Last impressions and Justin Fields don’t get along at all. It’s not right. It’s not really of his own doing. But it seems his lot in college football is to be this player of immense talent who gets unnecessarily roughed up at the end.
At Georgia, there was the tragically flawed fake-punt call with 3:11 left in a tied-up SEC Championship game, when the backup quarterback took a fourth-and-11 direct snap near midfield, had no one to throw to, and ate the football while gaining just two yards. Gifted the short field, the Crimson Tide scored the winning touchdown.
Shortly afterward, Fields announced his transfer to Ohio State. And Kirby Smart kept saying it was still a good call, even if good calls typically don’t look so plug ugly and cause an entire fan base to run screaming through the streets.
Fast forward to last season’s national-championship semifinal, Ohio State and Clemson battling for the right to lose to LSU in the championship game.
In a keepsake kind of game, the Buckeyes down 29-23, Fields, by now a starter and star, was driving them toward a potential winning touchdown at the end. Then with 37 seconds left, OSU receiver Chris Olave zigged out in the end zone – wrongly later admitted. Fields threw inside, and right into the arms of Clemson’s Nolan Turner for a clinching interception. And there Fields stood inside the Tigers 30, both hands clutching the sides of his helmet in disbelief, all the tension and anticipation of that stirring comeback drive turned suddenly to dust.
Now that the Big Ten has put off playing football this fall because of coronavirus concerns, that quite likely is the final vision of Fields as a collegian. That would be a mischaracterization of his brief career in Columbus bordering on slander. That would be grotesquely unfair, but as parents have told their children since the beginning of time, life’s not fair.
It seems as if we will never know the fullness of what Fields could bring to the college game. When he came out of Harrison High in north Cobb intent upon competing with Jake Fromm for the Georgia starting job, all the recruiting mavens had him marked for greatness. His aim was no less high.
His one season at Georgia was a tease, an amusement for the sages of social media, as he was thrown in sporadically behind Fromm.
And now after one season as a starter at Ohio State – in which he completed 67% of his passes for 3,273 yards, 41 touchdowns, three interceptions and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting – we’re left with but one wry conclusion:
The only way to stop Fields at this stage is to shut down an entire conference.
His junior season, designed to be his last with the NFL waiting, was voted out of existence.
Other options, built upon wish instead of steel, have emerged.
Might he play in the mythical spring season the Big Ten has floated? Even if such a season happened – and that just feels like appeasement now, a toffee for the unhappy masses – Fields would have little reason to risk himself in it so close to even a potentially rescheduled NFL draft.
Might he transfer to yet another school, given a waiver because of the unprecedented circumstances? There even have been mumblings about him coming back to Georgia. You know, the school where they already have a couple of transfer quarterbacks and have no scholarships left and as of this second still have an opener to prepare for Sept. 26 with those on hand. And even that may go away. It’s a lovely idea. But, come, come now, get off that unicorn and walk with me back to the real.
Selfishly, anyone who cares for college football wanted to see how much more Fields could do with a second full season of experience behind a team of Ohio State’s quality. Could have been epic. That’s the fans’ great loss.
The personal loss was immense, as well. Apparently too distraught to type out a complete sentence, Fields simply posted “Smh..” on Twitter. That stands for “shaking my head” they tell me.
He and the other Georgia-born Heisman-favorite quarterback, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, were leaders in college football’s we-want-to-play movement. Fields possessed far more faith in his institution’s ability to prepare and play safely than the institution itself.
Lawrence is still in play, as the ACC presses on for however long it can.
While Fields has been sidelined. The impact of the Big Ten’s decision – believe it right, wrong, premature, whatever – weighs heavily on all the players. It’s just more noticeable with the stars.
Justin Fields still wants to play. And now he may not take another competitive snap until some NFL preseason game in 2021, 19 months since his last. Lives everywhere are on hold. And in each case it’s not right and not of anyone’s own doing.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com