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The Texas-size heart of Johnny Manziel: From the other side of the fence

Johnny Manziel answers a young fan's call at Texas Aggie baseball game, March 22, 2014.
Anne P. Blum

On Saturday, March 22, 2014, as the Texas Aggies were playing SEC baseball against Florida, and winning, sitting by himself, somewhat obscured among the crowd of 3,770 fans at Olsen Field in Blue Bell Park was just another Aggie fan. Johnny Manziel was watching his fellow Aggies team in the sport he has loved all of his life, ever since he was a little child growing up.

Among the crowd watching the game a few bleachers above Johnny were Anne Blum and her husband Douglas, two of the faithful Aggie fans enjoying the game. Blum said that the crowd was great and, “although they spotted Johnny there,” no one made a big fuss, allowing him to enjoy the game as just another fan, which he prefers.

When the Aggie big-screen television camera finally did pan to Johnny in the ninth inning and he was introduced, the crowd gave him a true, loud Aggie welcome, which he accepted graciously and modestly. Anne said, “Some people had started crowding the lawn fence once they saw him on the big screen, but they let Manziel enjoy the game along with all of us,” watching the Aggies vs. Florida, the players on the field being the true focus of the day.

After being on the Jumbotron, Johnny quietly found a new spot on a bleacher farthest from the fence to disappear into the crowd. All eyes were on the Fightin’ Texas Aggie baseball team, save for one pair, belonging to a little blond cherub, who couldn’t believe his eyes. His Johnny was right there!

This young Aggie fan (we start out them very young at Aggieland), who Blum said, “looked to be about 2 years old, left his bench to stand near the fence that was twice his height.” He began to call, softly, “Yonny-fooball,” “Yonny-fooball,” wanting to be heard. Over and over he said that, nothing more, louder and louder, as loud as he could. But the Aggie crowd was yelling for the baseball team, and the little fellow’s chant was drowned out, much to his dismay. The little tyke’s face grew red because he was failing in his quest to get Manziel’s attention.

Most of the crowd at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park had no idea this was going on. Noise volume at an Aggie baseball game is, well it’s not like at Kyle Field, but it’s loud enough.
Again, only a few people, including the Blums, saw what was happening, but somehow Manziel saw the little boy.

As Johnny hopped out of his seat, climbed over the fence between his section and the sidelines (wearing flip-flops no less), the small crowd of witnesses to this random act of kindness started clapping for Johnny, and the little fan.

Blum said, “Johnny went over to the fence and reached up high to put his hand up to the fence to high-five his youngest fan, wearing his toddler-sized No. 2 jersey to greet him. It took the cherub a “few seconds to get his hand through the fence,” but by the time he had, the little fellow’s tears had subsided. He got to shake the hand of his very own, “Yonny Fooball.” His face also sported a 50,000 watt smile because his hero had heard his cry, and answered it.

It’s the things you do when (seemingly) no one is looking that really define the character of some people you only think you know. Deep down inside, when push comes to shove, every media writer thinks they know Johnny Manziel. They know stats, they know strengths, they know weaknesses, and they think they know Johnny. But they don’t really know what makes him tick. Not really.

It should have been a clue for the past two years that, given his yellow bracelet he wears and his public support of young Charlie Dina, to whom he is a champion, that children mean a lot to Manziel. In fact, Johnny’s still childlike heart and love of (all) sports cannot be denied. All weekend long, all week long, even while he’s awaiting one of the biggest days in his future professional career life, he’s supporting his fellow Aggies at their sporting events, rooting for his team same as any other Aggie fan.

You can sit in front of the television and see Manziel and LeBron James trading looks for McDonald’s, you can read the newspaper about the big Nike endorsement, you can drive down the Houston freeways and spot all the Aggie-booster-backed billboards encouraging the Houston Texans to draft him, but that still doesn’t begin to tell you who Johnny Manziel really is.

If you want to know who Manziel is, just find the little 2-year-old blond Aggie fan, wearing a No. 2 jersey, and ask him who “Yonny Fooball” is. He’s his hero. And Johnny Manziel’s legacy is first and foremost, for all those young children who will grow up loving him every minute he plays for whichever pro team drafts him, same as they did at Texas A&M. Good luck to No. 2 this week when Manziel will throw for the pro scouts on March 27, 2014.

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