With Heisman ceremony looming, Johnny Football finally speaks
Coach Kevin Sumlin finally allowed Johnny Manziel to speak to media
The freshman has been sheltered from this season's rapid rise to fame
Discussion points: video games, Halloween costume, rescuing a kitten
We had so many questions.
After Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel captured the college football-watching nation's imagination, took the lead in the Heisman Trophy race and grew into a Bunyanesque figure without ever uttering an on-the-record comment, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin finally allowed Johnny Football to unzip his lips on Monday. Manziel, a redshirt freshman who was subject to Sumlin's ban on first-year players speaking to the media, took part in an hour-long conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. Why did Sumlin bend his own policy? Because he wants Manziel to win the Heisman Trophy, and the Aggies don't want everyone to forget about Manziel after Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o spent three-and-a-half hours entertaining millions in prime time this past Saturday or in case Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein throws for 10 touchdowns and runs for five more against Texas this Saturday.
Manziel broke Cam Newton's SEC total offense record in two fewer games than Newton played in his Heisman season of 2010. Manziel's numbers (3,419 passing yards, 24 passing TDs, 1,181 rushing yards, 19 rushing TDs) are undeniable. But the Heisman is a political award. There are calcified voters who will leave Manziel off their ballots strictly because he is a freshman. (These are probably some of the same guys who didn't vote for Herschel Walker in 1980.) So Manziel has to play the game. And while Sumlin should be correct when he says Manziel's numbers should "speak for themselves," that might not be the case. So, to drive the point home, Sumlin let Manziel speak for himself.
What did we learn?
Manziel plays a lot of video games. He probably plays even more now that the Johnny Football phenomenon has turned him into "more of a homebody." Growing up, Manziel frequently used the create-a-player option in the NCAA Football game to genetically engineer quarterbacks who would post such absurd numbers that they would win the Heisman as freshmen. They would have rocket launchers for arms and blazing speed. And they wouldn't look anything like the (generously listed) 6-foot-1, 200-pound Manziel. "I probably made him 6-6, 230 pounds," Manziel said. Manziel got the video game this year. He's played as himself a few times, but he chose UT-San Antonio for his Dynasty Mode team. On the field, he's the most exciting player in college football. Digitally, he chooses to be Larry Coker.
Manziel said he and his teammates just wanted to blow off some steam when they dressed up for Halloween, an act which led to some outstanding photos of Manziel -- dressed as Scooby Doo and wearing a grin as wide as Texas -- while surrounded by college-aged women who were dressed as college-aged women like to dress on Halloween. (In other words, barely.) This was the least satisfying answer on the call and will require follow-up questions as we draw closer to the Heisman ceremony. Why Scooby Doo and not Magnum P.I.? Were any Scooby Snacks offered or consumed? Because that could be an NCAA violation.
Like most dual-threat quarterbacks, Manziel is far more proud of his passing than his running or his freelancing. Asked to name his favorite play of the season, he didn't choose the fumble-to-himself-and-hit-Ryan-Swope-for-a-touchdown from the Alabama game or the time he literally ran a circle around the Arkansas defense for a touchdown. Instead, Manziel chose this play. "Our last touchdown against Alabama," Manziel said. "That's what I believe is one of our most complete team plays. You have 11 guys each doing their part to the full degree. Malcome Kennedy runs a great corner route and has a guy draped all over him to make a one-and-a-half-handed catch and we score the last touchdown on the road to upset a No. 1 team. That feeling, you'll never forget."
Growing up, he loved to play as Michael Vick in video games. In the backyard, Manziel imagined himself as John Elway or Doug Flutie.
That sound you hear is the slapping of foreheads in Fort Worth. "I went to TCU the summer before my senior year [in high school], went to a couple of camps," Manziel said. "I really tried to get an offer. I ended up leaving camp and never got an offer." Don't feel too bad, Horned Frogs. Almost everyone whiffed on Manziel, who originally committed to Oregon before receiving an offer from Texas A&M.
Manziel claims he has not seen this YouTube clip. He's probably telling the truth. If he had seen it, he probably would have been too busy filing for a restraining order to take part in the teleconference.
That kitten he rescued on the side of the road and tweeted about in September? His sister didn't wind up adopting it. Animal control picked it up and took it to a shelter. "Hopefully," Manziel said, "it's in good hands."
The most common smack talk Manziel heard from tacklers was feigned shock at his size -- or lack thereof. "People would say, 'Hey, you're really small. You're not as big as we thought,'" Manziel said. In other words, someone has probably tackled Manziel and uttered the words "I thought you'd be ... bigger." Just as they would to Snake Plissken or Dalton from Road House.
Fame has come so fast that Manziel hasn't had time to let it sink in. Three months ago, he was relatively anonymous outside his dual hometowns of Tyler, Texas and Kerrville, Texas. Now, he's a national name. He doesn't feel any different, though. "I'm a small-town kid," he said. "I'm from Kerrville, Texas. I don't see myself as Johnny Football."
The rest of the college football universe does. And in less than two weeks, he could be Johnny Heisman. "This season has been incredibly surreal," Manziel said. "It's been beyond my wildest imagination."
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