble, humble pie. You got me?”
Mariota, who looks like a wiry track athlete in his uniform, requires no such speeches from his coaches. If Oregon wins, here’s guessing he’ll immediately disappear into a scrum of celebrating teammates. In fact, there are NFL scouts who worry that he is too humble, too deferential.
During his three-minute Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, the Hawaii native said “Thank you” approximately once every 10 seconds, or 18 times total, including ending the speech with a thank you in Samoan.
His parents requested that nobody in his traveling party wear leis during the Heisman ceremony because the flowered necklaces are for celebrations, and it would be rude to celebrate before he won the award. However, Mariota wore a lei afterward, and then, before he left New York, he removed it at the 9/11 Memorial and laid it on the name of a fallen Hawaiian.
“It’s surreal, it’s been a blessing,” Mariota says.
The blessing will be shared by 92,000 fans at the Rose Bowl on Thursday with the contrasting Heisman winners taking the field in the sort of quarterback showdown that hasn’t been seen in these parts since USC’s Matt Leinart battled Texas’ Vince Young in a 2006 Rose Bowl that was one of the greatest games ever.
Winston was the better quarterback last season, but Mariota has dominated this season. He’s accounted for nearly twice as many total touchdowns (53-27), amassed 813 more total yards, and has thrown 15 fewer interceptions — only two picks in 372 passes.
However, Winston has the big-game aura that has allowed him to remain unbeaten, while Mariota has lost at least once in each of his three seasons — including two losses to rival Stanford.
The only certainty is, a Heisman Trophy winner will win. Might be the one with the embraceable old-fashioned helmet and grimace. Might be the one with the stiff arm.
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