I guess Monday night’s performance by “Johnny Football” Manziel gave plenty of reasons why he wasn’t drafted in the top 10 of the 2014 N.F.L. Draft, but, rather, at number 22. As it turns out, he just isn’t that good, and unfortunately for Cleveland Browns fans, he’s not going to pull the team out of the football gutter any time soon.
In past columns, when Johnny Football was starting for the A&M Aggies, I was full of praise for him. I liked his cocky style. I liked the fact that he dedicated himself to having a lot of fun, despite critics saying he wasn’t dedicated to the game. When he would write embarrassing tweets, or get caught on video slugging a bottle of Champagne while floating on an inflatable swan at some swank late night party, I always said, “Good for Johnny Football. He’s living the dream most of us only dream of.”
But that was when Johnny Football was the big fish of college football. He could talk the talk because (most of the time) he walked the walk on the football field.
Things have changed.
Now that he’s in the N.F.L. he’s a much smaller fish in a much bigger fish bowl, and now would probably be a good time to shut the hell up for a while. If not, he’s going to get embarrassed a lot, and will probably get his ass kicked for a while. The big boy defensive linemen in the N.F.L. don’t like his type.
In what was the second-most-watched N.F.L. preseason game of all time, Johnny Football’s debut as a Cleveland Brown took place on Monday night. (For the record, the most watched preseason game of all time came in 2009 when Brett Favre took the field for the second time with the Minnesota Vikings.) Monday’s preseason matchup was a chance for the Cleveland Brown faithful to see their future. Would it be former Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, who started the game, or would it be Johnny Football who will lead the Browns onto the field in a few weeks when the regular season gets underway? It’s going to be a tough decision for Browns coach Mike Pettine, because both quarterbacks were dismal at best on Monday night.
Hoyer completed just two of six passes for 16 yards. “It probably couldn’t have been any worse,” Hoyer told the Associated Press. “It’s disappointing. It was embarrassing.”
Even more disappointing and embarrassing was Johnny Football. He went seven for 16 and 65 yards. He did have a touchdown but after the game, his touchdown drive wasn’t what everyone was talking about.
Turns out the rookie was taking some verbal punishment from Washington players on their sideline. If Washington’s game plan was to get into Manziel’s head, it worked. Like a rookie, he took the bait, and cameras caught him giving Washington’s bench the finger as he jogged off the field. Pretty much a harmless action, right? Under most circumstances, I would say so. But the situation in Cleveland is dire and the team needs a serious leader. Instead of putting his head down and doing the classy thing, he gives the finger. Manziel was Bush League. He showed no poise and served as a distraction rather than any sort of hope for the future.
“It does not sit well. It’s disappointing, because what we talk about it being poised and being focused,” Pettine told the AP after the game. “…That’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback.”
Manziel himself gave a stupid excuse that he should have known Monday Night Football’s cameras would be on him all the time.
“I get words exchanged throughout the entirety of the game, every game, week after week, and I should’ve been smarter,” Manziel said. “It was a Monday Night Football game and cameras were probably solid on me, and I just need to be smarter about that.”
The thing that Johnny Football needs to understand is that the Browns aren’t that good, especially the offensive line, which did no favors to either of their quarterbacks on Monday night. The cards are stacked against Johnny Football if he’s going to get the start for the Browns. With a shoddy O-line, he’s going to have to be even more focused and more dedicated to learning how to be a quarterback in the N.F.L. than many other quarterbacks in the league. Johnny Football giving the finger only proves that defenses can get in his head. Manziel showed his cards on Monday. You better believe the verbal abuse is only going to get worse if he starts the regular season. Former quarterback Boomer Esiason believes the other players’ hatred of Manziel should be considered here. Getting to put a lick on Johnny Football, who Esiason says is not ready to start, is every defenseman’s dream.
“His ass would be driven into the ground,” Esiason told WFAN, “because, I’m telling you, other teams hate this guy. Hate him. I’m telling you, those linebackers for the Pittsburgh Steelers are just praying to God that he plays in Week 1. And if I were Mike Pettine, I would have to have my head examined to put that kid on the field.”
OK, so maybe I’m being too harsh on Manziel. Preseason, after all, is a time to learn. A time to grow and become a better football player. I would like to think that Manziel walked away from his performance on Monday with some new knowledge, including the fact that the N.F.L. is a hell of a lot faster, bigger, meaner and scarier than college football was. I also hope he walked away knowing that every embarrassing action he takes, like giving the Washington football team the finger, is only going to make things worse for him both on and off the field.
If I were Manziel, I would announce at the next press conference that I am no longer to be referred to as Johnny Football. Maybe the name was justified in his college years, but is no longer justified now that he’s in the N.F.L. If I were him, I would be embarrassed to be called Johnny Football right now. If anything, he’s “Johnny College Football.”
I am so glad I am not a Cleveland Browns fan.