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Then came July and Manziel's dismissal from the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. A counselor at the camp run by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, Manziel was asked to leave on July 13 after he missed meetings and practices. The timing was not ideal: Just three days later he was at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., answering questions during SEC media days.
DREAMS DON'T always get adjusted upward. Last week Manziel curled up on the couch at his parents' house in Bryan, Texas, and pointed at the flat screen on the wall. ESPN played on mute. "This is what everybody always wanted," Manziel said. "This is what, as a kid, you always dream about, to be on TV, to be on SportsCenter." Now Manziel can barely stomach the sight of himself on television. The grilling of Manziel at various stations on the second floor of the Wynfrey was covered by ESPN with a fervor the three-letter broadcast networks used to reserve for natural disasters and coups d'état. At each interrogation Manziel said he overslept. Was he hungover? How much did he drink the night before?
Last week Manziel denied that he had been hungover, but he wouldn't say whether or not he drank. Manziel is 20. The legal drinking age in Louisiana is 21. It is unwise for a famous 20-year-old to admit to breaking the law. But there were parties at the Manning camp where alcohol was consumed. At least one photo was taken as well. After an event that began the night of July 12, Manziel says he and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron took a picture with the bartenders, which got the quarterbacks chewed out by a camp official the next day. Manziel maintains that he is solely to blame for oversleeping, but the tongue-lashing "made me feel like they were just trying to protect themselves, too." (The Mannings have said he's invited back in the future.)
He remains incredulous that his dismissal from a football camp received so much attention—especially compared with the relatively light coverage of his arrest in June 2012. In that case a Manziel jumped into a fight to help Brant. When police detained the combatants, they found fake IDs on Manziel. (Last month Manziel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to identify. He was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.) Meanwhile, other seemingly more important sports stories seem to come and go from the headlines in a flash. "I oversleep at the Manning camp, and there's a weeklong special," Manziel says. "[Former A&M and current Broncos linebacker] Von Miller, who I love like a brother, is getting suspended for four games and it's already off TV." (After Manziel's interview the Miller story resurfaced, with ESPN citing sources saying that Miller had not failed any test. As of Monday the NFL had not suspended him.)
Before the Manning camp episode Manziel and his family thought that their life was returning to a semblance of sanity, that the wave of attention that followed Johnny Football's glorious season had dissipated at last. "That probably is what's getting us in trouble—wanting to be normal," Manziel says. "We want to be just like we've always been, where none of this is a big deal. Just playing football and good things are happening. I never, ever wanted to believe that there was fame behind this. I never liked looking at myself that way."
Manziel's favorite Drake song is called "Unforgettable." He particularly relishes one couplet: "Never forgettin' from where I came/and no matter where I'm headed I promise to stay the same." But 10 months after fame hit him like an LSU defensive end, staying the same grows more difficult with each passing day. There's also this from the same Drake verse: "All this s--- is new to me/I'm learnin' to behave."
DID MANZIEL besmirch the Heisman, as several columnists suggested, with his actions this off-season? He doesn't think so. But when he won it, he had no idea how much smaller a fishbowl he would be living in. "I never knew what that trophy would do," Manziel says. "I never knew the power of it." That's probably because the world in which he won it hasn't existed for long. When Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007, he drew seemingly as much attention as Manziel. But Tebow the collegian didn't have to deal with the same forms of social media. Twitter had just been invented. Instagram didn't launch until October '10. Every move Manziel makes can be tracked and posted immediately. "Even my 78-year-old dad knows how to take pictures [with his phone] and is on Twitter," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin says. "Things are completely different than they were 10 years ago—even five years ago. The access to people is completely different than it was."
That access made Manziel an easy target for a certain species of vulture even before he hoisted the trophy. Late last season professional autograph sellers would greet him outside the football complex with carloads of photos and memorabilia for him to sign. Some pieces bore personalized messages, which Manziel later learned were wiped off so that only his autograph remained. During a layover on their way to the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Orlando last December, Manziel and his family were eating breakfast in Dallas when a man in military fatigues approached. He said he worked for a charity that distributed memorabilia to soldiers serving overseas and asked if Manziel could sign some helmet decals. Manziel says his food sat untouched while he signed sheet after sheet of decals. A few days later Manziel's father looked on eBay and found that the decals had been slapped on maroon helmets and put up for sale.
After Manziel won the Heisman, the signature requests exploded. He had learned to avoid the professional autograph hounds, but he didn't know how to manage the ones in his own inner circle. School officials wanted him to sign memorabilia. Manziel says one teammate filled a pool table and a Ping-Pong table with items to be signed. Friends of Manziel's mother, father, grandmother and aunt sent dozens of items with requests for autographs. At one point early this year Manziel's parents' garage was stuffed with memorabilia awaiting his signature. He couldn't take it anymore. He spent hours each week signing, and he grew angry with his parents for accepting the autograph requests. But Manziel, who posed for hundreds of pictures during the same period, was just as bad as his family members. He couldn't say no.
Last February, Manziel asked Sumlin for help. The coach connected his quarterback with a Houston-based therapist. Manziel mentioned the therapist in passing at SEC media days, but he was hesitant to offer specifics because he worried people would think him crazy. In truth, he simply needed tips on dealing with stress—and on how to say no.