It only took three business days for inside sources in the NFL to leak it on Aug. 22, 2014, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Cleveland Browns’ first round draft choice, “Johnny Manziel was fined $12,000 for making an obscene gesture toward the Washington Redskins’ bench." The clock continues to tick on just how long the general public will know only one name on the Cleveland Browns' roster.
The topic has been overworked and overhyped by the media, to be sure, and many on the Manziel bandwagon of beloved merrymakers will brand all media as “haters” for daring, even daring, to suggest that the young wunderkind follow the rules of decorum expected by the NFL. For his post-Heisman year at Texas A&M, Manziel did his little “money symbol” motion with both hands and opposing teams taunted him with the same symbol every time they sacked him.
Manziel was able to overcome the taunting of opposition players who did a little “autograph symbol” in the air after tackling him, and the Aggies finished up with a so-so 2013 season but Manziel’s singlehandedly saving (the way the media told it, never mind the defensive players who intercepted the balls) the Duke game in the 2013 Chick-Fil-A Bowl restored Manziel to NFL draftworthy status. To be sure it was humbling to sit at the draft table through 21 first-round picks and four bottles of water awaiting the call from the NFL.
Ask yourself just how much you know about the first 21 players drafted in the NFL this season. How did their first two games go? You may know your favorite team’s outcome, but all of America knows Johnny Manziel’s status, all day, every day, the ESPN, USA Today, etc. way. Enter “Johnny Manziel” into Google’s search box and there are 13,600,000 results that took 0.48 seconds to obtain.
Yet, on Google’s main page, all the photos that come up on the right-hand side of the page are 60% in Aggie uniforms and 2 “celebrity” photos, because Manziel has rather effectively made himself the focus of the TMZ’s of the world. Getting mentioned, even when dissed, on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” is free PR. He hasn’t played a single down in the regular season. Yet he’s still the most talked-about player in the NFL. How insane is that?
Manziel, who trademarked the name “Johnny Football” logged 12 days of preseason now and the media has set him up for the inevitable hot seat next game, whether he’s playing for Cleveland against the Steelers or sitting on the bench and watching Connor Shaw get some reps and maybe even seeing how a seasoned NFL player in Rex Grossman knows how to direct an offense down the field.
Of the four Cleveland quarterbacks, it might make sense to focus on Rex for a while until Hoyer can get over being “Jan Brady” to Manziel’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” in the land of Brady, err, Browns. But, in only two weeks of preseason play, the media has blanketed the Browns with the all-Johnny, all-the-time coverage, but in fairness, all of the pre-season hoopla made it a no-brainer that it was where the media would be.
Yet, that doesn’t forgive the disrespect Manziel showed the Washington players. To be sure, such a gesture would not have been accepted at Texas A&M in college play either but there are thousands of Aggies who defended, forgave, forgot and moved on from more than a few “issues” in College Station. It’s primarily because young Manziel represented the kind of hero that A&M athletics officials had searched for endlessly, it seems, as their head usher to “belong” as newcomers to the SEC. Manziel filled that role marvelously, and the 24/7 construction project at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is a testament to the enthusiasm, success and pride felt by Aggies everywhere.
Had Manziel stayed in school at A&M another year, he might have won another Heisman Trophy but he also could have risked injury that would have meant curtains to his pro chances. But that was then, this is now, and now that he’s peeled off $12K of pocket change for the obscene gesture and he’s got some serious thinking and working to do.
On Sept. 7’s season opener against Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Browns have an opportunity to review four players who can be “the guy” to direct their team out of mediocrity, a spot they know all too well. Forget the hoopla, the hype, and the chastising. For Johnny this is a fortunately timed reality check as he decides the kind of NFL player he wants to be in the year(s) ahead. Can he grow up fast, much faster in the next two weeks, and will some seasoned pro, whether coach or player, be able to get through the ego into the brain of Manziel that the attitude needs changing?
You can have watched Johnny Manziel play his two seasons at Texas A&M and still know nothing more about him than anyone else in Cleveland does right about now. He’s a fierce competitor and his huge Texas A&M always-forgiving fanbase, reminiscent of the way the citizens in the Twilight Zone thought about “Anthony” (played by Billy Mumy in “The Twilight Zone” episode "It's a Good Life"), will love him through this. You know, “it’s a good thing, a real good thing that Johnny does that…real good.”
The NFL fans are not as forgiving and the Cleveland fans who bought a record number of tickets don’t want to be made to feel foolish for having run out and bought the jerseys and such. So, in two weeks we’ll all know more as to whether Johnny Bench (for now) will once again be Johnny Football, singing "Hi-O-Hi-O for Cleveland," or whether he’ll choose to sing this one by Johnny Paycheck. The Aggies are hoping for Johnny Football and most of them are still willing to call anyone who criticizes "their boy" as a hater, but that's just Aggie loyalty for you. But this is the NFL. Time will tell.