Jameis Winston had a household nickname before he ever took a snap in college.
As the 2013 college football season rolled along and Florida State was outscoring every team it faced by an average of nearly 40 points, the legend of "Famous Jameis" grew and grew, nearly as big as Johnny Football; bigger, still, than RGIII.
The difference between Winston and the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners before him, however, is that Famous Jameis won a much more important trophy to end his season, both for his own legacy and his school.
"Jameis grew up unbelievably tonight," an emotional Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told ESPN's Heather Cox after Florida State came from behind to beat Auburn, 34-31, in the BCS National Championship on Monday. "Tonight's probably the best football game he's ever played, because he struggled early, and that's what big-time players do. When the money is on the line, they can suck it up in the fourth quarter and do what they have to do."
When what is on the line? The money? There was money on the line?
THERE WAS MONEY ON THE LINE?!?!
No, there was not money on the line. At least not for Winston. At least not yet.
The common idiom Fisher used in his postgame interview was nothing more than sportswriter fodder, an aptly put yet perhaps ill-timed reminder that Winston not only didn't get paid for his involvement in one of the great comebacks in college football history, but NCAA rules also preclude him from making any money off the moment as long as he remains a student-athlete at Florida State. For Winston, that could be quite a while.
Woe is the redshirt freshman.
On Monday, however, there was no woe. Not for Seminole fans. Not for Winston.
When asked by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after the game how big the moment was, Winston calmly stated, "It's the biggest. Happy Birthday…We're doing it big all over the country. All over the world. And I'm proud."
He should be proud. He did something no player has ever done before.
He is the only freshman, ever, to win the Heisman Trophy and a national championship in the same year.
So what's next? What is there left to do in college football? Win another national title? Win another Heisman Trophy and another Walter Camp Award and another Davey O'Brien Award?
That's nice. That would all be…nice.
Johnny Manziel probably thought a lot of that might happen to him too after winning the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman last season. Manziel was a finalist for the award this year, but his season was mired more in scandal and unfulfilled expectations than hardware and college football glory.
Johnny Football will certainly be in the NFL next year, waiting the customary three years (or two with a redshirt season) before declaring for the professional ranks. Famous Jameis has to wait another year.
Winston, by the way, isn't complaining about this one bit. At least not yet, anyway. By all accounts, the kid is having as much fun as a second-year college athlete could possibly have, scandal notwithstanding.
"We are champions together," Winston told Rinaldi before being ushered to the dais to collect his MVP award and kiss the BCS trophy. "And through everything that we went through—through all the haters, through every single thing—we came out victorious."
The haters aren't going away. Just ask Manziel what that's like, and he didn't even win a national title on top of his Heisman award. If Florida State is going to come out victorious next year, there will be a lot—a lot—more haters now.
Florida State should be favored to win the reshuffled ACC next season, even with the addition of Notre Dame and Louisville to the schedule. Two of the Seminoles' ranked opponents—Clemson and Louisville—are losing their first-round-caliber quarterbacks to the NFL, and while other ACC teams could provide a tough out next year—FSU plays Miami, NC State, Louisville and Syracuse on the road—the neutral-site game against Oklahoma State to open the season may be what ultimately decides whether Winston and the Seminoles are back in the title hunt again next year.
So that's what Famous Jameis has to look forward to in 2014. To be honest, after accomplishing all he did this year, Oklahoma State is probably not the Cowboys team he wishes he were facing next season.
Having said that—here comes the fist clenching and light desk pounding—college athletes, at least the ones as good as Winston who bring in billions of dollars for the NCAA member institutions and the rights holders that broadcast games, should get a cut of the prize. Give the kids something and put the money in escrow until each player graduates college. Do something. You can't honestly look at the spectacle of this year's BCS title game and think the players don't deserve more than they're getting.
ESPN showed the game on FOUR different networks Monday night! ESPN had the main telecast, ESPNews had a football nerdgasm looking at the All-22 and other coaching angles, ESPN2 had some sort of cocktail party where we could watch an array of ESPN talent mingle with celebrities while watching the game together, and ESPN Classic, which I didn't even know still existed, had the game without any sound from ESPN talking heads at all.
Was ESPN just there for the journalism of it all? The payout for televising events like the BCS bowls—and next year's playoff structure—is huge for ESPN.
Now think about this: Every single person on every single one of those telecasts made more money to be at that game Monday night than Winston will make this year and next, combined.
If players aren't going to get paid for playing in the regular season, let the bowl coalitions throw in some extra scratch as a bonus for making the game. Forget about iPads and luggage for a bowl gift; give each kid a few grand in cash for making a bowl game, and increase that payout based on the prestige of the bowl.
On top of that, include some sort of monetary bonus for winning a national award as well. Should the Heisman come with a $1 million prize? Of course it should.
Again, all of this money could be held in escrow—with the schools collecting the interest—until the player graduates from that school or, in the event of a transfer, any four-year institution. Failure to graduate, even after leaving early to go to the NFL, and the player forfeits the money to be either donated to charity on his behalf or given to the school's athletics fund.
Either that, or if paying the players is totally out of the question, allow them to declare for the NFL draft sooner.
Johnny Manziel may not have been physically ready for the rigors of the NFL after one season in college, but a second season hasn't really changed his physique at all. Hell, RGIII won the Heisman in his fourth year in college before being drafted second overall, and his body still isn't ready for those professional rigors.
The rules for draft eligibility protect the schools from losing kids like in college basketball and protect the NFL from being inundated with talented "projects" who are worth drafting but not ready to help a team right away like the NBA.
The only thing the rule doesn't protect is the talent. Winston will have to spend another year in college, hoping to repeat what he did in 2013 while navigating the landmines of injury that come with every snap of the football. Ask Jadeveon Clowney what he thinks of the draft eligibility process after the year he had in college.
For now, until the draft rules change or the demand to pay players reaches a more definitive resolution, the system will remain what it is. Winston gets to be big man on campus for another year. The fans are happy to have the best player in the sport come back for a second season. The schools and media partners line their pockets off his presence in the game, and the NFL has another great star draped in hardware one year down the pipeline.
With a star like Winston, everybody wins. Especially when the money is on the line.