Monday, November 7, 2016

What Happened to the Great 'Johnny Football'?

There once was a young Texas man who was poised to take the world of football by storm. He burst onto the college scene, ran roughshod over his opponents en route to a prestigious award, and then rushed off to become an NFL star. Unfortunately, things didn't work out so well, and he disappeared at age 23 into the nether world of the has-beens.
Most football fans are familiar with the story of Johnny Manziel. After a successful high school career in Texas, he became the starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M University, big time college football in a state where football is the king of sports. 

Manziel reportedly wanted to play for Mack Brown at the University of Texas. That didn't work out, but it didn't stop him from becoming a freshman sensation in College Station. The Home of the Twelfth Man was focused for two years on their First Man – their young phenom quarterback from Tivy High School. But even before Manziel became 'Johnny Football', his antics threatened his future.
A&M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin should have had an inkling of what was to come when in June 2012, Manziel was arrested before his first start. It happened after a fight, and when police arrived, Manziel gave police officers a fake driver's license. He pled guilty in July 2013 for the license infraction, and the other two misdemeanor charges were dropped. It may have seemed a small incident at the time, but it was just the beginning of the off-field trouble.
The College Star
On the field, Manziel was incredible. He became an immediate star with his exciting brand of play, and ended his freshman season with six awards. He was the first ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner, along with AP Player of the Year, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and more. A&M went 11-2 that season, and blew out Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, 41-13.
Manziel picked up in 2013 right where he left off. He threw 11 more touchdowns and only four more interceptions than in the previous year, and finished 5th in the Heisman voting. A&M only managed a 9-4 record that year, capped with a 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Manziel's quarterback rating of 172.9 was good enough for third best in the country, his pass completion percentage (69.9%) was fourth, and he tied for fourth in touchdown passes (37).
It was no great surprise when Johnny Football elected to forgo his junior year and enter the NFL draft. Apparently, he thought that two good seasons would put in him in position as a high draft pick. Some observers agreed, while others did not. Although Manziel had been pretty good on the field, his behavior caused some to speak out.
Former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, in 2014, called Manziel "an arrogant little prick," according to Yahoo Sports.
The Draft
Although some probably counseled Manziel to stay in school, it's hard to fault him for deciding to cash in on his newfound celebrity and the opportunity to sign for big money as a pro. When he was finally chosen as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Cleveland Browns, it didn't take long before his stock began to plummet. Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot said in this October 2016 Slater story (How much of a disaster was Johnny Manziel?):
"I knew right from the start that Manziel had alcohol and substance use issues. I think the Browns were too slow to react to his off-the-field escapades."
Unfortunately for Manziel and the Browns, it didn't get any better from there. After two turbulent seasons of starting, then not starting, then starting, then not, the Browns decided they had had enough of Johnny Football. By 2015, the whirlwind was seemingly over, and he was released.
It didn't take long before the former hopeful ramped up the legend of the party boy. He has been accused of trashing rental houses, wrecking borrowed cars, and beating up his now former girlfriend, Colleen Crowley. He has been seen and videoed all over the country, in bars and other places, with bottles of champagne and other such means of entertainment. It's not illegal to drink in a bar, however, the many alleged such incidents painted a picture of an immature, directionless young man. Such a profile is not what NFL teams expect from their quarterbacks, and as of this writing, Manziel remains a free agent.
He was dropped in 2016 by his marketing agency, LRMR, and by his agent, Erik Burkhardt. High-powered agent Drew Rosenhaus signed him, but fired him two months later, marking, according to this ESPN story, the first time in Rosenhaus' 27-year career that he had fired a player. Nike ended their sponsor relationship with Manziel at the same time, leaving many to wonder if the former Heisman winner would ever work again in the NFL, or if he would even stay alive.
In the midst of his erratic behavior, his father Paul Manziel, said in June 2016 in an ESPN story:
"He's a druggie. It's not a secret that he's a druggie… Hopefully he doesn't die before he comes to his senses."
The elder Manziel went on to say he felt his son would be better off behind bars. That is a possibility, as reported in the above-mentioned ESPN story. The assault charges stemming from the Crowley incident could send Manziel to jail for a year.
In the mean time though, the former star college quarterback has reportedly resumed his college studies. In September 2016, Dallas News Sports Day writer Ben Baby wrote that an unnamed source had confirmed Manziel's recent re-enrollment at Texas A&M. It is not clear whether Manziel is physically attending classes in College Station or is participating via online distance learning. Regardless of the method, it may be what he needs to get his life back together.
The Future?
Is Manziel one of those guys who, 15 or so years from now, will appear on a television commercial, and we will say: "That guy used to be famous. Wasn't he a rapper or something?"
"No, I think he was an actor, or maybe a bank robber."
"No, he was a football player."
"Was he any good?"
"For awhile he was. One of the best. Then he threw it all away."
Then again, if he doesn't stop partying like there's no tomorrow, he's likely to kill himself long before he gets a chance to make any sort of comeback.
Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

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