TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Put it this way: How many times do you see a team greet a 19th consecutive win by scrambling across the field to the corner of the stadium into a pile like a bunch of glorious 10-year-olds?
How often do you see a post-game field clear only to turn around and find an exhilarated head coach of a No. 1 team in September, hugging person after person near midfield as if his gutty little team just upset the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers?
How often do the fans of a defending national champion wind up with that curious pleasure, a Saturday night made memorable because of the howling presence of considerable doubt?
In a wacko week in Tallahassee, Jameis Winston apologized twice to his teammates and to everyone.
As he returns to his post as Florida State quarterback on Monday, maybe everyone ought to thank him in return.
Yeah, thank you, you arrogant fool, for wreaking one of the stranger weeks to hit a football town. Thank you for hollering a vulgarity on campus to get yourself suspended from the first half of the Clemson game. Thank you for reportedly misrepresenting your account of that vulgarity so as to get yourself suspended from the second half roughly 60 hours after your suspension for the first half.
Thank you for your inadvertent arrangement of a 23-17 overtime cliffhanger everyone will remember come winter. All 82,316 will remember it even if it winds up having no College Football Playoff pertinence, as it won’t if Florida State doesn’t start rushing for more than 62 net rushing yards (discounting sacks). All will remember even if Clemson really ought to spend the next film-viewing week incorporating a special ritual in which, at certain agreed-upon intervals, it will rise from its chairs and kick itself.
If Winston had played and Florida State had won by two touchdowns, would anyone distinguish it all that much from other recent Saturdays? Would the head coach, Jimbo Fisher, field a question about the atmosphere in the locker room by starting off with the word, “Love,” followed by a pause? Would anyone care to spend the next week giving thanks to the semi-anonymous such as defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, who stripped loose a fumble at the Florida State 16-yard line with the score tied and peril amok and 1:36 left, or defenders Chris Casher and Reggie Northrup, who formed their own little wall to stall Clemson’s Adam Choice on a fourth-and-1 in overtime?
Would Sean Maguire, the backup quarterback with a backup quarterback’s wobbliness, have had that post-game moment in the corner of the stadium, gazing upstairs, trying to locate his parents?
Now, going forward, Florida State knows the value of unusual struggle. It knows it weathered some weird distractions concerning its reigning Heisman Trophy holder.
First, Winston went crowing lewdly on campus on Tuesday (even if it did demonstrate a rare will for a star to mingle with fellow students). Then, Florida State suspended Winston for a half on Wednesday. Then, in a discombobulating release at 11:07 p.m. on Friday that might wait years for a full understanding, it suspended Winston for the second half. Then Winston dressed in full football gear on Saturday evening. Then Fisher, noticing that Winston had dressed in full football gear, made a priceless facial expression. Then Winston went back inside and re-dressed in black pants and his No. 5 jersey with no pads.
By then, it grew clear that Florida State might not be the best team in the country, but it’s certainly the most entertaining pre-game team in the country.
Eventually, when things got to overtime, Winston scurried to the locker room, necklaces bouncing around his neck, and a bizarro thought intruded: Wait, does a full-game suspension include an overtime? In a university’s chain of command, could a coach overrule an interim president and a new athletic director in the matter of overtime?
Moments later, just as they tossed the overtime coin, Winston jogged out of the tunnel, dressed just as before.
He would continue to cheer them on.
Of Winston’s antics, crucial receiver Rashad Greene said, “That’s who he is. I don’t plan on changing him. The only thing, and I think he realizes, you’ve got to be careful” in his position.
Surely you do, but if you don’t, something strange can happen: After reminding people of how college football can trouble them, Winston wound up reminding people of how college football can exhilarate them.
The Wolverines’ woe
Besides the 26-10 home loss to visiting Utah, and besides Michigan looking as if it’s in big-big trouble, and besides the reduction of the season to a vat of speculation as to who will succeed Coach Brady Hoke — wait! I know! Jim Harbaugh! — and besides the two-hour, 24-minute, fourth-quarter lightning delay, and besides the fact that only a smattering of the 103,890 fans returned after that, and besides the dreary idea that Michigan might have to get used to smatterings of fans — they just finished a lovely Saturday night at Michigan Stadium.
Pivotal matchups pending in Mississippi
If in search of a thrill, one might wish to go lurking around Mississippi two Saturdays hence. In the mighty and slightly renovated SEC West, the best division in all of football-by-students, Oct. 3 will have unbeaten-at-present Texas A&M traveling to Starkville to play unbeaten-at-present Mississippi State, and unbeaten-at-present Alabama venturing to Oxford to play unbeaten-at-present Ole Miss.
That future Saturday thickened on this past Saturday when Mississippi State went to Baton Rouge and rode quarterback Dak Prescott a 34-10 lead, a 34-29 win and its first win at Tiger Stadium since 1991. That arranged for some potentially fine radio shows in Louisiana, which generally counts on beating Mississippi State as a part of paying state taxes.
Big Ten down, but not on the ground
It’s hard to know what to make of the much-lampooned Big Ten other than that it’s much-lampooned, but it does move toward conference play having forged two statistical wonders on Saturday. Even though it’s a perpetual fact of American life that Big Ten teams try to establish the running game, none ever had established it so well as Wisconsin, which rushed for a Big Ten modern-era record 644 yards against Bowling Green, which had just defeated Indiana, which then went to Missouri Saturday and won, which gave the Big Ten its best non-conference win yet in this trying season. One state to the left, Minnesota blew it at the end of a 24-7 win over San Jose State when it went and completed a pass for seven yards, killing off a golden chance to win while completing zero passes and taking us football tourists back on a visit to those rugged, pass-less days before the country got so fancy.