HOOVER, Ala. — Johnny Football doesn’t need your applause — or your approval.
The comet that has streaked across college football over the past 12 months and left a string of paparazzi-worthy moments and questionable decisions in its wake blew through this burg Wednesday, the brightest star shining on Day 2 of Southeastern Conference football media days.
There was much speculation whether Johnny Manziel would show for Texas A&M’s turn in the media days rotation, especially after his suspicious early departure from the Manning Passing Academy last week.
Was he sick? Did he oversleep? Was his cellphone exhausted by constant messages from Megan Fox and Mike Trout and Drake? So many versions of the story, all combining to sound like a tall Texas tale. None of them spoke as believably as that photo of Manziel, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and three attractive young ladies at a Thibodaux bar Friday, the night before he was a no-show at the Manning camp.
But if anyone expected Manziel to throw himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion, son, you’ve got the wrong overnight sensation. If superstardom is to be thrust upon him between Saturday showdowns and Heisman Trophy ceremonies and guest appearances on The Tonight Show (Here’s Johnny!), it will be on Manziel’s terms.
“Crazy is a good word to describe how other people see it,” Manziel said of his whirlwind offseason. “I don’t see it that way.
“I’m just having fun.”
One year ago here at SEC media days, no one knew who Manziel was, and it’s decent odds first-year A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was a face in that crowd. A pair of hands attached to someone named Jameill Showers was the favorite to take Texas A&M’s first snap at quarterback in 2012, replacing Ryan Tannehill (remember when he was a big deal?).
But that was before Manziel ruled the world. Since then, he has become so famous that the family Manziel sought (unsuccessfully) to copyright his “Johnny Football” nickname. Showers transferred to UTEP or the Witness Protection Program — it doesn’t really matter which.
And Mr. Copyright?
“I’m trying to keep my head down, keep as low a profile as I can,” said the young man who flew from here to Los Angeles for the ESPYs. One assumes it was not to serve as a seat filler when Michael Phelps goes to the men’s room.
Despite being dipped in glitter, it sounds a little as though the low profile life is the one Manziel wants back. He’s experienced the dark side of fame, scrutinized in a way that makes him a quintessential victim of his times. How do you think Heisman winners like Billy Cannon or Paul Hornung or even the eternally sentimental favorite John Cappelletti would have liked their every move to be grist for the social media mill?
Manziel candidly admitted he is seeking counseling for stress. Both he and Sumlin — who curiously mentioned Johnny by name all of one time during his session in the main media room — agree the first freshman ever to win a Heisman has frequently tripped over the trappings of fame.
In short, he’s been much more graceful on the football field than off it, and when he isn’t, none of us let him forget it.
“The spotlight is 10 times brighter and 10 times hotter than I thought it was two months ago,” Manziel said. I am compelled to attribute this quote to USA Today, because I couldn’t get close enough to Johnny Football to hear him say this in person. There were more reporters crushingly close to Manziel than there will be trying to get a glimpse of William and Kate’s new royal baby.
“I guess I feel like Justin Bieber or something,” Manziel said. “I never thought it would really be that way.”
Maybe there’s a fittingly poignant line from a Justin Bieber song that would work well here, but I don’t know it. What we also don’t know is whether Manziel’s celebrity lifestyle has derailed a repeat Heisman campaign — or the Aggies’ hopes for a national championship — before they’ve even started.
For A&M to be a BCS contender, Manziel doesn’t just have to play well. He has to be spectacular.
And though he and his teammates and their coach soft pedal the distractions, you have to think the all-important chemistry between Johnny Football and his backup band isn’t what it could be.
“I’m waiting for Aug. 4 to get here,” Manziel said, referring to the Aggies’ first day of fall camp.
There’s an ominous sense that it could be the first day of the fall of Johnny Football.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter at @RabalaisAdv.