Can an immature party-boy become a dedicated and fiery field general?
Johnny Football. Nickname and household name. As of the writing of this post, Manziel faces the possibility of losing his eligibility this year due to allegations of receiving monetary benefits for autograph signings. This, the most recent of his run-ins with the national media and the law, has brought me to finally write about one of my least favorite athlete celebrities in today’s sports world. Along the way in this Johnny Football feature, I’m going to get to Chad Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Altair, Ezio, and Connor, and where and how Manziel fits with those names. But first let me set the record straight on how mind-boggling our media’s love affair with the Heisman Trophy-winner is.
Manziel has been in the news near-constantly since winning the Heisman. At first the coverage focused on the fact that he had a hot girlfriend, traveled to lots of NBA games, partied a little here and there, and basically was living a celebrity lifestyle. Then came some ill-advised tweets, shoving graduate assistants, pleading guilty to barfighting, fake ID’s, more drinking, more partying, a mysterious departure from the Manning Passing Academy, and now his latest scandal.
And through it all, as copious and constant as the news coverage has been, what has the general reaction of the talking heads been? What’s the big deal? This is unfair. He’s doing nothing wrong. He’s a college kid. From the time Mike Stoops said in January, “If they can keep (Manziel) out of jail or keep him eligible, he’s gonna be pretty good” until the media swarmed him after ManningGate, an unusual defense has arisen to protect the young man. He’s even become a victim as Wright Thompson’s story revealed that his parents fear he drinks to deal with pressure and pain. While Yasiel Puig, a young man trying to adjust to a new country and language, takes criticism for being a hotdog and an unlikable, cocky guy, Manziel gets a pass. Puig gets criticized for being dismissive of the media while Manziel is praised for the way he dodges questions.
And now I say, what? Let me make my case in a series of questions: Since when do we endorse copious amounts of underage drinking in such a blatant manner? Since when is barfighting harmless? Why is it just good old college fun to use fake ID’s? Where do the calls of misogyny that haunt other athletes and entertainers go when pictures get posted of him with numerous, scantily-clad women? Why should we trust an athlete that shows such blatant levels of disrespect?
Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith have helped lead the way in the defense of Manziel. Skip has praised his intangibles as a force of football nature. While criticizing Dwight Howard for smiling too much and being focused on other things besides basketball, while responding to Kevin Durant’s marriage with “I thought Kevin Durant only cared about basketball”, he says there’s nothing wrong with a kid who is in the news for everything besides football and skips out on a passing academy hosted by the greatest family of quarterbacks in the world because he’s apparently a borderline alcoholic.
Nothing wrong? Just having fun? Are you still going to use that excuse when a supposedly-intelligent young man with oodles of money puts his future and the success of his team at risk by signing autographs for money?
I’m a college kid. I get it. He wants to have fun and enjoy this time of life. But does he not have the maturity to answer questions like his rival A.J. McCarron? “You can’t be a normal 22-year-old kid. Every 22-year-old is not doing what I’m doing. I’m not able to do what they can do. I’m not able to go out and act a fool in public and can’t go out and drink excessively and end up being wild and stuff. I can’t do that. I’m not saying I want to in any type of way but I want to be the kid and guy that younger kids can look up at me….. and say I want to be like him when I get older and handle myself the way he did” (McCarron after passing academy, quote 95% accurate). This is the same A.J. McCarron who plays quarterback for the best college football team in the nation. The same one who has a famously hot girlfriend. In reality, might he, like many other college and professional (and high school) athletes, party and drink a bit and spend some time with some women? Yeah, maybe. But do you know that? No. I just know he sounds like a good guy focused on kicking Manziel’s Aggies in the pants this season. Why should Manziel be allowed to just be a college kid? Sounds to me like A.J. McCarron has accepted he can’t just be a college kid. He’s apparently mature enough to take on the responsibility of being a famous athlete.
So as a person, I’m not a fan of Johnny Manziel. I highly highly dislike him. As a player? I guess I’m not sure if he will turn out in the NFL, but there’s a serious piece of hardware on his shelf that lets me know he can play (and with Cam Newton and RG3 reversing the Heisman-QB trend, that should be considered non-curse material). So maybe he will end up scampering around NFL defenses and tossing touchdowns. But can he ever reach his full potential? Can he focus his life on football and not partying? Can he stay out of jail? Can he channel his fire and flair into field general forte?
For me, it comes down to whether or not he can become an assassin.
Okay hollup hollup. Let me preface this. If I’m a coach or GM, I want my players to be committed to their craft. I don’t want them to be hotdogs and attention-seekers. I want them to be focused in on improving individually and as a team in order to defeat their opponent. “The brothers hunted their prey without rest, delivered the killing blow without mercy, and escaped to fight another day. For they were the Assassins, and that was their creed.” I want my athletes focused on mastering the art of their sport, remaining in the spotlight only long enough to win the game. I want a Yasiel Puig. Despite his flashiness on the field, Puig appears to be focused on nothing but becoming great.
However, as the Assassin’s Creed games have shown us, not all assassins are perfect (at least not in the world of Ubisoft). And most athletes fall well short of this standard. There are very few Peyton Mannings, the kind of athlete who are fully dedicated physically and mentally to being the best (and keep their private life, “uninteresting” as his is, out of the media). So which of the three Assassin’s Creed protagonists does Manziel have a shot at emulating?
The hero of the original Assassin’s Creed is Altair, the greatest assassin to ever live. However, before becoming the baddest man on the planet, Altair was shamed into a do-over on his career after his arrogance cost him an important mission. However, after refocusing, Altair went on to assassinate all nine of his Templar targets and become the protector of the Apple of Eden (what a crappola story arc that ancient-race-end-of-the-world-thing was. Hopefully they can just drop that in the future games because the in-era storylines were strong). After his initial immaturities, Altair became a near-emotionless machine that had completely mastered his art. No doubt a trace of arrogance remained throughout his life, but his dedication to the Assassins and their mission was too great to let that get in his way.
Altair’s sports assassin equivalent is Kobe Bryant. The young #8 Kobe Bryant went through some difficulties in his younger days and was not always the most mature player. And there was that one time he went to court that was pretty bad. But, like Altair, Kobe changed his ways and became the Black Mamba, one of the most dangerous players in basketball history. And above all, winning championships is what has mattered to him. The guy we knew as Shaq’s sidekick did not necessarily look like a candidate to become the third best non-big to ever play the game. However, he refined his game and the way he handled himself to become the consummate professional, totally dedicated to taking care of himself and improving his game. Of course, his imperfections do still cause him problems, as his arrogance may lead to fewer assists and one less Dwight Howard, but Kobe Bryant has done more than enough to become the Altair of basketball.
Doesn’t really sound like Johnny Football, does it? Would he ever really be able to just leave behind 95% of his partying? Well how about an Assassin who didn’t mind a bit of fun?
The main character of Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations was a very different man than Altair. He begins his life as a rich kid with some athletic skills and an interest in enjoying life (sound familiar?). However, the killing of his father and brothers drives him to become an assassin. He totally commits himself to his mission, and he ends up becoming the leader of the entire order. Throughout the three games, he expands his repertoire of skills, constantly seeking new ways to improve. Even in his later years, full of gray hairs, he runs about the streets of Constantinople and takes on the Templar Order. However, throughout his life, he remained very interested in the ladies and enjoying himself. Unlike Altair, he smiles a lot. However, instead of letting these things distract him, he uses them to keep him focused and dedicated to accomplishing his missions. A little bit of fun and a little flair for the dramatic did not keep Ezio from becoming an unparalleled Assassin.
To me, this sounds a little like Chad Johnson. Ocho Cinco became famous for his on-field and off-field antics, so much so that we sometimes forget that for a time he was one of the best receivers in the NFL. From 2003-2007, Johnson caught at least 87 balls each season for at least 1,100 yards and 43 total touchdowns. All the while, he made headlines for comical touchdown celebrations and a plethora of fines. Once, he was warned before a game that he would be fined if he wore a non-uniform orange chinstrap. He did it anyway. That’s just what he did. But could you really say that any of his antics cost his level of production? Even after a down-year, injury-plagued 2008, he returned in 2009 (now over the age of 30) to catch 72 balls for 1,047 yards and 9 touchdowns. Some might say that his on-field antics, as they started to become off-field antics more and more, brought about what has for now become the end of his career after a poor season in 2010, an irrelevant 2011 campaign with the Patriots, and a year out of football and some time in jail. But maybe he just got old and isn’t that good any more. Could he have been even better? Maybe. More probable is that he could have stayed better longer, but it would be unfair to look at a three-time All-Pro and say, “You should have been better.” For most of his career, Chad Johnson’s actions weren’t harmful or illegal and his celebrity side didn’t affect his football-playing side.
I don’t think Manziel can make it as an Ezio. He has too much propensity towards illegal activity. Being college football’s most eligible bachelor is one thing, being in barfights is another. Ezio had the self-control necessary to keep his passions from affecting his mission, and at heart he was a good man with good intentions. Manziel doesn’t seem like such a nice guy. He has a temper, and he sounds a little more like….
The hero of the most recent game, Connor’s problem is that he is too zealous. Rather than listening to the old and wise Achilles, Connor often rushes off to do what feels right. Fortunately for Connor and the colonies, the young son of a Native American is as powerful as either of his two predecessors, and his amazing talents, coupled with his fierce desire, take him to defeat the Templars, avenge his mother, and do a lot (but slightly less than I had hoped) for the cause of the colonies. While he is more serious than Ezio, he lacks the maturity and focus of Altair, and this is why Johnny Manziel’s hopes for an NFL future rest in becoming more like Connor. What do we know about Manziel? He’s brash, bold, audacious, and resistant to authority. Although this is similar to Connor, the Assassin eventually found guidance in Achilles and kept his ultimate mission in mind. Manziel, at least for now, appears more focused on having fun than being a great quarterback. However, he still has fire. You need that to beat Alabama. That highlight that you see of him rallying his teammates on the sideline shows an amount of leadership, too (not Tim Tebow-level leadership, but at least some sort of fire). If his defiance turns from, “I don’t need to follow the rules, I just want to have fun” to, “I’m not afraid of facing the Steelers defense or playing against Tom Brady, I’m good enough to win”, then he could really go somewhere. If his cockiness could lead him to call an audible that allows for him to keep the ball and get to the edge of the defense in a crucial late game situation, it would be for the better. If he could let his dislike for haters turn from tweets into hours spent in the film room, determined to find a way to shut up the naysayers, then he could be special. Maybe he will get in trouble once or twice, and maybe his anger will get the best of him here and there, but with a mission in mind, perhaps, like Connor, he can overcome his problems and reach football greatness.
Johnny Manziel is too undisciplined to be Altair and too bad to be Ezio, but maybe he could be Connor. Maybe he will turn out to be a great NFL player. If he stays out of jail he could be a star and maybe, someday, a role model. Maybe he can become more like Connor.
But for now I think he should just try to be more like A.J. McCarron.
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Soli Deo Gloria