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The life and death of ‘Johnny Football’

Those who defended Johnny Manziel’s drunken actions must now face a sobering reality


/ The Spectrum The Spectrum

The star quarterback from Texas A&M that dazzled defenses and fans around the country will be nothing more than a footnote in football history.

Forget the accolades. Forget that he was the first freshman Heisman winner in college football history. Forget the name “Johnny Football.”

He doesn’t exist anymore.

The long tumble of the soon-to-be former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel into oblivion and universal animosity received its final blow last Friday, officially leaving his family in shambles and his actions indefensible.

Police are investigating an incident in which Manziel allegedly assaulted his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, and threatened to kill her and himself. Manziel’s father also told the Dallas Morning News that he believes if his son doesn’t get help soon he won’t live to see his 24th birthday.

This is just the latest, and potentially final, development in a story that hasn’t changed at all in four full years, although it continues to darken due to it’s inexplicable monotonousness. It is the story of “Johnny Football,” a character who conned America into thinking he was a better player, and person, than he actually is.

When Manziel had his trademark persona revelation, bursting onto the scene in 2012 at Texas A&M with the greatest freshman season in the history of college football, both on and off the field, he split America. He was the hard-partying and unapologetic legend that could get hammered Friday night and still dominate on Saturday. College football had never seen a player like this on the field – the only Heisman Trophy winning freshman in history at the time – but he was also unique off the field.

Many college athletes partied, but none did it to as much publicity and openness as Manziel. He once attempted to attend a frat party at rival school University of Texas and was thrown out on camera. He once attempted to use a fake ID, which is pretty hard when you’re on national television every Saturday.

And it never ended.

The stories of Johnny Football’s off-the-field antics split fans. To some people he was an annoying, entitled, punk of a kid. To other people he was an annoying, punk kid, but he was just trying to have fun and do what all college kids do. He had plenty of time to mature.

I saw him as a transcendent, amazing talent. The fact that he did all this while still living the crazy lifestyle on the side made him all the more likable.

It’s easy to say in hindsight, but the legend of Johnny Football was always more hollow than we wanted to acknowledge. Anyone can get behind what’s cool and root for it, but it’s now more obvious than ever that Manziel peaked in college, and as those who always doubted him will tell you, that’s probably how it was always going to be.

Manziel’s career is now in serious doubt not because of a lack of playing ability or confidence, but due to what is now an obvious lack of self-control and some clear mental deficiency. There’s nothing cool about that.

I defended Manziel to the end of the Earth as a fun-loving, work hard-play hard future franchise quarterback and therefore I was part of the problem. He seemed fun and loving, but he was really just sick. He quit on his team, he quit on his family and he quit on his friends no matter how many chances he was given. Manziel never showed any indication that there is a reliable bone in his body in four full years in the spotlight and somehow he still fooled us.

This is a troubled guy and we all enabled him all along because we thought it was cool and harmless.

Johnny Football was cool. Johnny Manziel isn’t cool at all, and now at the age of 23, that’s all that is left.

He may already be out of chances in the NFL. There’s no football left for Manziel.

Most fans loved “Johnny Football,” and now it’s time for the Manziel defenders, myself among them, to own up to what we’ve done. We are the enablers who played a part in Manziel’s demise, and now we all owe our thoughts and prayers to the hope he can turn his life into something worthwhile, even if he never plays another football game. This is a 23-year-old kid who brought himself down with the world watching and cheering him on, and now we must accept responsibility.

It’s a shame, because he could have been something. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and had a special skill set of speed and precision. Fans, family and friends gave him hope and a chance.

All he did was give everyone the finger.

The world created Johnny Football, and now his supporters can’t look away as the last pieces of that façade go up in smoke.

Michael Akelson is a sports staff writer and can be reached at makelson@buffalo.edu.


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