Mark Winegardner’s travels with “Famous Jameis” Winston came to an end in mid-October in Clemson, S.C.
Winegardner, a renowned writer and distinguished English professor at Florida State University, had spent the previous eight weeks shadowing Winston and chronicling his meteoric rise from heavily hyped newcomer to Heisman Trophy contender as a freshman quarterback at FSU, a side job for a story due out this week in ESPN The Magazine.
In a season teeming with highlights, the Clemson game ranks right at the top for Winston, who was spectacular leading the Seminoles to a 51-14 win over a team that was ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time.
For Winegardner, 51, who watched the game from the sideline and then found himself standing directly behind Winston during the post-game media interviews. It was not his best moment. He said he never intended to be seen alongside Winston as video replays were watched countless times in the ensuing days.
“I got an awful lot of flak from family and friends for that,” Winegardner said. “They really let me have it — ‘Who’s that goofy looking fat guy behind Jameis?’ I can’t tell you how many times I heard that.”
The author of two sequels to Mario Puzo’s best-selling “The Godfather” (“The Godfather Returns” and “The Godfather’s Revenge”), Winegardner is comfortable writing about sports. He is a regular contributor to ESPN’s magazine, and two of his recent pieces were short-listed this year for the annual compilation, “Best American Sports Writing.”
But Winegardner was in no way prepared for what he encountered while trying to gain access to Winston. A writer accustomed to having dinner and spending one-on-one time with famous pro athletes came face to face with the tight controls and countless restrictions in place at FSU (as well as at most other major college football programs).
Lunch with “Famous Jameis?” Forget about it. Observing Winston on campus, or in class? Not a chance.
“I didn’t spend as much time with him as I might have liked,” Winegardner said. “It’s kind of the (Alabama coach) Nick Saban-ization of college football. I don’t understand how guys who cover teams like this on a daily basis can stand it. Access is so much more restricted than it used to be.
Taken from Tallahassee.com