LLANO, Texas – At first it seemed like normal adolescence for an overprivileged, overtalented American boy. Johnny Manziel, a/k/a Johnny Football, binged fairly often on alcohol, vandalized a fraternity house, sometimes went to jail, sometimes didn’t.
Also didn’t show up for a football camp with Peyton Manning in New Orleans which made you question his judgment as much as anything else he did.
On the field he was a football god, a white version of Russell Wilson, with his fast legs, strong arm, quick mind, uncanny instincts and improvisation. But off the field he was governed only by demons.
The Cleveland Browns, like most of us, wanted to believe that Little Johnny, Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, would mature before destroying himself. Anyway, there had been plenty of successful partying quarterbacks: Bobby Layne, Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, Ben Roethlisberger and others.
So the Browns made Manziel their first-round draft choice in 2014 and have regretted it almost every day since.
There was his unruly behavior in a Las Vegas night club, tardiness and drunkenness for practices, his tossing a plastic bottle at a fan, rehab at an addiction clinic, accusations of hitting a woman and threatening to kill her, being subject of a police search by helicopter. And so on.
In spite of all the pandemonium in his life, Manziel showed some promise on the field in his second season in the NFL. He was elusive enough to buy time to make plays downfield, with more than enough arm to complete the pass.
Even in the pros he showed some of the razzle-dazzle that made him a sensation at his high school in Kerrville, 60 miles from where I live. His fame grew exponentially in college, and I had little doubt he would make his mark on the NFL.
Instead, the marks are being made in police blotters. He’s looking like a smaller-sized Ryan Leaf, another athletic quarterback who was drafted in the first round but quickly spiraled out of the NFL.
The Browns have publicly stated their intention to cut their ties to Manziel, but it’s not just his career that’s in question, it’s his life. How long will it last?
Johnny Manziel’s father, Paul Manziel, told the Dallas Morning News he worries that his son, who’s 23, may not live to be 24 in December.
Johnny, who recently bought a bar in Dallas – just what he really needs — has refused his family’s requests to enter another addiction facility after his former girlfriend said he hit her several times and threatened to “kill us both.”
Colleen Crowley testified in an affidavit that she lost hearing in one ear when “he hit me with his open hand on my left ear.”
Her attorney, Kathy Kinser, told KXAS in Dallas that her eardrum was punctured.
Crowley said Manziel was acting “as if he were on some kind of drugs” when he threw her onto his bed in his hotel room at 1:45 a.m. on Jan. 30.
Dallas police said a “criminal investigation” is under way, and a judge issued a restraining order against Manziel to prevent him from approaching his accuser.
Should this investigation lead to arrest, Manziel may be joining Ray Rice in NFL purgatory, and it could get worse.
Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, dismissed him, urging him to forget about football for now but to concentrate on being sober and peaceful.
The Dallas Cowboys had been interested in acquiring Manziel, but that’s no longer the case. Perhaps the most ridiculous take on Manziel came from former Cowboys All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders: “Johnny’s in love. . . . And it upsets me that grownups don’t understand it.”
The cause of the problem? “That thing that’s really inflicting a lot of pain on him, and that’s his girlfriend.”
Once again, men blaming the victims for domestic violence.
Sanders later backtracked a bit, saying he was not blaming the woman, he was blaming “the relationship.”
Well, Manziel should be blaming himself. Or perhaps the bottle or the powder or whatever is replacing his self-control.
Not to divert blame away from Manziel, but the Browns were the worst sort of enablers, constantly covering up for him. In his first trip to Las Vegas, when his troubles began, he had prior approval from coach Mike Pettine, who should have been more alert.
Mike Silver of NFL Network quoted an anonymous player on the Browns saying that when Manziel came to Wednesday practice drunk before a game he was scheduled to start, the team “lied and said he was in the concussion protocol.”
So what now for Manziel? You can always hope for rescue and rehab, but first he has to admit he has a problem. Manziel told TMZ that the assault he’s accused of making “didn’t happen,” that “I’m completely stable, I’m safe and secure.”
He may be missing the point here. Whether or not he’s breaking laws, most NFL teams will not be interested in a quarterback who’s making news on TMZ.