Johnny Manziel Free as the Bird

I can’t listen to recordings of Jack Kerouac without thinking about Mike Myers in So I Married an Axe Murderer. When Kerouac recites “Bowery Blues” or “October in the Railroad Earth,” I think of Mike Myers with a cigarette in his hand, saying, “Women . . . woe man . . . whoooa-man.” Kerouac came into my life first, but Myers’ beatnik impersonation is the one that leaves the most indelible impression.

Sometimes it’s the most absurd that most endures.

Johnny Manziel made a name for himself winning big games and a Heisman before he made a name for himself. Sometimes it’s tough to remember that he was a heck of a ballplayer, reckless and fearless at Texas A&M when those traits were endearing. Now they’re used to describe Manziel for all the wrong reasons. He sold his own name while in college, breaking the NCAA’s long standing rule that athletes should only reap rewards for the programs that exploit them provide them an education, and coupled with the fake IDs, partying (shameful while in college), and early exit from Peyton Manning’s Passing Academy Manziel was criticized for repeatedly making poor decisions.

It hasn’t gone any better of late.

Guzzling champagne while humping an inflatable swan sounds like good fun for your early 20s, like a scene from Animal House, but Manziel is living proof that when the PR agencies seek out “free media,” sometimes there is such a thing as bad publicity. Cash money. Live that dream, Johnny Football. Missing a meeting is boring, a case of too much media up in JM’s grill, and it’s tough waking up that early anyway. Let him miss the team bus because he was on an all-night bender and then we’re talking problems. Forgive the media a little for finding a juicy story about Cleveland football that doesn’t include owner Jimmy Haslam cheating Flying J customers or Josh Gordon possibly being suspended for the season. Sometimes increased media attention hides some of the uglier ducklings.

Of course this is about Monday night when Manziel flipped the Redskins’ bench the bird. Instead of discussing the areas on the field where he needs to improve, the talk today was all about his lack of social graces. Forgive me for thinking that an errant finger really means all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it can’t make Mike Pettine feel great that the one possible player on the Browns roster that could save him from penciling in Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback in Week 1 can’t handle the insults and barbs from Washington in a preseason game. Manziel repeatedly stated that he’d lost his composure, and if he thought it was bad Monday night, wait until he plays in a game where it actually means something other than the morbid curiosity of watching a train wreck in progress. Does it really make Manziel a better quarterback to keep his finger to himself? It won’t help him hit his open receivers, something he had issues with on Monday, but the guys in the locker room might be more willing to support a player they feel has matured beyond a petulant child.

Part of me wants to believe that Manziel was making a social statement, that his free-standing finger was an argument against the Redskins name and how Daniel Snyder tries to make us all believe that it’s actually a good thing. Sure. Outside of D.C., who hasn’t wanted to flip Snyder a bird or three of late? That would be silly, though, since a statement such as that would require Manziel to think instead of act. Manziel has stated that he doesn’t believe he’s ready to start in Week 1, and that’s incredible self-awareness from a guy who’s shown little ability to be aware of anything other than the limelight. It’s cliché to hear announcers discuss rookies and how the game moves too fast for them, how they have to play enough that the action on the field slows down, but doesn’t it feel like everything about Manziel is happening at the speed of warp? A middle finger doesn’t foretell the end of the world, but it’s more or less more of the same from a guy who’s living off a reputation, both good and bad, from his college days.

Isn’t this all just silly anyway? How many words have been wasted, including my own, with feigned anger over a ridiculous gesture? That’s the real story. It’s how Manziel can draw attention simply by being obscene. You wonder if/when the day comes he actually does something in the NFL worth celebrating. At the moment, he’s more like Paris Hilton, famous for being famous, and we wait for each screw up to shake our heads indignantly and say, “See, I told you he wouldn’t amount to a damn thing.”

The Browns believe he’ll amount to something. They didn’t select him 22nd overall because he’d sell a few jerseys. But, seriously, ugh. Enough already. After last year’s Alabama game, I was convinced he was a special player. There are lots of guys who can put up gaudy numbers in college and don’t amount to much, but to throw for 464 yards and five touchdowns and rush for another 98 against the Crimson Tide was impressive. Alabama came in with one goal in mind: stop Manziel, and they spent an entire game chasing him around the field. Now we’re the ones left chasing after Manziel, hoping once and for all he’d just slow down enough to give all the stupid time to pass.

In time he’ll mature, probably, and with playing time he’ll give Cleveland fans a legitimate chance to cheer. Right now it just seems like people applaud his failures and can’t wait for him to screw up again.

One day he’ll keep us waiting.

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