Winston, Brooks recall why FSU was an NFL proving ground


The Talk of Fame Network’s seven-part college draft series comes to a rousing end this week with visits from Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston and Hall-of-Fame linebacker, Derrick Brooks, to discuss the good old days at Florida State and what made the Seminoles a program that never lost more than two games between 1987 through 2000 and finished ranked in the top 10 in the country 14 consecutive years.

One reason was talented quarterbacks like Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy, a national championship and went 26-1 at FSU after abandoning his native Alabama for Florida State. How did that happen?

“I wanted to be different,’’ Winston said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Tuscaloosa was only 35 miles from my hometown, and Auburn already had Cam Newton.’’

In 2013, Auburn faced Florida State with the national championship on the line. How’d that work out for Jameis Winston?

“I wish I could have played that 'other' Alabama team,’’ Winston said of Alabama itself. “That would have meant more, but at the end of the day an Alabama team was beat by an Alabama boy.’’

That “Alabama boy’’ became the first teenager to win the Heisman and a national championship before going on to become the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. What prepared him, he says, was running FSU’s high-octane offense.

“Coach Jimbo (Fisher) trusted me,’’ Winston said. “He gave me the keys to the offense, and he recruited great talent. All I had to do was stand in the pocket and complete some footballs. Our whole 22 is in the NFL now.’’

That stockpile of talent is why NFL teams flock to Florida State each year to scout for future NFL stars. One of the best ever to come out of FSU was Brooks, who arrived on campus as a strong safety and left as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game.

“I kept getting beat on play action passes,’’ Brooks said jokingly when asked to explain his move to linebacker as a sophomore. “Once I weighed 200 pounds, they moved me.’’

Then-head coach Bobby Bowden knew what he was doing. During Brooks’ three seasons at linebacker, the Seminoles went 33-3-1, won three bowl games and a national championship and Brooks played with a passel of future NFL stars that often made practice more challenging than games.

“We competed in practice against some of the best ever,’’ Brooks recalled. “We honestly felt if we had success against each other who we faced in the games would not match up with that competition. Winning was an expectation.’’

Winning was always an expectation for former Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney as well. A Hall of Famer, Rooney passed away last week at 84, and our Rick Gosselin knew him well. Rick makes clear Rooney was the kind of presence that can’t be replaced because he was the last link to the birth of the modern NFL.

Born a year before his father Art bought the Steelers, Dan Rooney literally spent his entire life in the NFL. Long-time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette football writer Ed Bouchette, also a Pro Football Hall of Famer by the way, brings his recollections of Dan to the Talk of Fame and points out that someone whose team had a decades long rivalry with the Raiders would have found some wry irony in having his funeral in a cathedral in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

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