The last time America encountered such a lightning-rod college football entity, it was more than two decades ago. And it was an entire team.
Those were the Miami Hurricanes.
This is Jameis Winston.
The Florida State quarterback has become the most rooted-against player I've seen in the sport, ever. Johnny Manziel was a minor annoyance last year by comparison. Cam Newton had only two months on the griddle after pay-for-play allegations in 2010. I'm not sure anyone else is even in the conversation.
There were a ton of people who didn't like Tim Tebow, but far more who did. Notre Dame as an entity is disliked by many, and has been for decades. But the school has its own TV contract with NBC because even more people love the Fighting Irish.
Winston? His fan base seems to have eroded to Florida State backers – and even some of those folks are tired of the constant controversy – and a few stray supporters elsewhere.
The NFL is backing away, according to several scouts and front-office people, with plenty of popular support. An ESPN SportsNation poll this week asked whether you'd want your favorite team to draft Winston if it needed a quarterback. With more than 10,000 respondents, all 50 states, plus the global vote, was no. The percentages: 75 percent against Winston, 25 for.
Heisman voters have discarded the 2013 winner. In this week's HeismanPundit.com poll of actual voters, 11 players received votes. That includes the suspended Todd Gurley of Georgia and a running back from a team that is winless in its conference (Indiana's Tevin Coleman). It includes a linebacker (Washington's Shaq Thompson). It includes five quarterbacks. But it doesn't include the QB of the undefeated, No. 2-ranked team in the country, who ranks 10th in the nation in passing yards per game and 12th in efficiency. No votes for Winston.
For some players, it helps to embrace the hate. It can be motivation and can unify a team if you believe the whole world is against you. Most of the time that belief is fallacy, invented out of thin air or aggrandized from a small slight found in the newspaper or from the mouth of a broadcaster. But in Winston's case, hey, Me Against the World might be an accurate accounting Saturday when the Seminoles host Notre Dame in a very big game.
"I hope they lose by 60," said a friend, who certainly is not a Notre Dame fan but has wearied of the Winston sideshow and Florida State's tolerance/enabling of it.
Jimbo Fisher has protected Winston better than any blindside blocker, to the point of turning off a lot of people who either liked him or had no feelings one way or the other. Outside of interim president Garnett Stokes tacking half a game onto a half-game suspension of Winston against Clemson, no adults at FSU have seemed willing to say no in any real capacity to Winston.
Of course, the Seminoles have generated some backlash simply by being literally unbeatable over the last season and a half. That also coincides with Winston's college career – he's 18-0 as a starter. (Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson happens to be 18-1, so this is quite the matchup of winners.)
But plenty of people love a winner. Winston is a winner who has seen his bandwagon empty because of the 11-month swirl of stuff that has engulfed him.
It ranges from the very serious – a sexual assault allegation that was, at best, shoddily investigated, if not covered up – to a litany of dumb college hijinks. There is a major distinction between the two categories that should be kept in mind, as Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated noted in an astute column this week. But the cumulative effect of having Winston's name persistently in the headlines for one inglorious reason after another has created massive Jameis fatigue.
That fatigue is exacerbated by the reaction of some Florida State fanboys, who have made it their job to attack anyone who has anything uncharitable to say about Winston. Worst of all are those who have gone after the woman who brought the sexual assault complaint to authorities. That's a loathsome response, predicated on the saddest of mindsets: Your favorite team's winning streak is in jeopardy, and a threat to that justifies anything.
The persecution complex is not a good look at times like this. Better to say nothing than lash out about the injustice of it all, while simultaneously pointing fingers everywhere else in hopes of deflecting attention to the mess at home.
Nobody wants to see their favorite team rooted against and vilified by those on the outside. It's not fun. But that's where Florida State is right now, in a Bad Boy role not seen since The U more than 20 years ago. They have one man to blame for that – the same man they have to thank for last season's national championship.