For thirty full minutes of game time, the Florida State Seminoles gave the rest of the nation exactly what they wanted. The Noles had been walloped so badly in the first half of the game against Louisville, that even the most cautious of Seminoles-haters were taking to social media to declare the defending champions dead in the water. Trailing by 21 points late in the first half before eventually pulling within 14 thanks to a “just like they drew it up” fumble recovery in the end zone, Florida State’s chances to sustain their magical winning streak seemed bleak. Had FSU been here before? Yes, more than once this season. But this was a different situation. The Seminoles weren’t facing a true underdog like the NC State team that took a 17 point lead on them before having it all slip through their fingers in week four. The Seminoles were away at #25 Louisville on a Thursday night. Statistically, Louisville had the best defense in the country coming into the game. Their offense was supposedly sub par, but that certainly didn’t seem to be the case during the first half, as star WR Devante Parker and “I’m never graduating” RB Michael Dyer had torched the Noles’ defense with ease. In addition, Louisville had been historically unfriendly to the Seminoles on a Thursday night in 2002, when the Cardinals beat a Chris Rix led FSU team in a game that seemed to signal the start of an uptrend for a small program like Louisville and the end of an era for a giant of college football like Florida State.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all, however, was the play of all world QB Jameis Winston in the first half against Louisville. For those Seminoles fans who thought that Winston put on a poor showing in the first half against Notre Dame, his play in the first half against Louisville was flat out atrocious. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner looked more like the always erratic Chris Rix in the first half than he did like his Seminole Heisman bretheren Ward and Weinke. Winston was making poor reads, telegraphing his passes, and had thrown two interceptions that led to 14 Louisville points. When Winston emerged from the locker room for the second half, the Seminole Nation expected to see the resolved and impervious QB they were used to seeing. Noles fans everywhere anticipated Winston coming out on fire, leading the team down on the opening drive of the half, and bringing them within 7 points of the Cardinals. Instead, on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, Winston threw another interception. He tossed the ball directly into the hands of the country’s best ball hawk in what may have been the worst throw of his career. Florida State fans across the America collectively groaned. The rest of the nation collectively celebrated. This had to be the final nail in the coffin. The Noles had finally reached the point of no return.
Everyone should have learned by now, however, that it is never wise to count out the 2014 Florida State Seminoles. As Louisville’s stellar safety weaved around FSU players with the ball he had just intercepted cradled in his arm, a determined Jameis Winston sped towards the scene of his crime. College football as a whole had given up on Jameis and the Seminoles, but Winston certainly had not. Not on that interception, and not in that game. As interceptor Holliman spun around one FSU tackler and ran over another, a hustling Jameis Winston darted in, arm extended, and forced a Louisville fumble with all the technique and precision of a lifelong defensive player. Freshman WR Travis Rudolph subsequently recovered the Winston forced fumble, and the Noles were back in it. The Florida State football team wasn’t dead just yet, despite how much the rest of the world wanted them to be.
Boy, did the rest of the world want to see the demise of the Florida State Seminoles that night. FSU has had their fair share of tough media weeks lately, but this past week may have taken the cake. A stream of developing stories, apparent criminal activity, and out of context quotes had driven the national hatred level for Florida State through the roof. As always, the media had made this prevalent mentality possible. This week was a bit different, however. It wasn’t Jameis Winston, Florida State University, or the Tallahassee Police Department who was the target of the media barbs, it was the head ball coach, Jimbo Fisher.
It all started about a week and a half ago in Birmingham, Alabama. Coach Fisher was visiting the QB Club of Birmingham and had agreed to do a short question and answer session with the media. Jimbo was under the impression that he would not be asked any questions about Jameis Winston’s impending Title IX case, but the reporters that were present were not given the memo. After Jimbo was asked multiple questions about exactly that topic in a row, he became fed up enough to end the session with the media, cutting several reporters short of asking the questions they had in mind. As you can see in this video, Fisher is clearly at the end of his rope, and seems to be just as fed up with the media as the rest of the Seminole faithful.
Clearly caught off guard in a moment in which he was asked a set of questions which he had explicitly forbidden before the interview, Fisher later called AL.com and informed them he was willing to answer questions about Winston. In said interview, Fisher expressed that he would be willing to suspend Winston if any facts were to change, but unless that happened, there would be no reason to penalize his QB. This second interview with the Birmingham media received little to no coverage, while the first clip of Fisher ending the media session out of frustration went viral and was the talk of a great deal of sports columnists. That wasn’t even the biggest Jimbo Fisher story to come out of Birmingham last week. When asked why he believed that FSU had so many doubters nationwide by a reporter for WABM in Birmingham, Fisher responded with the following:
“Because, one, ESPN has money in the SEC, and two, we were so dominant last year.”
It is obvious that this was only a segment of a larger statement from Fisher and may not have been fully indicative of his opinion on the matter, but nonetheless, it was clear that Jimbo had taken to wearing the black hat. Florida State’s head coach was saying what every fan of the team he leads had been thinking, but when a fan base says something of that nature it is easy for the media to dismiss it as irrational. When it is said by a head coach, especially one as high profile as the coach of the defending National Champions, the media has a harder time brushing it away. As this 15 second clip made it’s way around the web, blood began to boil in every sports newsroom in America.
The scrutiny would not stop in Birmingham. Fuel was added to the media’s fire when, on the Friday before the Louisville game, sports radio talk host Rick Ballou tweeted out that he had confirmed that starting RB Karlos Williams would be suspended. The news of this suspension, however, never broke. Ballou apologized for the report and said that he was sure that he had confirmed the suspension, but was shocked when FSU told him that it was completely unfounded. Unsurprisingly, Fisher was asked about the report of the suspension in a press conference that took place shortly thereafter. He responded with the following: “There’s another false report, and that’s amazing how things happen…Whoever’s got sources sources, whoever got rumors, needs to check who they are talking to – because that is about as far from truth as there is… That guy is a tremendous kid, a tremendous ambassador… Karlos has been wonderful.”
Fast forward to Monday, three days before the Louisville game, when the Tallahassee Police Department announces that they are investigating Karlos Williams for domestic abuse of his pregnant girlfriend. The investigation stems from a post that the alleged victim made on Facebook in which she displayed several pictures of a bruised arm and attributed them to being abused by the father of her children (Williams). As reports of this investigation were picked up by the media, another piece of Karlos Williams’ related news dropped, and it was reported that the RB’s name has also been associated with another investigation into an armed robbery that occurred during a drug deal gone wrong. It did not take long for Williams’ alleged indiscretions to hit the air waves, and before long the story was plastered all over ESPN. Curiously, or not so curiously, ESPN quickly related the story back to Jameis Winston’s off the field troubles, even going as far as to show a picture of Winston when reporting on the Karlos Williams investigation:
As the Karlos Williams story gained more and more coverage, several media outlets began tying Jimbo Fisher’s comments from his Friday presser about Karlos Williams being “wonderful” to the investigation into the player. Despite the fact that the comments had no relation whatsoever to the domestic abuse allegation, as the investigation was not even opened until Monday, Fisher began to take more and more heat. Before long, the internet had reached a fever pitch. Just a few short weeks earlier, the brunt of the hatred surrounding FSU football was focused upon Jameis Winston, the University, and the TPD. Now, just a couple days before FSU was set to play Louisville, the loathing was being targeted squarely at HC Jimbo Fisher.
The articles that were published in the aftermath of Jimbo’s comments in Birmingham and his out of context defense of Karlos Williams were nothing short of venomous. Jimbo Fisher had become a symbol for everything that the public hated about Florida State, and the media wasn’t holding back anything in making a point to agree. Deadspin.com, the same site which broke the Jameis Winston FHRITP story, soon published an article with this very tactful headline:
In the Deadspin article, the author is quoted as saying the following: “And if you’re like me, you’re hoping that Florida State loses somewhere down the line, so that the committee has a cheap excuse to move them down to, oh … let’s say 5000th or so. Because FSU is garbage, and because head coach Jimbo Fisher is a smarmy, whimpering football penis.” Despite the fact that Deadspin was viewed as a rock solid pillar of journalism in the Winston FHRITP saga, many logical sports fans still consider it to be a cesspool of sports muckraking, so let’s not take this article as the only evidence of Jimbo Fisher hatred. Let’s instead look to Yahoo Sports, a generally well respected source of sports news. On the day before the Louisville game, Yahoo Sports published an article written by Dan Wetzel:
In the article, Wetzel unabashedly states:
“Fisher, 49, looks stressed, sounds, at times, unhinged and carries himself a bit like a nervous woodland creature, head always darting around watching for whatever attack – or player antic – is coming that he couldn’t otherwise anticipate.
He’s known as someone who prepares for everything, but it doesn’t appear he was ready for this: life as America’s most despised coach, leader of what many consider a program that’s become a bad parody of everything wrong with the sport.
Loyalty, especially to his players, is a bedrock principle of his life, but he’s been so clumsy in expressing it, he’s opened himself up for mocking.”
If you thought calling Fisher a “whimpering penis” or a “nervous woodland creature” was distasteful, however, you clearly haven’t heard of Fox Sports’ Clay Travis. Clay Travis is legendary in his hate for all things FSU, but he has a special level of despise reserved just for Jimbo Fisher. Clay Travis is so unbelievably blatant in his detestation for the Noles, that he is almost amusing in his endless Twitter rants and slanted articles. What is not as amusing, however, is the fact that Fox Sports makes no effort to curb the offensively hateful opinions that Travis freely distributes on every available channel. While ESPN suspends respected journalists like Steven A. Smith and Bill Simmons for voicing their opinions on the issues of the day, Fox Sports allows Clay Travis to run wild. Here is a selection of my favorite Clay Travis tweets in the days leading up to the FSU v Louisville game:
Notice that half of the tweets that Travis put out linked to articles directly on the Fox Sports’ site. Clay Travis is a representative of Fox Sports, and is even featured on Fox Sports 1′s nightly recap show. So now we can count Deadspin, Yahoo Sports, and Fox Sports among those media sources that are not too high on the Seminoles. What about ESPN? While the worldwide network was smart enough to stay out of the Jimbo Fisher bullying for the most part, their College Football “Experts” did take the time to put out this very solid and unbiased ranking just a couple days before the Louisville game:
OK, I think I have made my point. The media was not very favorable when referring to Jimbo Fisher and his team in the days leading up to last Thursday’s game. Were they justified, however, in the points that they made? Well, considering the way the Karlos Williams’ situation unfolded the day before the FSU v Louisville game took place, I’d say it would definitely be fair to characterize a great deal of the Fisher criticism as overboard. First off, and as has already been mentioned, Fisher’s defense of Williams had nothing to do with the abuse investigation and was cleverly used out of context to make it seem as if he was endorsing criminal activity. Secondly, one day after the report of the investigations involving Karlos broke, some clarity was brought to the situation. In the case of the domestic abuse investigation, the attorney for the alleged victim released a statement shortly after the investigation began stating that he was planning to submit a formal request to the TPD asking them to cease their investigation of the matter. In the statement, he cited that he did not think the investigation should be pursued because his client, the alleged victim, had not requested the investigation and would not be willing to testify in the matter. With no other witnesses present, the attorney believed that there would not be probable cause for Williams’ arrest. In the case of Williams alleged involvement in the armed robbery, the public soon learned that Williams was not truly associated with the investigation. While Williams was named by the victim of the robbery, he was never a suspect in the case. When questioned about Karlos Williams potential involvement, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman stated: “The victim suspects that (Williams) was involved in setting up the robbery, other than that there is no other evidence he was involved,”
As far as Fisher’s statements in Birmingham go, it is easy to see that the coach has reached a point where he is willing to undergo a public lashing by the media in order to stand up for his team, never mind the fact that Jimbo is often relying on substantiated evidence when defending his players, team, and conference. No matter how the media chooses to portray a matter, Fisher is willing to take the unpopular side if it means sticking up for what he believes to be true. This is a quality in a coach that is immeasurably appreciated by the players, and not just the ones that are on his team. During the course of last week, a week in which Fisher was denounced publicly by much of the sports world, Florida State received commitments from RB Jacques Patrick and DB Tarvarus McFadden, both of whom are 5 star recruits and are among the most coveted high school prospects in the country. In speaking on their commitments, both Patrick and McFadden cited Jimbo Fisher’s willingness to go to bat for his players as among the reasons for choosing to play their future football for the Seminoles.
There is no denying that Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles success, both on the recruiting trail and in winning 23 straight games, had infuriated the critics. So when starting FB Freddie Stevenson caught a pass from Winston and took it 38 yards to the end zone to give the Noles the 42-31 lead that would end up being the final score, there is no doubt that there were plenty of long faces among a wide ranging contingent of Seminoles haters across America. It had all started out so perfectly for the Noles’ detractors. Trailing 21-0. Winston throwing two picks in the first half. Then trailing 21-7 to start the third quarter when Winston threw his third interception. It was all playing out just as they had hoped for, until Winston forced the fumble, that is.
Jameis Winston’s ability to stick with that play until the bitter end and get his team the ball back even after he had just put them in their worst position of the season is utterly indicative of the Seminoles winning mentality as a whole. The Noles never give up, no matter what. When the team takes so many injuries at linebacker that they are down to two total active scholarship players at that position, the defensive line steps up to save the day. When the running game has been virtually non existent, a true freshman enters the game and revitalizes the ground attack. When the star quarterback turns his ankle to the point that he can’t walk with out limping, he plays through the injury nearly flawlessly, citing that “pain is temporary.” In the end, this Seminoles team has shown that it does not matter what you throw at them, they can find a way to win. This applies both on the field and off it.
As long as FSU keeps winning, they are going to continue to see two things:
- Negative media attention.
- Every team’s best shot.
As time goes by, and if the winning streak keeps growing past 24, the media scrutiny will continue. This past week it was focused on Jimbo Fisher. Two weeks from now it will be on someone else. Hell, Pat Forde, another columnist for Yahoo Sports, even found a way to go after Jameis Winston’s father in his recap of the FSU v Louisville game:
“Finally, the man turned and walked back up the stands into the cheering Florida State throng.
‘Some player is his son,’ the guard explained. ‘But he’s not allowed on the field.’
And thus, a member of the Winston family actually was told ‘no.’ Imagine the shock.
Antonor Winston, Jameis’ dad, was the parent requesting the special privilege of field access. Florida State was perfectly willing to accommodate him, and him alone, among those in the stands. The coddling continues.”
That is how the media works. They will say what is necessary to draw in the viewers. Clearly it has been working for them with Florida State. FSU’s game against Notre Dame a few weeks ago remains the most watched college football game of the season, and this past Thursday’s win over Louisville was the most watched game on ESPN so far this year. Until the American public loses interest in the Noles, they will continue to be talked about throughout the sports world, and nothing keeps the conversation going like controversy. In addition, as long as the Seminoles carry an unbeaten streak and a clear path to the playoff into a game, every opponent on the docket is going to bring their best possible performance to the table. That is what comes with the territory, and there should be no doubt on any of our minds that the Noles can handle it. No matter the amount of hate that is felt off the field, or the amount of pressure that is felt on it, it is a good bet that FSU will persevere. As Jameis Winston said in the aftermath of the win last Thursday, “You know, when everyone is against you, it’s a reality check. You know, we get that chip back on our shoulder.” Here’s to hoping that the Noles continue to have that chip on their shoulder, for when they do, they certainly look unbeatable.