It’s Johnny Manziel season In The NFL…At least for the final three regular games.

It’s finally in the building. Manziel Mania will be making its NFL debut as starting QB for a 7-6 Browns team that is entangled in an all-out bloody war for the AFC North Division crown and long overdue playoff berth. Football’s social media God will finally get a chance to live up to his legendary moniker and lofty self-expectations. 


It’s probably a week too late as Cleveland really needed to win that game against the Colts on Sunday and they let it slip away because the Colts had the offensive weapons and the elite QB to overcome shoddy play in other areas.

The Browns X-Factor was sitting on the bench, inching closer to taking over the reins but still being spoon-fed by franchise big wigs.

The nail in the coffin was starting QB Brian Hoyer’s struggles in last Sunday’s 25-24 home loss to Indianapolis. Hoyer completed just 14 of 31 passes for 140 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions to finish with a season-low passer rating of 31.7.

Combine that with Manziel’s proper-like debut performance after replacing Hoyer in a 26-10 loss to the Bills in Week 13 and the only option was to finally drink from the Devil’s Super Bowl potion.

You knew it was bound to happen.

Manziel impressed when given his first significant playing time, relieving a struggling Hoyer and immediately driving the Browns down field and scorching the end zone for a 10-yard keeper, and then having the audacity to throw up the “get money” fingers.

It’s like he was back at Texas A&M, dipping and dodging and orchestrating tallies on the scoreboard—That’s Johnny Football. The rookie attempted just eight passes, but the performance was impressive enough that it put the wheels in motion and by this Monday HC Mike Pettine made it official; Johnny’s in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the season.

The only way the Browns were going to keep Hoyer on the field was to keep Johnny Football sideline-slipping and clipboard C-walking.

Hoyer came out the gate like a Thoroughbred Triple Crown winner at the Preakness to begin the season. His efficient and gutsy play helped dampen the uproar from 99.9 percent of Browns fans who automatically envisioned the former Heisman trash-talking turf, terror to be the starter when the 2014 season kicked off.


Still The Savior 

An overall lack of maturity and the frenzy of Manziel’s social-media fed celebrity status—combined with some average preseason performances—was too much for a struggling franchise to take on as it clawed its way back to respectability. The Browns needed to focus on being a team first. Hoyer was older. Grateful. Low maintenance.

However, Cleveland’s success only fueled the fans' desire to see Manziel. The powers that be finally caved to public demand. Sunday’s clash is a must win game for Cleveland. After all of that coddling, Manziel's being thrown into the fire anyway. To swoop in and be the city savior. 

"We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level," Pettine said. "Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result."

Manziel's promotion could signal the end of Hoyer's fairytale with the Browns. A Cleveland-area native who grew up attending Browns games with his father, Hoyer, who battled back from a season-ending knee injury in 2013, is in the final year of his contract. With Manziel as the starter, Hoyer likely will have to sign elsewhere if he wants to remain Top Dawg.

And not to take anything away from Hoyer, because on Nov. 9 Cleveland was in sole possession of first-place in the division at 6-3 for the first time since 1994, but his entire NFL existence as an undrafted free agent who clawed his way to NFL starter status is wrapped in irrelevance.

His shining moment as a QB will forever be beating out Manziel for the starting job. A feat that is already diminished just 13 games into the gig because it’s obvious that Hoyer was an unsuspecting pawn in a master plan. He was just babysitting all along.

Cleveland recognized early on that Manziel was an even liver-wire than they projected when they saved him from further embarrassment and rescued him at No.22 in the first-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Tyler, Texas Tornado became an instant cult figure and media sensation because of his brash attitude, celebrity support and indisputable football pedigree. His head was getting too big to fit onto that dimuntive 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame of his.

His pugnacious, bad boy image and renegade nature (a total obliviousness or in the opinion of some a disdain for rules and authority) has added to his public appeal, particularly with the ladies and younger football generation.


Cleveland brass made a decision early on to sit Manziel this season with the intentions of humbling him for the future.

They were willing to throw the season away if necessary— especially after they lost Josh Gordon for a chunk for a repeat violation of the NFL behavior code. Hoyer kept it interesting for a while but with Gordon back in effect, the season slipping away and the Browns holding onto hopes of playoff pleasure, the time was now for Cleveland to move into the future, get serious and promote Johnny Football to his pre-ordained status as a King of Sling.

Plus, before the season began Browns fans didn’t have high expectations for the squad. The franchise didn’t really know what kind of team they’d have. In hindsight, maybe they should have let Manziel get off from jump. Who knew they’d be able to hang for a full slate and exceed expectations?

If Cleveland was going to have a typically disastrous season, then they would rather sacrifice Hoyer, who would slide down razor blades into a pool of alcohol to get a shot at a starting QB gig, rather than an emotionally erratic and young superstar who hasn’t played a down in the NFL and is already worshipped, hated, nitpicked and micro-analyzed by the general public.

The Manziel whispers have haunted Hoyer like spirits all season. No matter how many times he stood tall and confident at press conferences and proclaimed that Cleveland is his team, his leadership cries were likened to a baby on the floor kicking and screaming for candy he’s not going to get because its bed time.


His Job To Lose 

Actually, it’s Johnny time. He’s talking the right way and is keeping a laid back, cool demeanor, but he’s surely bursting at the seams for this opportunity and he’s going to play like a mad man possessed in Cleveland's final home game against a Bengals team Hoyer beat on Nov. 6.

"I've tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro…" Manziel said. "I've prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible and my focus has been on improving every day."

As if he needed more incentive to shine, when asked about the prospects of defending the multi-faceted Manziel, the usually classy Bengals HC Marvin Lewis disparagingly said "You gotta go defend the offense. You don't defend the player…particularly a midget."

Lewis later apologized for his remark.

"I apologize to Johnny, the Browns and all the fans in Cleveland," Lewis said. "It was just a poor remark. I really didn't mean anything by it."

He did though. It was a message that they are going to send the brigade at the Hollywood rook and try to decapitate his “midget” ass.

For the first time in his life Manziel knows what it feels like to be a spectator. A faceless dreamer with a uniform and fitted cap. It might have been the final boost he needs to maximize his potential. At least for the remainder of this season, Fantasy ball heads should most def pick up Johnny Pigskin.

Even if he doesn’t want to admit it or show it (he will one day), Manziel has been humbled. Any king that is forced to live in the nobles quarters for a year feels like he was done a little dirty A bit of that luster is lost when he is not there commanding the court and romancing the throne.

Manziel is the Browns' 21st starting quarterback since 1999. Something tells me he’ll outlast all of them.



JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.