The Shadow League felt it was necessary….no, imperative, to point out a common media practice that has been taken to the extreme with Johnny Football in Cleveland this NFL offseason. Who's Johnny Football you ask? No, of course you didn't ask, as his name has reigned supreme this summer, second to the "other" big name in Cleveland. When Johnny Manziel was wrecking the SEC while at Texas A&M, it was indeed a sight to see. He ran around, passed all over the opposition and flat out dominated some of the most powerful collegiate football teams in the game as LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma all fell during his two year stint in College Station. Not only was he a scrambling, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, he also possessed the ability to throw the ball as well. Some believed had he been allowed to enter the NFL draft following his freshman year as an Aggie under head coach Kevin Sumlin that he would have likely gone in the top 10. Even after following up his Heisman season with fewer wins than the prior year, Manziel numbers got him a spot as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2013. And from the moment he was available for the draft, you guys just would not let up. From May 2014 until the very moment that this story is being penned, Ol’ Johnny Boy has dominated the summer sports news cycle.
Admittedly, the timeframe between the NFL draft and the end of the NFL preseason is a barren landscape when it comes to NFL reporters being able to harvest a significant number of professional football related stories. Heck, all of professional sports is kind of hibernating from a news perspective as the summer months represent the offseason for the NHL and NBA, while Major League Baseball is slogging its way through the Dog Days of August in a race to get to the playoffs. Meanwhile, those lucky enough to be counted among the best and brightest rookies and free agents, as well as the goings on of signature NFL superstars like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady, are normally the common fair when it comes to what stories are likely to get published around this time of year. But every once in a while, along comes a rookie that you guys simply cannot resist plastering all over the screens, front pages and blogs of your respective television shows, glossy magazines and websites. When asked to explain the relevance of these players, talent seldom is the sole factor when making the determination as to who is deserving of the lip-service and adulation that the NFL press can muster. Words like “it factor” and “polarizing” are normally the answer to that quiz of relevancy.
In the past players like Terrell Owens, Tim Tebow and Mike Vick filled this void in the sports reporter’s news cycle for different reasons, and it was easy to see early on that this summer fans would be inundated by reports about Michael Sam being the first openly gay professional athlete to play in the NFL and whether the rather Lilliputian-looking Johnny Manziel would be a great quarterback in the NFL or whether he would be the next Ryan Leaf. Initially, my money would have been on Michael Sam dominating the headlines. While that may eventually be the case as the St. Louis Rams gear up to make cuts and decide exactly who does and does not belong on their team, Johnny Manziel, with his myriad of photographs alongside celebrities and fans, photos in which he appears inebriated and Instagram posts showing him brandishing what appears to be drug paraphernalia (editorial note: a rolled dollar bill is often used by cocaine addicts to sniff cocaine) made him the frontrunner for top NFL media driver.
On top of that, he has the type of game that drives NFL traditionalists crazy. ESPN NFL analysts Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski have been giving themselves hernias with their steadfastly contrarian view of Manziel’s scramblin’ and gamblin’ on field demeanor, and his "devil may care" off the field demeanor as well. However, it seems that the more people “hate” on Manziel, the louder the drumbeat of Manziel-mania can be heard. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, LeBron James announces his return to Cleveland and suddenly you have people mentioning King James, the greatest basketball player on the planet, and rookie Johnny Manziel in the same sentence. The only time they should ever even be mentioned in the same breath is when one is describing the ESPN commercial they both appeared in, or the fact that Johnny Manziel's off the field business ventures are to be managed by Team Maverick, who count themselves among LeBron’s brain trust as well.
Lately, much of the Manziel excreta revolves around the recently resolved quarterback duel between Johnny and Cleveland Browns incumbent starter Brian Hoyer. The latter is something of a hometown hero as the Ohio resident struggled to find his way in the NFL in the years since he was a four-year starter at Michigan State and Johnny Manziel, with his Hollywood Rolodex, money signs and Texas oil roots, stands in stark contrast to the undrafted free agent who bounced around the league for five years before landing in Cleveland last season.
Perhaps this dichotomy provided even more kindling to story-starved NFL reporters. With the recent announcing of Brian Hoyer as the Week One starter for the Cleveland Browns over Johnny Manziel, I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to Brian Hoyer as the pressure to show and prove has now been removed from Johnny and placed on him. With a preseason passer rating of 57.9, it’s clear to see that the pressure is already getting to him. This is only the beginning. Hoyer will now become the most poked and prodded quarterback to come along in Cleveland since…well….Johnny Manziel. So, when he’s rocking back and forth in a padded cell come Week 3 you only have yourselves to blame NFL media. To be perfectly honest, Manziel's inability to supplant a man whose career was on its last legs prior to arriving in Cleveland last year doesn't say much for his abilities either. But, as you all know, somebody's gotta be in the news. And many of you are like "Why not Johnny Manziel?", to which we would readily answer, "because he's probably not worth all the hype."