HOOVER, Ala. – This being SEC Media Days and him being Johnny Football, the blitz was inevitable. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel moved from room to room while grown men and women toting microphones, cameras and tape recorders pursued him like so many bad actors fulfilling the clichéd media moment in a made-for-TV movie.
They shouted questions that landed like off-key echoes from a press conference in Washington, where political reporters might have been asking the president about tensions in the Middle East, about Iran’s nuclear capability, about any number of things of greater consequence than why Johnny Football missed meetings at the Manning Passing Academy last weekend.
(Sidebar: Wolf Blitzer was not here, which I take as a sign that our civilization still has a chance at sanity.)
But make no mistake: Johnny Football off the field will continue to be a bigger story than Johnny Manziel on the field. It has to be. He won the Heisman as a freshman and became the first SEC player to reach 5,000 yards in total offense (3,706 passing, 1,410 rushing, 5,116 combined). Plus, he’s all of 6-1 and maybe 200 pounds. He was supposed to be too small and too young. He can’t top what he did on the field.
So now, the deepening narrative is that he will pull a Mark Sanchez off the field – essentially butt-fumble his future into a never-never land where the sad stories of Ryan Leaf and Todd Marinovich are on a loop.
Cell phone pictures capturing Manziel celebrating at a nightlight club after Texas A&M’s Cotton Bowl win back in January, well, that was a bit careless. Pushing a graduate assistant during a scrimmage was bad form. Getting arrested last summer and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in the case this summer for failing to properly identify himself to police after a fight is a smudge (no more, no less) on his record. Tweeting that he was ready to get out of College Station might be forgiven by Aggies fans but never forgotten.
Being dismissed from the Manning Passing Academy? Well, that was just plain rude (at least that’s how it plays publicly). Even though Peyton Manning is on record as saying that he, father Archie and brother Eli want Manziel to return next year.
“There’s no question he’s made some mistakes,” said Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin.
What actually happened this time? Asked a million different times and in different ways here at SEC Media Days, Manziel said: “I simply overslept. There’s nothing more and the rumors about the other things really weren’t true.”
Asked if he was hung over, Manziel said “absolutely not.” He also expressed the desire to just be a “normal college kid” and have fun. Meantime, his father put it out there that he was sick and suffering from dehydration. And Johnny Football seemed vague on whether his phone wasn’t turned on or wasn’t charged or his alarm wasn’t set (the Manning camp couldn’t reach him when he didn’t show). Small points, but more than enough to keep Johnny Football a punch line in the court of public opinion if you want to put your fist through the holes in his story.
On Wednesday while Manziel did one of his interviews in the far corner of a huge hotel ballroom, surrounded by a couple hundred reporters straining to hear “overslept” just one more time, teammate and offensive lineman Jake Matthews, son of Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Bruce Matthews, was asked about the nearby circus.
“Y’all need to give me a nickname,” Matthews said with a laugh.
Jake Football? Anyone?
“We’re definitely different people,” Matthews said of his approach to life and Manziel’s. “You’re not gonna see me doing any of the stuff he does. I’m a little more of a laid-back guy. But like I said, I’ve got all my faith in Johnny. He loves playing so much, puts so much pressure on himself, wants to be the best. I know that he wouldn’t do anything to mess that up.”
But if he does, or even comes remotely close, we’ll be sure to let you know.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.