The villain that you love to hate. Or the villain that you hate to love. The spoiled wild child who partied away a career. A hardworking guy who finally grew up and is ready to make his way in the world.
Johnny F’n Football.
Two-time All-SEC, two-time Heisman finalist, 2012 Heisman winner (first ever for a freshman). Winner of the O’Brien (first ever for a freshman), Manning (first ever for a freshman), and Walter Camp award. He was the AP Player of the Year, the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He holds, among other records: the SEC record for most yards in a game (and he holds the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, as well), FBS freshman record for rushing yards, FBS record for most 300/100 games, SEC record for yards from scrimmage, he holds: SEC records for most total yards in a season, second most passing yards and touchdowns in season, third most rushing touchdowns, and 8th most passing touchdowns in a career. He is only the fourth player in history to run for 20 TDs and pass for 20+ TDs in a season.
We sometimes forget just how good he was. Yes, Manziel had a 6’5” future NFL pro-Bowler to throw to, and yes, he had extraordinary luck. But special players have a way of manufacturing their own luck.
No matter your take on Johnny Manziel, it is hard to deny his talent or his legacy as one of the most instinctive playmakers in college football history. His big arm, his brashness, his competitive fire, and now the media circus (a lot of which, he courted on his own,) are all back.
Johnny is back where he belongs: in football.
Made the decision today to sign my contract with the CFL and further my football career after a long break. Very grateful for everyone that’s been supporting me along the way. I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I’m eager for what the future holds.— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) May 19, 2018
On Sunday, Manziel signed a two-year deal with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. For Manziel, the move may not just be a career-saver, but it may also be a chance to become a superstar. Coming out of A&M, many felt that the CFL was the more natural fit for him in any event: the field is longer and wider, the pace of play is faster, the game is more vertical, pre-snap motion gives a significant advantage to passing games, and the wide-open space lends itself well to playmakers under center who can do damage with their legs. Being undersized isn’t necessarily the career-killing detriment that it is in the NFL. This is, after all, the league that gave you Warren Moon and Doug Flutie. And, for Manziel, this could be a perfect fit: The TiCats are led by living legend and modern run-and-shoot architect June Jones — you have to think Jones is salivating at the upside that a mobile, big-armed, fearless 25-year old Manziel brings to the offense.
It’s not a fait accompli that JFF will win the starting job. Ahead of him on the roster is former Ole Miss legend Jeremiah Masoli (yes, that was snark) — another strong-armed mobile QB who simply could not get it done in the NFL.
But Manziel won’t be gifted the starting job in Hamilton simply based on his past accomplishments.
”Let me tell you something right now, he’s got his work ahead of him to beat out Jeremiah [Masoli],” Tiger-Cats coach June Jones said of Manziel, via the National Post.
In Masoli’s case, while he lacked the talent to make it under the Shield, Manziel simply lacked the discipline. The hard-partying and immaturity doomed him with Browns coach Mike Pettine. It was his life off the field that doomed the former first round NFL Draft Pick: millions of dollars, notoriety, expectations, and national press added to a guy’s CV already awash in oil money, Texas debs, and a high opinion of himself.
JFF’s 2015 play was decent in 8 starts — especially given the worst supporting cast in the NFL. He had a 7:5 TD:INT ratio, completed over 57% percent of his passes, and earned a QBR near 80, which was good for 19th and was higher that season than that of Andrew Luck, Nick Foles and (blasphemously) even Peyton Manning. Perhaps more importantly, he put butts in seats and gave a hopeless franchise some glimmer of excitement.
But, the predictable happened from a team already saddled with the substance abuse issues of Josh Gordon: a confessed alcoholic and sideline headache, who hit the after-parties harder than he hit the playbook, was not the the PR image the Browns wanted or the locker room leader it needed. Manziel was given the boot, despite having two of the Browns’ three wins on the season.
So, now, after a journey that has seen him regain his sobriety, JFF has a second chance. He has remained in shape and is serious about football. The CFL affords him a big stage and the opportunity to be a superstar. And the stars seemingly align to help further his redemption story. The only question is whether he will make the most of this last, best chance to stay in the sport he loves...and one that loves him right back.
I, for one, am pulling for him. No one wants to see the best years of someone’s life be over at 22, especially a player as objectively fun to watch as Manziel is.