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Jameis Winston's Legacy Irreparably Damaged in Embarrassing Loss to Oregon

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2015

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Jameis Winston's legacy wasn't ruined in Thursday's 59-20 loss to Oregon. But it will never be quite the same.  

Winston entered the Rose Bowl as college football's ultimate winner: 26-0 as a starting quarterback, defending national champion, one-time Heisman Trophy recipient. Any claim one levied against him—he gets in too much trouble, he throws too many interceptions, he this, he that, etc.—was countered with the way he played in big moments and the fact that he never lost a game. 

Until, in spectacular fashion, he did.

Oregon ran away with the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal, coasting after Florida State collapsed in the third quarter.

Winston actually played well for the first 35 minutes, making some incredible throws, but he couldn't right the ship when the Ducks began to pull away.

His low point came on a 4th-and-5 at Oregon's 30-yard line. The 'Noles trailed 39-20 and needed to finish a drive that had already lasted seven plays. Head coach Jimbo Fisher called a timeout, aware of how important the upcoming down would prove.

And then…well…this:

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The play itself was not Winston's fault—tight end Nick O'Leary fell on his route, and Oregon's eight-man coverage shell did its job—but the way in which it happened was. It was a meme-able, GIF-able, Internet-able moment on par with Mark Sanchez's butt fumble.

But everything that happened after made it worse.

First, ESPN cameras caught Fisher beckoning for Winston and whispering in his ear—a scene reminiscent of the "Humble Pie" ordeal in October. The clip has no audio, but Fisher appears to cuss at Winston and threaten to bench him if he didn't calm down.

He didn't calm down.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Winston threw a pick two plays later, threading a pass into traffic that was tipped by Travis Rudolph and intercepted by Erick Dargan. The throw was (again) not Jameis' fault in a vacuum, but it underscored a night in which he didn't have his signature mojo.

And therein lies the reason for his irreparably damaged legacy: He didn't have his mojo when he needed it most. 

Florida State was supposed to be the team that never died—the Zombie 'Noles—and Winston was the face of that effort. Every time you thought you had him pinned, he wriggled away and made you tap out. Spotting the other team a lead, making them think they have a chance, then crushing their dreams was the crux of his mythology.

But this time? It was Jameis' dreams that got crushed.

Jan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) during the post-game press conference after the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game at Rose Bowl. Oregon Ducks defeated Florida State Seminoles 59-20. Mandatory Credit
USA TODAY Sports

Winston has not declared for the 2015 NFL draft, but he's expected to. There's a strong chance this was his last college game.

If it was—and especially if it wasn't—he will still go down as one of the best college players of the decade. He went 14-0 and won the national title and the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.

Even in the post-Johnny Manziel era, that was a season unlike any we had ever seen. And he followed it up by leading a far less talented group to the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Jan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) scrambles under pressure from Oregon Ducks linebacker Tony Washington (91) in the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea
USA TODAY Sports

To wit, Winston's legacy was damaged more than ruined in Pasadena. That he really didn't play that poorly helps. And he still has a presumed long NFL career ahead of him.

"What people think about me is none of my business, really," Winston said before the game, per Greg Couch of Bleacher Report. "It's not like I just look up what people say about me all the time. I really don't know what the word around the street is."

For the immediate future, that might be a blessing. Because now that he has lost a game, the word around the street has taken a different tone. He no longer wears the armor of his undefeated record.

His legacy will never be the same.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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