Saturday, January 5, 2013

Johnny Freaking Football

Last night I watched the most exciting, dynamic football player I have ever seen on the college level, and he’s a freshman. Johnny Manziel was unstoppable against the Oklahoma Sooners, just as he was against the Alabama Crimson Tide earlier in the year. Oh, and he won the Heisman Trophy last month.

Johnny Football is a paradox, a riddle wrapped in an enigma. I watch him standing in the backfield and he looks diminutive, a wiry unimposing mess with buckles and straps sticking out of his jersey as if he was dressed to be shipped UPS. But then I look down at his feet and find size 15 cleats. Weird. Then I watch him roll out to his right and suddenly dart through the slimmest of holes like he was fired out of a gun, a gun with a hair trigger. He looks like the fastest, quickest man on the field, and I remind myself that he is white. Weird. Just when I think he’s just a one dimensional running quarterback, I watch him throw a laser 40 yards to a barely open receiver from his back foot. He runs for 220, throws for 290 and goes the entire game seemingly without ever getting hit. There’s not a scratch on him, he’s hardly broken a sweat. Weird.

As intrigued as I am, as enthralled with his game as I am, Johnny Football worries me. I’m old school enough to prefer humility in my sports heroes. Guys like Hershel Walker and Walter Peyton, guys who simply flipped the ball to the ref and ran back to the huddle after some jaw-dropping feat with nothing more than an “awe, shucks” grin. Manziel is the quintessential modern athlete, full of bravado and showmanship, a guy who loves the limelight a little too much for my taste. Then there’s the arrest back in June for a fight outside of a bar for which he spent a night in jail and still faces charges. I see the swagger, the ego, read about the arrest and wonder whether he will simply be the latest in a long line of pampered, entitled primadonna athletes who end up spending more time on TMZ than on Sports Center.

But intrigued I am. What I saw last night was simply brilliant, as dominant a performance as I have ever witnessed by one so young on such a stage. He is twenty years old and has arrived at the pinnacle of fame. The spoils of big time college football lie at his feet. If I were his parents, I would start praying. Hard.