- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Losing Manziel is a big blow to a sport of which he was king. Say what you will about his offseason lifestyle, but when Manziel turned into Johnny Football out on the field, he was one of the best to ever shake, strut and throw at this level.
You've marveled at his Playstation stats and we've all found ourselves late at night searching for some of his mind-blowing highlights that left us thirsting for more. Like Tim Tebow and Cam Newton before him, Manziel was magical at the quarterback position with both his arm and legs. One moment he was dazzling you with his acrobatic runs, filled with dime-cutting jukes and maybe a hurdle or two. The next he was zipping an NFL-like throw past a dizzy secondary to the corner of the end zone.
Manziel created so many plays that game plans for him went well beyond the normal thought process of any defensive coordinator. During his two years as the Aggies' starter, Manziel threw for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns while rushing for 2,169 yards and 30 more scores. In 2012, after setting the SEC single-season record for total offense (5,116 yards), he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
That same season -- the Aggies' first year in the SEC -- he took down No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and won 11 games, including a 41-13 blowout of former Big 12 foe Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl with a bowl-record 516 total yards.
This season, Manziel proved he was human, yet he still managed 562 total yards and five touchdowns against No. 1 Alabama and finished the season with 4,114 passing yards and 37 touchdown passes. That's 408 more passing yards and 11 more passing touchdowns than his Heisman-winning season. He did, however, toss four more interceptions (13) and lost two more games (four) than he did as a freshman.
In his final two games of the regular season, Manziel recorded just 494 total yards of offense with two touchdowns and two interceptions, officially squashing his Heisman chances.
But in his final collegiate game, Manziel was not to be outdone in Hotlanta. Inside the Georgia Dome against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Manziel had arguably his best overall performance in an Aggies uniform. He helped erase a 21-point halftime deficit with 382 passing yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a team-high 73 yards and another score in A&M's thrilling 52-48 win. He didn't turn the ball over and looked more like a leader than ever before. He tore into prize receiver Mike Evans, who looked lost to start the game, and brought his team together and led them with both his words and play.
Oh, and of course he did something silly like this on a poor defender.
It's not as if he hasn't amazed us before with plays like that. Remember when he somehow slipped out of Alabama defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan's grasp to heave an errant pass off his back foot into traffic into the arms of Edward Pope for a first down back in September? Or what about the self-fumble turned touchdown pass against the Tide last year? How about when he returned from what looked like a nasty knee injury at Ole Miss to direct the Aggies to a last-second victory in October? What about that shoulder injury he winced through for weeks?
We expected the Heisman winner to fall off this season because of his offseason escapades with Drake, becoming a proud member of OVO, hanging with LeBron James, and teeing off in golfing wonderlands. He also was wrapped in an autograph scandal that almost compromised his college eligibility.
What was supposed to be a fitting sophomore slump for Manziel turned into quite the encore for the fleet-footed QB. He became a better passer, checking down, reading defenses and finding multiple options outside of his first read. He showed that he really does love the sport of football. He showed the he really did work hard behind the scenes when he wasn't smiling for the camera. He showed that he's a true competitor and exactly what the sport embodies when he steps on the field.
Yes, he had an early-season slip-up with his taunting when he returned from a half-game suspension in Week 1, but that behavior was short-lived. It was all football for Manziel from there on out.
Jameis Winston might have won the Heisman this season, but he wasn't close to being as exciting of a player as Manziel. We've seen great players come and go, and someone will eventually fill Manziel's entertaining shoes, but we'll miss Johnny Football nonetheless.
5dSam Khan Jr.
7dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough