America at Large: Manziel grows tired of the wild man inside
Quarterback who has squandered so many chances has embarked on rehabilitation tour
Johnny Manziel’s contrite public statements indicate he may just have started to realise how much he has squandered in his career. Photograph: Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
Scenes from the hectic life of Johnny Manziel. After a report implied the erstwhile NFL quarterback would be charging $50 for selfies as part of some down at heel sideshow at next month’s Super Bowl, he took to Twitter last Thursday to deny the story and to announce he was no longer “lost in the sauce”. Not only that, he acknowledged behaving like a “douche” during 2016 and reiterated the seriousness of his intention to make a comeback.
“I refuse to let my entire life of sports from the age of four be squandered by partying,” said Manziel. “I just got sick of it. One day I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror and realised I could really help people in the position I’m in.”
It’s a measure of the size of his talent and the paucity of quality quarterbacks that almost immediately speculation began about which clubs, the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars for starters, just might be willing take a chance on a former college phenom battling a very public drinking problem. So far, so very Manziel.
Last Sunday night, the rehabilitation tour made a stop at Foxboro to watch the New England Patriots defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. For a 24-year-old trying to shake off a reputation for hard living and to convince sceptics he’s a truly reformed character, wearing a Tom Brady 12 shirt to a playoff game while gurning and goofing about on social media wasn’t a particularly good look. Or a smart decision. Then again, some would say it was just Johnny being Johnny.
By Monday, he was online advising the new president about Twitter etiquette and counselling him to stay away from the notifications section because, “Shxt will drive you crazy, lead the country and let them hate”. A coming together of epic clickbait that viral marketers can only fantasise about, Manziel deleted his own account shortly thereafter, perhaps the smartest career move he’s made for a long time. Far too much of this particular decline and fall has been meticulously documented on the various social media platforms.
Distant look in his eyes
Here’s Johnny on Twitter getting an enormous tattoo on his throwing arm in mid-flight on a private jet. As you do. There’s an action shot of him on Instagram, wearing a headband while dancing in a ball pit at Coachella music festival with a distant look in his eyes. And what about this classic on Pinterest, of all places, of him hanging with Floyd Mayweather and Justin Bieber at a shindig at the latter’s Beverley Hills mansion shortly before the cops arrived to break up the festivities.
In the volumes of photographs of him online, Manziel is almost invariably grinning, looking like a young man determined to wring every alcohol-laced drop from his celebrity. Yet, the contrite public statements of the past couple of weeks indicate he may just have started to realise how much he has squandered along the way. Witness an almost pained open letter to the quarterbacks coach who helped somebody once considered too small to start for Texas A&M become a Lone Star legend.
Unfortunately, the irresistible swagger with which he broke passing records as a college freshman also transformed plain old Johnny Manziel from the small Texan town of Kerrville into Johnny Football, an outlandish character with a signature celebration where he rubs his fingers together as if counting the money. Like the moment George Best morphed into Georgie and nothing was ever quite the same again, we can trace his decline from somewhere about then.
Even as he performed the “money” move walking across the stage at the 2014 NFL draft, it looked kind of pathetic given that he was the 22nd pick and was joining the Cleveland Browns, the worst team in the league. While his arrival there prompted optimism and hype in equal measure, fueling an upsurge in season tickets and jersey sales, he started just eight games over two seasons, featured in seven more, and threw as many interceptions (seven) as he did touchdowns.
Distracted and often demented
The kind of numbers that bolstered the long-held contention of some scouts that he was, like Tim Tebow not long before, a college superstar without the tools necessary to cut it in the pros. There was one crucial difference between the pair. Tebow was always dedicated and desperate to succeed, Manziel was distracted and often demented, infamously turning up to one training session still drunk from the night before.
On another occasion, when out injured, he flew to Las Vegas to play blackjack instead of turning up to watch his team. The Browns eventually terminated his contract last year following a slew of legal troubles including a charge he had assaulted his ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley. That case culminated in court-mandated anger-management classes in Dallas.
Factor in trips to rehab, a four-game NFL ban for violating the league’s drug policy, and the fact he spectacularly underwhelmed in Cleveland, and you’d wonder why any club might be even remotely interested in signing him. But this is a sport where a criminal record, no matter how tawdry, can be quickly excised once somebody starts to produce on the field. And some outfits might not be averse to the impact, however temporary, his fading star might have on the box office either.
“I only need one team to believe in me,” said Manziel. At least as much as he apparently still believes in himself.