They Walked In Winston's Shoes
By Bob Thomas, Associate Sports Information Director
DALLAS, Texas – Only two previous quarterbacks in Florida State history have an idea what it will be like to walk in Jameis Winston’s shoes when he takes the field Saturday night at AT&T Stadium to face Oklahoma State in the Advocare Cowboys Classic.
Danny Kanell and Chris Weinke were the starting quarterbacks in 1994 and 2000, respectively, when the Seminoles began a new season coming off a national championship. In Kanell’s case, he was a first-year starter after playing behind Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward in 1993. Weinke had already made history, directing Florida State to the first perfect season in school history and the 1999 title.
In both instances, guiding the Seminoles to an historic second consecutive national title was the goal.
And so it will be for Winston, who will almost undoubtedly have to cope with nerves, anxiousness and heightened expectations – both self-imposed and from the outside – as he leads a talented but marked Florida State team on its chase for history.
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At least that’s the sense you get from talking to the only two Seminoles who have previously walked-the-walk.
“There was some relief that we had finally got Coach Bowden his first national championship [in ‘93],” Kanell recalled. “The excitement and the opportunity to go back-to-back was kind of the message with the team. They had a shirt made up that (read) “13-0” …
“The coaches were trying to motivate us. ‘What do you do better than a national championship?’ And we had lost one game. Even though we won the national title we had lost the one game to Notre Dame, so the coaches were trying to dangle that in front of us.”
Weinke, 27 and the undisputed team leader, did not need a lot of motivation entering his senior season opener against BYU in Jacksonville.
“Our team was confident going in to the 2000 season,” he said. “We had great leaders and wanted to repeat what we accomplished the previous year. There was a sense of anxiety, as there usually is in the opener, to get the season kicked off. For me, I wanted to see if we could play as a cohesive unit and attack with energy and enthusiasm and not allow complacency to set in…Complacency is always an issue after an undefeated season and a national championship.”
The 1994 Seminoles set some lofty goals to fight the complacency bug.
“We didn’t view one championship as the ultimate,” Kanell said. “We looked at the University of Miami, which at the time I think had three or four championships and kind of compared ourselves to them. We didn’t want to win just one. We wanted to win multiples. That helped us a lot.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the teams and their quarterbacks could not succumb to over-confidence.
Kanell, who had just one career start before taking the reins from Ward in ’93, did not have that problem. A completely different type of athlete than his predecessor, he had greater concerns after winning a spirited battle for the starting job.
“I was nervous; I was anxious,” he confessed. “I was taking the approach, ‘Hey, let’s not screw this up.’ We had been running a new offense - the fastbreak, no-huddle - and I really wanted to keep doing that as did (offensive coordinator) Mark Richt. I think Coach Bowden was a little more (like), ‘I don’t’ know if Danny’s going to have the same success.’ I had the approach that if I wanted to continue doing this, I better have success early.”
Yet, Kanell was not immune to human nature; a point Ward helped drive home on the sideline early in the 1994 opener.
“Charlie sat me down in the second quarter of the Virginia game and said, ‘Hey, you’re trying to do too much,’” he explained. “There was a smash route and I tried to take the harder throw. He pulled me aside and said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with taking the easy throw and letting these guys do the work for you.’ That was something I really remembered for the next two years.
“I had so much talent around me…That’s a common mistake among young quarterbacks. I think it will be something that Jameis will have to deal with, too, trying to do too much because he has to defend the Heisman Trophy or because he’s the best player on the team. He still has tremendous weapons around him to utilize.”
With the benefit of two years of starting under his belt, Weinke was flush with confidence. His job was significantly different than Kanell’s.
“I always viewed myself as a leader and was not going to change my approach, or feel like I had to do more,” Weinke said. “I trusted the guys around me and fortunately we had a very talented group and great leaders. The most important factor was to ensure that the new guys understood the expectations and level of excellence we demanded from each other on a daily basis.”
As both Kanell and Weinke would discover over the course of the ’94 and 2000 seasons, things are never as easy as they appear.
The Seminoles were off and rolling in ’94 with Kanell piling up impressive numbers as the triggerman for the fast-break offense, carrying a 4-0 record into the annual showdown with Miami.
“Up until that point Mark Richt kept telling me, ‘It’s not this easy,’” Kanell said. “He kept saying that over and over. We had four games under our belts, had won pretty handily and I had put up some decent numbers. Mark kept telling me, ‘Hey, this is going to be the first big test.’ In the back of my mind I was hearing it but I don’t think I really realized how hard it was going to be.
“I’ll never forget it. We went down the field on the opening drive in the Orange Bowl … and I’m thinking, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ Then I threw a pick in the red zone and it was all downhill from there.”
The Seminoles lost 34-20, rendering those “13-0” shirts meaningless, but not the season.
“We had tremendous leadership on that team; guys like Derrick Brooks and Clay Shiver,” Kanell said. “At that point the message was still loud and clear. ‘We’ve only lost one game and we could get back in this.’ I think it was the leadership from the coaches – Mark Richt and Mickey Andrews – that kept the whole thing together. That to me at the time was what I loved about college football. If you lost a game you felt like the whole season was down the tubes. But they did a great job of refocusing us and re-energizing us and putting us right back on track.”
Kanell rebounded, as did the Seminoles. In fact he will be forever remembered for guiding FSU back from a 31-3 deficit at home against Florida in the regular season finale to the most memorable tie (31-31) in program history. They capped a 10-1-1 season with a 23-17 rematch win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Team chemistry played no small role on either of the two previous title repeat endeavors. Much like ’94, the 2000 Seminoles were carrying plenty of steam and a 5-0 record into Miami. In a sweltering, wild, mid-day affair, the Seminoles fell 27-24 on a TD pass from Ken Dorsey to Jeremy Shockey with 46 seconds remaining after Matt Munyon’s tying 49-yard field goal attempt as time expired sailed wide right.
The Weinke-led Seminoles rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit, in no small part because of his career-high 496 passing yards. Still, there were tremendous contributions from both sides as FSU rallied to take a 24-20 lead with 1:37 remaining in the game.
“I have always said that we had the most talented team, but more importantly, the team that played the best together,” Weinke said. “Chemistry is the key ingredient on every championship team.”
FSU overcame the loss to reach its third consecutive BCS National Championship game, falling 13-2 to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Not surprisingly, Winston addressed many of the same issues both Kanell and Weinke encountered more than a decade ago earlier this month at Florida State’s media day.
"It's a new year,” Winston repeated, as if for effect. “It’s a new beginning…you've got to get better every day. I can't live in the past."
Refusing to discuss his own personal goals, beyond improving as a player, his focus was clearly on the team and how he could impact its performance. He discussed his role in developing team chemistry.
"Never letting it go below our standards at Florida State,” Winston said. “You know, we're champions. So we're going to act like champions in everything we do. And we're going to play like champions when we're on the field."
When pressed about individual goals, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was short and to the point:
"It's not about me. It's about us...I haven't set any individual goals. Just team goals. And the first goal is to win the national championship."
That mission begins Saturday.