Johnny Football creates frenzy in Hoover


Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel takes questions at SEC Media Days on Wednesday in Hoover, Ala.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 6:53 p.m.

HOOVER, Ala. — Well, I can cross one thing off my bucket list — the Running of the Bulls.

On Wednesday at SEC Media Days, the announcement was made that Johnny Manziel would be speaking at the podium set up in the back right corner of the ballroom.

The stampede was on, and I was right in the middle of it.

Forget Pamplona, we have Hoover.

This was a frenzy that eclipsed Tebow-mania. ESPN, which now apparently owns SEC Media Days, had multiple interviews with the Heisman Trophy winner but still insisted on having a cameraman and a guy with a boom mike in front of the table where Manziel spoke to the print media. (Some grumbling scribes were calling for SEC security. Yeah, like the SEC has any control over ESPN.)

I’m not sure what we were all expecting. Did we think he was going to show up wearing a “Free Hernandez” hat and reveal the whereabouts of Edward Snowden?

Instead, he answered each question with poise and a touch of swagger. Remember, this is a 20-year-old college student we’re talking about and I know that because he must have mentioned it 100 times during the interview.

There has been a theme to Johnny Twitter’s offseason — hanging with big-time celebrities and venting on social media. And there was a theme to his appearance at SEC Media Days as well.

"I've made mistakes,” he said. “I try not to make the same one twice.”

Manziel-mania is so different from the hype that surrounded Tim Tebow when he was at this event. The left-hander was followed by mini-cams and tape recorders not because of what he might say but because of who he was. The SEC put Tebow on the podium usually reserved for coaches because he was such a star and they knew softball questions would be lobbed at him.

With Manziel, we hung on his every word because we were waiting for the next car wreck.

Except it didn’t happen.

Of course he wasn’t hungover at the Manning Passing Academy. He was tired and had a dead cell phone.

Of course he knew the spotlight would be bright. But he wasn’t expecting the sun.

“I never realized the magnitude of it,” he said. “People told me, but you don’t realize it until you go through it.”

Of course he understands that the Heisman winner is held to a different standard.

“I won a Heisman so I’m put on a little higher pedestal,” he said. “But I’m not going for the Miss America pageant. I’m a 20-year-old kid in college. Take that for what it’s worth.

“I haven’t done anything I feel is catastrophic.”

And yes, he’s tried to enjoy himself this offseason. What 20-year-old college student wouldn’t?

“With all the offseason stuff and meeting all the people I did, as hard as we worked last year, I think we deserved to have a little fun,” he said. “Some people did it in different ways, shapes and forms.”

And no chalk outlines have been involved.

The funny thing about the anti-Tebow is that we have seen some Manziel backlash. Remember the Tebow backlash when some members of the media began to bash him because he was so popular? What we’re seeing with Manziel are a lot of people who are demanding that the media back off the quarterback and let him live his life.

But when you win the Heisman and you do it as a freshman and you are one of the most exciting players in the history of the game and the potential is there for three more years of it, well, everyone cares about everything you do.

That’s why you have almost 400,000 followers on Twitter. You remember Twitter? The social media site where you trashed College Station? The place where you haven’t been since June 15?

“We discussed it,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He’s done some things he’s not proud of. He’s made some poor decisions.”

Manziel insists he just hasn’t had anything interesting to say in more than a month.

“Twitter is what it is,” he said. “I’ve probably hindered myself a little with it.”

That’s the thing. Manziel really hasn’t done anything horrible, but he has hardly won any popularity contests lately. And we all know the Heisman can be a popularity contest.

And if he struggles this season with a new offensive coordinator and a new left tackle and new expectations, you know that the connection is going to be made to his offseason.

“My offseason will have no effect on my season,” he said. “I’m still going to live my life to the fullest. I guarantee you when it’s football time I will be 150 percent ready to go.”

He believes that’s all that matters.

We know better.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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