Johnny Football needs a little football
August, 4, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com
So Johnny Manziel is in the news once again for something other than football.
Is anybody really surprised?
The latest, according to an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report, is that the NCAA is investigating whether Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January during his trip to the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
To be fair, these are only accusations. Manziel has been down this road before, and if you read Wright Thompson’s piece on Manziel, his family is anything but thrilled with the scrutiny Manziel has faced from the NCAA and their belief that Texas A&M hasn’t done enough to protect the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from the attention.
All that’s up for debate, but what’s not up for debate is that this is not the way any team wants to go into a football season.
For all the headlines that Manziel has generated this offseason and how they’ve impacted him, the people who’ve probably been lost in the shuffle are his Texas A&M teammates and coaches.
Thanks in large part to Manziel’s wizardry on the field, the Aggies head into the 2013 season as one of the top five teams in college football.
But the great unknown is how the circus that his life has become off the field will impact the Aggies’ season.
Above everything else, Manziel is a fierce competitor, and I’m sure he cannot wait to get onto the field again and show the best of Johnny Football is yet to come.
But to steal a line from Manziel’s father, Paul Manziel, regarding whether it could all come unraveled: "Yeah, it could come unraveled. And when it does, it's gonna be bad. Real bad."
Obviously, the NCAA is going to need some evidence Manziel took money for these allegations to stick and for him to be ruled ineligible. A question all Aggies are probably asking right now, and a fair one, is why would Manziel do something this risky when it’s obvious his family already has money?
Just getting back on the practice field is the best thing that can happen for Manziel and the best thing for his teammates. Having this latest cloud hanging over the start of Texas A&M’s practice Monday won’t be ideal, but at least there’s going to be some football.
And, right now, Manziel needs football in the worst way.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s job just gets harder by the day. Managing a free spirit like Manziel is a challenge, especially when that free spirit is hell-bent on “living life to the fullest” and has the family cash to do it.
Through it all, Sumlin has gone to great lengths to counsel Manziel, to give him guidance, and yet, give him his space as an individual.
There’s a fine line there because what matters most is the team, and no player is bigger than the team. But Sumlin is also smart enough and savvy enough to know that Texas A&M is at its best as a team with Manziel on the field, and just importantly, in a healthy state of mind.
Regardless of what happens with this NCAA investigation, it will be worth watching to see how the Aggies respond to their first dose of adversity on the field.
It could be that everything that has transpired with Manziel will bring them closer together and they come out breathing fire later this month when they open the season with a couple of tune-ups before Alabama’s visit on Sept. 14. But we’ve also seen entire seasons catch fire and go up in flames when a star player’s offseason has been this turbulent.
This much we know: Manziel doesn’t mind being out there on the edge.
He plays football that way, and he lives his life that way.
And for that, he’s never going to apologize.