Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota — the past two Heisman Trophy winners from Florida State and Oregon, respectively — shook hands and exchanged pleasantries at Disneyland the other day.
But you know what Winston was chirping about after the pre-Rose Bowl excursion for the Ducks and Seminoles? It wasn’t Mariota, the Matterhorn or even Mickey.
It was amusement park food.
“Best thing I got me was a smoked turkey leg,” Winston said of the outing. “It was delicious. I love that thing. I need to get me another one before I leave!”
The press corps giggled. Winston — unlike the more reserved Mariota — has a way of doing that.
When the two teams square off Thursday in Pasadena, California, in the first of two College Football Playoff semifinals, it will involve a showdown of two quarterbacks who are considered close to equal in talent but dissimilar in demeanor.
Winston is a media-pleaser, colorful and quotable.
Mariota is quiet and bland.
And those personalities carry over onto the playing field.
“Jameis is sort of the alpha male, who’s out there talking a lot, lets his emotions kind of play out on the field,” former FSU quarterback and ESPN college analyst Danny Kanell said. “You can see exactly what’s going on with him, whereas Mariota plays his much closer to the vest.
“He’s very quiet. He’s very much ‘watch me’ and leads by his actions on the field.”
Kanell said Mariota reminds him of another former FSU quarterback and Heisman winner, Charlie Ward.
“He’s very similar to Charlie,” Kanell said. “And he’s similar to Charlie because they’re both soft-spoken. They both don’t enjoy talking to the media. But they can still be extremely effective at getting their team to rally around them. And that sense of calm, I think, can be really contagious around a team.”
During a 30-minute Q&A session on Monday, Mariota was polite but unrevealing.
“Well, you know, I don’t like being in the limelight,” he explained. “I don’t like the spotlight. I would prefer just to go about my business and not have to deal with some of the stuff like this.”
This much is certain: When it comes to performing on the field, Winston and Mariota can both deliver.
Winston threw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns last season in leading the Seminoles to the national title. Mariota passed for 3,700 yards and 38 TDs for the Ducks this season.
Winston threw 17 interceptions this season, or five more than Mariota — who was picked off only twice this season — has totaled in his three years at Oregon.
Each won his Heisman in a landslide.
Both will likely give up their remaining collegiate eligibility to go pro, and already the draft experts are predicting they will be taken high.
One ESPN mock draft has Mariota going with the top overall pick, with Winston at No.2.
Asked what it takes to slow down Mariota, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher chuckled before responding: “Daggum, get 14 guys on the field. This guy is so dynamic in how he commands his offense. You’re never going to stop a guy like that.”
Mariota hails from Honolulu. Winston went to Hueytown High in Alabama.
Winston already has a national championship to his credit, and he has never lost a game as FSU’s starting quarterback. Mariota is looking for his first college title.
Winston has been involved in a string of off-field incidents during his two years at FSU, from the theft of crab legs from a grocery store to a profanity-laced speech that landed him a one-game suspension. And, of course, he has had to answer to a sexual-assault allegation.
Mariota’s greatest offense at Oregon: a speeding ticket. He was caught going 80 in a 55-mph zone.
“Mr. Mariota was polite and respectful, he was professional and took the citation appropriately and acted appropriately,” state police Lt. Josh Brooks told The Oregonian in November following the incident.
“Marcus is as nice a guy as he appears to be,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
“The myth is closer to truth than fiction.”
Now comes the best individual showdown of the College Football Playoff.
Although both quarterbacks downplayed the matchup, even Winston admitted he will probably be watching Mariota from the sideline when he’s not calling signals for the Seminoles.
He has become an admirer, even from afar.
“He’s quiet,” Winston said. “But he gets those those guys around him to follow him the right way, and he’s been winning, and I think that’s one thing you gotta judge a quarterback on: how much they win. As a quarterback to another quarterback, for you to be able to throw 38 touchdowns and only two interceptions, that’s special.
“I think it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see us play and, me personally, I’m going to be on the sideline watching Marcus myself, so I think it’s going to be a fun game,” Winston said.