By nature, magnificent artistic debuts carry an overwhelming sense of immediacy. A brilliant moment can be anticipated, expected even — but when it arrives, there can be some sort of sense that it sprung from nothing and landed fully formed.
Take Jameis Winston’s performance Monday evening. It was his first collegiate football game. He started at quarterback for Florida State — and what he did to Pitt was something like art.
He chucked 27 passes, completing 25 of them, and dropped 356 yards and four touchdowns on the Panthers without throwing an interception. He also ran for a touchdown of his own.
Winston played so well that he did not have to finish the game. Not long after Florida State finished off Pitt, 41-13, the ACC posted Winston’s highlights to YouTube:
This served as an accelerator to the social media spin cycle that instantly creates stars. However, Winston’s rise to national prominence wasn’t a surprise; "Jameis Famous" signs were sprinkled throughout FSU cheering sections. The people knew – or hoped they knew – what Florida State was in for.
And so, when Winston began his career by completing a pass to Kelvin Benjamin for 13 yards — then to Kenny Shaw for 20 yards, then rushing for 6 — this all began to feel like a “Hello, world!” moment. Twitter did its part, disseminating the narrative to every dark corner of the country.
Except that’s not entirely how this all went for Winston. His debut against Pitt wasn’t so much a grand reveal as much as it was the final stage in the slow lifting of a garnet and gold veil.
Winston’s star has been honed for years now, shooting across an arc that just happened to descend on Heinz Field in early September.
There are at least five degrees to No. 5’s burdening stardom, possibly many more — but let’s limit ourselves to that number and plot the major points that lead to a freshman being anointed (by some premature voices) a Heisman candidate 30 minutes into his college football career:
1) Hook the public in high school
Winston’s high school highlights are as ridiculous as you might expect — just look at the opening run from his junior season reel — but his national moment came at the 2011 Elite 11 camp.
Winston shared MVP honors and impressed Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer by doing something strange: Winston admitted that he didn’t prepare like he should have for the camp. Showing a few morsels of maturity clearly affected Dilfer’s perception of Winston as a person and a prospect, leading him to provide high praise about all the things Winston would likely go on to do.
A few weeks later, Winston announced he’d be a Seminole, and Tallahassee began to shake in anticipation.
2) Set a tease long before your first game
After Winston committed to the ‘Noles, he still had another high school football season to play before showing up on campus in Tallahassee — and because of EJ Manuel’s presence, there’d be another season after that before Winston would actually play for Florida State.
Instead of drifting from public view, Winston kept feeding his fan base a crumb-by-crumb serving of excitable moments. If you ever find yourself in Winston’s position, you have a few high-quality options here.
Months before arriving on campus, you could show off your arm strength at a showcase event and ham it up for the cameras, making people believe you’re impossibly gifted with a football:
After officially becoming a college student, you could play another sport entirely. In this case, you’d morph into a switch-hitting, mid-90s-fastball-throwing freak on the baseball field, making people believe you’re impossibly blessed in every way a young man could be:
Or, you could just launch a football 75 yards over the roof of a fraternity house without warming up, making people believe you’re impossibly cool:
It’s your choice, really. They all work — and you need only one of these stunts to keep the buzz growing.
Don’t feel ashamed that Winston chose to do all three. We’re quickly seeing that he’s a beast with a different burden.
3) Make fans fall for you, the player
In this case, that would be the 2013 spring game in which Winston connected with David Tyrell for a 58-yard touchdown on his first pass of the scrimmage.
He finished the day with 205 yards and two TDs on 13-of-15 passing, forcing Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher to talk in his post-spring game press conference about “all of the quarterbacks” and how they “all did nice things,” as if there was any decision to be made at this point.
Winston was going to be the guy. He already had a redshirt season around his teammates, creating a camaraderie that spoke to the natural magnetic pull of his personality. His coaches rave about his maturity. Google “Jameis Winston natural leader” and more than 50,000 results come up.
So there was a sense within the program already that all roads led to Winston — and outside the program, Winston’s charisma and undeniable talent led fans to create Messianistic videos in anticipation of the 2013 season:
4) Make fans fall for you, the person
Nobody worked their first Media Day as well as Winston did. He said all the right things about his hype, his future and his teammates.
In more simple terms: He is not afraid of the camera.
And he’s not afraid to have a (somewhat) polarizing opinion. As Sam Gardner notes in Tuesday’s Daily Buzz, Winston told reporters at media day that he didn’t want to contract the “Manziel disease.”
Now, Manziel’s personality and choices don’t fall under the category of some grave illness — but none of this is about reality. Winston fed reporters a great line that the college football world became infatuated with — and it also transformed into an instant source of pride for every Florida State fan. That’s right! That’s our guy! He ain’t like that Manziel dude!
It worked brilliantly for Winston and completed the building process of his legend. The only thing left to do was play.
Monday night. The narrative of Winston’s pre-career pulled in for the perfect finish, delivering a killer kicker — and, as our modern media culture tends to do, began the first scene of the next arc.
We all have witnessed and we all want to believe in the continued burgeoning of a star. Not just Florida State fans, but all college football fans — even those with plenty of their own fame:
This guy Jameis Winston made me a believer after 1 half of football — Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) September 3, 2013
Now, Winston has done something of on-field legitimacy.
Now, the chorus moves onto what he will do, what he can do, commencing a climb higher and higher up a ladder without a visible top rung.
You can follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter ( @TMitrosilis) and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.