HOOVER, Ala. — Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has not played a single down of the 2013 college football season, but may have already cost himself a chance at back-to-back Heismans.
In a matter of months, Johnny Football has transformed to Johnny Freefall; his popularity plunging to a point where he has become the Lindsay Lohan of college football. Once universally beloved, Manziel is now ubiquitously belittled.
“The spotlight is 10 times brighter and 10 times hotter than I thought it was two months ago,” Manziel said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “I guess I feel like Justin Bieber. … He can't even go outside and kick a can without upsetting somebody.”
Manziel, it seems, still doesn't quite get it. Despite an offseason filled with controversy, he didn't seem overly contrite in front of the massive SEC media contingent Wednesday. He kept saying over and over again that he is just a “20-year-old college student enjoying life.”
“I haven't done anything catastrophic,” he pointed out.
Sort of reminds you of the infamous quote from former Florida State star Peter Warrick, whose Heisman chances were derailed when he was charged with shoplifting at Dillards. Said Warrick at the time: “It's not like I shot the president.”
While this may be true, we should expect more from our Heisman winners. This is why my Heisman ballot three years ago didn't include Cam Newton, who left the University of Florida amid charges of academic fraud and after he was arrested for stealing a laptop computer.
“I don't feel you win the Heisman by what happens off the field; you win the Heisman by how you play on the field,” Manziel said. “If you go out and perform and you're the best player on the field, you deserve to get the award. It goes to the best college football player.”
Actually, the Heisman mission statement says the award “recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” Has Manziel really lived up to those high ideals since becoming the first freshman in history to win the award last year?
Nationally renowned oddsmaker Danny Sheridan apparently doesn't think so. In recent days, he has dropped Manziel's chances of winning the Heisman from 4:1 to 10:1.
“My reason is simple,” Sheridan explained in an email Wednesday. “The Heisman does NOT go to the best player (see Peyton Manning vs. Charles Woodson), but to the best P.R. machine. Voters are extremely political. With this in mind, it would not be politically correct to vote for him if his perceived off-season train wreck continues.”
In many ways, Manziel has become the anti-Tim Tebow, evidenced by the contrasting line of questioning at SEC Media Days. After Tebow became the first sophomore in history to win the Heisman in 2007, he was asked at this event about being a virgin and saving himself for marriage. In contrast, Manziel was asked Wednesday about being a party boy, and if being drunk and hung-over is why he was asked to leave a quarterback camp over the weekend put on by the Mannings – Peyton, Eli and father Archie.
Manziel said rumors he blew off one of the camp sessions because of being hung-over were “just not true.” He claims his cell phone died, his alarm didn't go off and he simply “overslept.” He went on to say the Mannings didn't dismiss him from the camp, but that the decision was mutual.
It doesn't matter because the damage has already been done. The Mannings are the first family of SEC football, and Manziel's perceived dissing of them compounds his considerable PR problem.
A few days ago, Manziel pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misidentifying himself to police following a 2012 fight in College Station. That altercation began after a friend of Manziel's pointed at another man and used a racial slur.
The guilty plea came in the wake of Manziel's bratty social media temper tantrum of a month ago. After reportedly getting a parking ticket on campus, Manziel tweeted, “I can't wait to leave College Station.” He followed up that tweet with an even more insolent one, “Don't ever forget that I love A&M with all my heart, but please walk a day in my shoes.”
It's no wonder Tebow actually reached out to Manziel a few nights ago and left a voicemail message for him. For some nebulous reason, Manziel says there was a miscommunication and he has not yet been able to reconnect with Tebow. I'm guessing his phone went dead just like it did at the Manning quarterback camp.
If Johnny Football is smart, he will get Timmy Terrific on the line immediately for a Heismano-a-mano discussion with the only man alive who can advise him on how to deal with becoming a college football rock star at such young age.
Tebow, after all, is known for going to third-world countries and trying to save lost souls from the temptations of the world.
Maybe he can go to College Station and save Johnny Football from himself.