Senior College Football Columnist

After summer of fun, football more than sideshow in Manziel circus


HOOVER, Ala. -- For the Johnny formerly known as Manziel, football has gotten in the way of being a 20-year-old rich college kid.

That's not a judgment. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has balanced fame, fortune, Twitter and the Manning Passing Academy better than most, largely because he's the first freshman to balance fame, fortune, the Heisman and Twitter. Who among us wouldn't want to be him for 15 minutes (or a night behind the velvet rope with bottle service)? Who wouldn't love to become pals with LeBron, see a Drake concert in Toronto, throw out the first pitch at (insert major-league park here)?

We would love it. It has been absolutely wonderful to be Johnny Football. It's the rest of us that have the problem.

Unless you have a rap sheet, a formal charge or pending litigation to bring forward, shut up. Manziel is what college is about to thousands of young adults. A year ago, he was Texas A&M's backup quarterback in danger of being suspended. On Wednesday, he took a direct flight from SEC media days to Los Angeles for the ESPYs.

Ain't that America: From slug to superstar while skipping Intro to Life 101.

Johnny Football may eventually become Johnny Flameout in the NFL but his conduct is absolutely consistent with your average, privileged college-aged male. He may be in the middle of the best two years of his life. If things get a bit obnoxious, well, college is not just the education, it's also the experience. A&M's quarterback just happens to have the means to make life an IMAX Experience.

Not all of us win a Heisman. Not all of us have well-off parents. Johnny Football has both, as well as a thirst to drink ... from the cup of life.

"I'm a 20-year-old," Manziel told the media hordes Wednesday. "I'll continue to say it. I'm not going to change."

It's possible every celebrity-seeking fanboy is high-fiving every bartender in College Station at the moment. The rest of us? We're learning America's cult of personality transcends sports. There's a reason there is a back entrance to the Wynfrey Hotel used by the likes of Tebow and Manziel.

We can't not be interested. Sports long ago became an extension of Entertainment. In total, we didn't learn much new Wednesday about the defending Heisman Trophy winner. He had his rap completely down in the wake of his premature departure from that Manning camp.

Johnny Football on Wednesday admitted only to oversleeping Saturday morning, his phone going dead and not setting an alarm. He then departed a day early, later reportedly apologizing to his coaches amid speculation that he had partied Friday night away in Thibodeaux, La.

He was asked on ESPN: Were you dehydrated, hung over?

"Absolutely not," Manziel said.

Did you drink alcohol while you were there?

"I'm not going into the details of what happened at the Manning camp," he said.

There you have it. The son of those well-off parents from Kerrville, Texas, tip-toed around a direct question regarding underage drinking.

A cynic might say he was coached up well. There were plenty of those when I tweeted that Manziel said "he had seen a couple of counselors" to deal with "stress." The Twitterati pounced, suggesting that a lot of those counselors were named Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.

Manziel likely needs some sort of counseling. Not necessarily the psychiatric kind, just a subtle reminder not to embarrass himself and the university. During a casual conversation across the table during a March interview, the kid vowed to a couple of us that he would to stay off Twitter. A couple of days later on vacation, he was involved in a Twitter war that included this immortal jab at one hater: "tell your mom I said wassup."

We all remember how he also tweeted "can't wait to leave College Station."

"I think off the field, there's no question that he's made some mistakes," coach Kevin Sumlin said.

This update just in: Manziel apparently hasn't tweeted in a month. We'll see how long that lasts.

"I feel like I am [on] a little bit higher pedestal than most people in college football," Manziel said. "At the same time, I'm still 20 years old. I'm a sophomore in college. I'm still going to do things that everybody in college does. I'm still going to enjoy my life. ... I still am going to live my life to the fullest."

Cue those high fives. An SEC staffer at the conference's media days probably didn't grasp the entire meaning when she tried to clear space near the ESPN set for Manziel's interview.

"That's the line," she yelled. "Step back."

Was Manziel listening? He certainly wasn't apologizing for a life that has crossed that line at times.

"To be honest," he said. "I haven't done anything criminal."

So there's that. There's also this: The issue is not the Heisman experience being too big for a freshman. The issue is Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman as a typical 20-year-old redshirt freshman.

"The biggest comment [after winning the trophy]", Sumlin said, "should have been, 'All right, what now?' "

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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