It’s official now: Johnny Manziel — Johnny Football, if you prefer — is headed to the NFL, where he’ll instantly become the league’s biggest celebrity quarterback since Broadway Joe.
Joe Namath, the first player taken in the 1965 AFL draft, was the first celebrity quarterback of the television age.
Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas may have been more famous, but they didn’t wear low-cut white cleats while others wore black high-topped cleats.
No other player rocked a full-length fur coat on the sideline, or wore pantyhose during a national television commercial.
Namath had his own style. No one else would’ve had the nerve to guarantee a win over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Then he delivered the win that brought the AFL the respect it craved and made him a superstar.
Fast forward nearly half a century and another dude with his own flair is about to enter the NFL.
Johnny Football is going to shake up the NFL because his combination of partying and performance is like no other college quarterback in recent memory — and he hasn’t even signed a seven-digit deal yet. He’s been living off his parents’ bank account and whatever cash he may or may not have received for signing all of those autographs last summer.
We’re talking about a dude with more than 700,000 Twitter followers. Just so you know, that’s 10 times more than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and nearly 500,000 more than Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.
Google Manziel and you’ll find images of him courtside at NBA games, striking the Heisman Trophy pose with NBA All-Star James Harden in the Houston Rockets locker room, or hanging at a club with rapper Rick Ross. You’ll see him throwing out the first pitch at a San Diego Padres baseball game and chatting with former Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan in the dugout before a game.
You’ll also see him hanging with Willie and Jase Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame at last year’s Super Bowl, when he wasn’t posing for photos with actress Jessica Alba and singer Justin Timberlake. He rang in the New Year with rapper Drake. And who can ever forget the photos of him partying in a Scooby Doo outfit at a Halloween party a couple of years ago?
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Just about any college kid given the same opportunities would’ve done exactly the same thing.
For what it’s worth, don’t even think about comparing Tim Tebow to Johnny Football when we’re talking about celebrity quarterbacks.
Sure, Tebow is famous, but the only question any general manager had about Tebow revolved around whether he could eliminate his elongated windup and throw the ball well enough to succeed in the NFL. We all know Manziel will get considerably more questions.
The quarterback is the face of a franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars. No owner wants a knucklehead or a player who will draw negative attention to the franchise at quarterback. There’s a reason why, since 1990, Jim Miller (1999) and Tim Couch (2007) are the only quarterbacks suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Each player was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs — not recreational drugs.
On most teams, virtually every player is replaceable. The quarterback isn’t.
The quarterback needs to be the franchise’s most responsible player because he has the most difficult job in professional sports. His commitment must be beyond reproach. Otherwise, every poor play or loss will get scrutinized even more than usual. Look how much grief Tony Romo gets just for playing golf. Fans want him working on his game or at the Cowboys’ practice facility 18 hours a day.
There are so many things to like about Johnny Football, who passed for 7,820 yards and accounted for 93 touchdowns — 63 passing and 30 rushing — while guiding the Aggies to a 21-6 record in two seasons and winning the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman.
The dude oozes charisma, and he displayed every quality you’d want in a quarterback during the Aggies’ recent 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl as he rallied A&M from a 21-point first-half deficit.
When receiver Mike Evans received a dumb penalty, Manziel chastised the receiver on the sideline before exhorting him to play better, if we are to believe the quarterback’s body language. At the game’s end, Johnny Football was on the sideline imploring the crowd to make more noise.
In between, he accounted for nearly 500 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.
Questions exist about whether his gunslinging style will thrive in the NFL because of the notion he’s not going to succeed as a pocket passer. Teams also wonder if his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame can withstand the rigors of a 16-game schedule.
Still, someone is going to draft him in the first round, probably in the top five.
And he’ll be a megastar or a bust, nothing in between.
Either way, he’ll have a good time — just like Broadway Joe.