Jaboo and Johnny Football


On Labor Day, I joined a few other euphoric Florida State fans in the midst of a 25/27 debut and proclaimed Jameis Winston the Heisman Trophy winner. Shortly thereafter, a handwritten notebook page of quarterbacking qualities authored by Winston circulated through the media, and it struck me that Jaboo was being positioned as the anti-Johnny Football, a charming country boy with prodigious talent and character beyond reproach replacing the spoiled brat with prodigious talent and dubious character.

Three months later, Jaboo became the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Johnny Football was the first, but this year he had only the fifth best vote tally. Jaboo is a deserving winner, but Johnny Football would be second in my estimation. This isn’t about the Heisman as much as it’s about how we perceive people in the public eye because as the season unfolded, Jaboo’s greatest competition during the stretch run to the Heisman wasn’t another player, but the prospect of a sexual assault charge against him. He was not charged, but 115 Heisman voters declined to vote for him and the incident will remain a reference point against which all his future conduct will be measured. He said in winning the award the child inside him died, and gave life to a man.

Men are complicated. They are not black and white, good or bad. They are vessels navigating the turbulent sea of life simultaneously close to capsizing and finding safe harbor. They are fueled by ambition and testosterone, tethered by family, friends and faith, and tested by competition and temptation.

Johnny Football put up over 500 yards of offense against vaunted Alabama in September, but lost four games down the stretch fighting injuries and incompetence on defense. He never shrank from the moment on the field, and my favorite image of this college football season was after he hurt his shoulder against Auburn and tried to throw a football on the sideline. As he started his throwing motion, the pain shot from his shoulder to his toes and likely the top of his hair. He couldn’t do it. He walked down the tunnel to the locker room, and was likely shot up with a pain killer and returned to the game to lead his team downfield for a potential game-winning drive. He was sacked on 4th and long. A & M lost, but Johnny Football became immortal for me.

He carried a weight all season. A weight of expectation that in the long months between games seemed to get the best of him. He was chippy and imprudent coming into the season, and that made many people want to see him fail. It gave us the need for Jaboo, the white hat to Johnny Football’s black one.

Johnny Football will likely, and hopefully, enter the NFL draft this spring. From that point forward, he will be measured primarily by his ability move a football team up and down the field and win games, especially in January and February. If he can do that, he will end up in Canton. If he can’t, he will be maligned for a time, but ultimately forgotten, but for a few college highlight videos.

Jaboo is stuck. He is not eligible for the NFL draft for another year. Instead, he inherits Johnny Football’s black hat. He will be burdened by expectation of on field greatness and scrutinized unlike any other player in college football. Every player in college football’s accomplishments will be measured against his gold standard. Anything short of what he has done this season, will be perceived as failure. Then he will follow Johnny Football into the NFL and be measured in the same manner.

For me, Jaboo and Johnny Football are transcendent college football players that should be appreciated for that talent without the need to read good or bad into their actions. They like all of us are flawed and prone to bad judgment, but unlike most of us their judgments are exposed for all of us to see and judge.