Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 15, 2014

Welcome To The NFL, Johnny Football

A NOTE TO READERS: In an unplanned and unexpected development, the entire bank of high-speed servers at On Sports and Life had to be taken off-line Sunday, delaying this post. Or to put it in English, my laptop had a near-death experience this weekend. Fingers crossed, the regular posting schedule will resume while a Kickstarter campaign to fund new hardware gets underway.

It came as no surprise when Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced early last week that he was benching starting quarterback Brian Hoyer in favor of rookie Johnny Manziel. NFL franchises don’t burn a first round draft pick on a quarterback with the idea that he will stand on the sidelines with a clipboard for the next three or four years. At this year’s draft Johnny Football smiled gamely through the pain for the live TV cameras as his stock plummeted during the first round. But when the Browns finally took Manziel with the 22nd pick, far later than certainly he expected, he was still a first-rounder. That fact alone meant that Hoyer’s days as a starter were surely numbered.

For the first half of Cleveland’s season the sixth-year veteran, who has bounced from New England to Pittsburgh to Arizona to Cleveland, played too well to give Pettine reason to turn to Manziel. After dropping a pair of final minute heartbreakers in their first three games, the Browns were victorious five of the next six weeks. The first of those wins was on the road against Tennessee, where Hoyer led his team to a historic comeback. Trailing 28-3 in the second quarter, the Browns scored the game’s final 26 points to win 29-28. The biggest rally in team history was capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Hoyer to Travis Benjamin with 1:09 left on the clock.

At 7-4 the Browns were in the hunt for their first playoff appearance since 2002. But even as Cleveland was winning Hoyer’s numbers started falling. Then the 7-4 record became 7-6 with a pair of losses to the Bills and Colts. In his last five starts Hoyer had just one touchdown pass while throwing eight interceptions. With postseason hopes fading and a must-win contest against division leader Cincinnati at hand, Manziel’s moment had arrived.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was a media darling while at Texas A&M. As a freshman he became an overnight sensation across the country when he led the Aggies into Tuscaloosa and upset then #1 Alabama on their home field. In the air and on the ground Manziel accounted for 345 of A&M’s 418 yards of total offense, and threw for two touchdowns. By season’s end he had broken the SEC record for offensive production while becoming the first freshman in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 and pass for 3,000 yards in a single season. Of course Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman and of course “Johnny Football” became a registered trademark.

Two years at the college level were enough for Manziel, who opted to take his talents to the NFL after his sophomore season. Initially pegged as a top-5 pick in the draft, he became a highly polarizing figure among scouts and pundits. While his talent was obvious, some analysts questioned whether he was big enough to succeed as an NFL quarterback. But the more serious concerns were about the size of his ego, not his body. Former coach Barry Switzer, one of only three men to coach both a college team to a national championship and an NFL squad to a Super Bowl victory, was particularly critical, saying “I don’t like his antics. I think he’s an arrogant little prick.”

Manziel was investigated by the NCAA while at Texas A&M over the alleged sale of autographs. Before the draft he predicted that we would “wreck the league” upon arrival in the NFL. Prior to reporting to the Browns training camp he was photographed enjoying himself on the Las Vegas strip, and later drinking from a bottle of liquor while floating on an inflatable swan in Austin. He was fined $12,000 by the NFL for making an obscene gesture during a preseason loss to Washington. But “Johnny Football” is a registered trademark, and with the Browns’ season on the line Manziel had his moment to silence the critics on Sunday.

The visitors from Cincinnati never gave him the chance. As the Bengals all but extinguished the Browns’ faint playoff hopes in a 30-0 pounding, they also gave Manziel a rude welcome to his new role as starter. He was chased all day and sacked three times. The pressure left the rookie quarterback looking unsure in the pocket and prone to poor decisions. Of his 18 passes, only 10 were completed to teammates while 2 were caught by Cincinnati defenders. A third interception was nullified by a penalty. His completions totaled a mere 80 yards. Manziel’s quarterback rating was an anemic 27.3, lower than anything Hoyer recorded during his recent decline. In what was Cleveland’s first game with zero points in five years the Browns crossed midfield just a single time and had but three plays that gained more than 10 yards. Not content with merely imposing their will, defensive end Wallace Gilberry and several other Bengals taunted Manziel by mimicking his familiar finger-rubbing “money” gesture after big plays. The capacity crowd that arrived at FirstEnergy Stadium full of enthusiasm and hope exited in disappointment and dismay, two emotions all too familiar to Browns fans.

One game does not define a career, and perhaps in time we will all have to acknowledge that Johnny Football was worth all of the hype. But that time was decidedly not this Sunday. For now his boasts and bragging stand as so much hollow hubris. Manziel’s first game as a starter only served to remind that in the NFL as in every big league sport, celebrity may be worth millions, but it is no guarantee of success.


  1. Okay, I'll buy it this time, but everyone knows you need back up.Sent from my Veriz

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