Keeping Score

Why Johnny Football Is Reaching Tim Tebow Levels Of Obsession

The Texas A&M quarterback, and Heisman winner, is all the talk in college football. But unlike Tebow, he's no choirboy.

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Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel plays during the Maroon & White spring football game at Kyle Field on April 13, 2013 in College Station, Texas.

Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy champ from Texas A&M whose off-field habits are being debated and dissected and psychoanalyzed at almost comical levels, told hundreds of reporters at today’s SEC media day that “I’m not Tebow.”

Wait, really? Because ESPN broke into SportsCenter to carry Manziel’s press conference live. Johnny Football speaks! The all-out Manziel coverage sure seems Tebowesque.

America, say hello to your newest quarterbacking obsession.

While Tebow has drawn broad cultural interest because of his religious beliefs, Manziel is no choir boy. This Monday, for example, Manziel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, for failing to properly identify himself to police after a 2012 fight in College Station, Texas. As part of the plea, Manziel faces two days in jail, the maximum fine of $2,000 and $232 in court costs.

Apparently, he also really likes to party. (The Big Lead posted a handy recap of his busy off-season, social calendar and all). As a 20-year-old big-man-on-campus who’s the first freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy, that’s pretty understandable. But Manziel had some sort of slip this past weekend, when he missed a morning session at the Manning Passing Academy, where he was serving as a counselor. Most camp counselor screw-ups aren’t national news. But when you’re Johnny Football, and you have a reputation as a reveler, and the camp is run by the first-family of passing, proper hyseria must ensue.

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It did. By supposed mutual agreement, Manziel left the camp. His dad said he was dehydrated. A statement from the camp said he was ill. Peyton Manning came to his defense. At media day, Manziel said he “overslept.” He denied that he was in any way hungover, or had trouble waking up because he was out late. He said his phone died. “There was no excuse for not having my phone charged or having an alarm set,” Manziel said. When asked by an ESPN anchor if he was drinking during the Manning camp, Manziel wouldn’t say, only mentioning that the camp had social events. So yeah, he may have had a cold one or two.

In all, Manziel was fairly forthcoming during his press appearance, admitting that oversleeping was a “mistake.” He admitted that the criticism bugged him, and to having some trouble adjusting to his fame. “I met with counselors about stuff I was struggling with, the things that come along with this and to come up with a checklist of how to get through those things,” Manziel said. He was also unintentionally funny, as he kept reminding people that he was 20 — just a typical college kid — while  sharing anecdotes about picking the brain of LeBron James and Peyton Manning, and meeting the rapper Drake at a concert. From there, Manizel was jetting to the ESPY awards.

Is Johnny Football having too much fun? Ultimately, his play will answer that question. Expectations are outrageous — that’s what happens when you win a Heisman, then return to campus (Tebow had to deal with that; Manizel said Tebow has left a message for him, presumably to talk “how do you deal with being a SEC superstar?” shop.) It’s probably in Manziel’s own self-interest to tone it down. Prospects have slipped in the NFL draft because of off-field concerns, though those concerns usually result from more serious transgressions.  Still, the higher you’re drafted, the better you’re paid.

Also, if Manziel doesn’t meet the demands of rabid A&M fans, his partying ways will surely be blamed, fairly or not. Who needs that headache? If he takes it easier, he’ll have to deal with less of that criticism.

But as long as Manizel continues to perform at an elite level on the field, and stays out of trouble with the law, why knock his lifestyle? After all, it seems to be working for him.

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