PASADENA, Calif. - Nobody believes more strongly in the budding legend of "Famous Jameis" Winston than the Heisman Trophy winner who goes by that name. The redshirt freshman quarterback from Florida State celebrated his 20th birthday Monday night at the Rose Bowl by leading an 80-yard drive in 58 seconds to throw the touchdown pass with 13 seconds left that beat Auburn, 34-31, for the BCS national championship.
But the truth is that the self-confident Winston came close to being a victim of his own hubris. In the week leading up to the title game, Winston talked of routing the SEC champs just as the Seminoles did in beating each of their 13 previous opponents by at least 14 points, as if all he had to do was show up to pick up the crystal football that goes to the winner.
Auburn's defense took exception to the brash talk, sacking Winston four times, forcing him to fumble once, blanketing his receivers and holding him to 6-for-15 passing in the first half. For the first time all season, the Seminoles trailed entering the second half, 21-10.
"I was like, man, I'm trying to blow these boys out," Winston said. "I had to remember I've got to respect the game. I've got a team around me for a reason, so I can't go out there and do stuff by myself."
Thoughts of a blowout faded and survival became the objective as Winston began to find his rhythm in the third quarter and cut the Seminoles' deficit to 21-20 early in the fourth. Auburn added a field goal, but FSU's Kermit Whitfield ran the kickoff back 100 yards as the Seminoles took a 27-24 lead. But the Tigers regained a 31-27 lead on a 37-yard TD run by Tre Mason with 1:19 left.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Auburn's defense "kept things mixed up. They got pressure on him. They covered tightly, and we had some critical drops. We were just pressing . . . worrying about the scoreboard."
In Fisher's estimation, that's when Winston turned his worst game into his best by responding to the first real pressure he faced all season. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards on the winning drive.
"I was ready," Winston said. "I wanted to be in that situation because that's what great quarterbacks do. That's what the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, Drew Brees, that's what they do. That's what you're judged by. I'm pretty sure I got more respect from my teammates and the people around me on that last drive than I got the whole year."
Winston insisted his apparent discomfort for more than three quarters wasn't so much from Auburn's defensive pressure, but from his own desire to win in a walkover. "I focused and locked in and said, Jameis, instead of doing what they want you to do, you need to do what your team wants you to do."
Once Winston had seized the moment and the championship for the Seminoles, his bravado returned. "I'm glad to say Florida State is national champion again, and I guarantee you we're bringing that swag back. You better believe it."