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National Columnist

Still a Johnny Football fan; not crazy about Johnny Manziel, the person

If he plays this season, I'm going to enjoy Johnny Manziel. The football player, I mean. Johnny Manziel, the person? Nah. The days of enjoying him aren't over, but they're on hiatus. That kid better grow up, and own up to the spoiled little jerk he's been, or the days of me swooning for Manziel -- the person -- are over.

But the swooning will continue for Johnny Football, because he remains one of the most charismatic players I've ever seen. Same goes for you, I imagine. There's a reason Manziel rocketed into full-fledged stardom midway through his freshman season at Texas A&M, before he was allowed to speak to the media, before he took to Twitter to reveal himself in pictures and tweets. He was a star because we loved the way he played, and I'm determined to hang onto that love no matter how unlikeable he has become off the field.

Know who else isn't going to ruin Johnny Football for me? Texas A&M fans. I don't mean all of them, so don't go there. If you're an A&M fan and the following doesn't apply to you, then the following does not apply to you. But there are A&M fans who do the fan thing, the same fan thing that a segment of the LSU fan base is doing for Jeremy Hill: Defending the player, attacking the messenger. A&M fans put my cell number on one of their message boards and called until I changed it. Along the way my number made it onto craigslist. Apparently I was selling a television set. Pretty clever, actually ...

The irony here -- and this an irony that no fan base ever gets -- is that by defending Manziel so blindly and by attacking the messengers so relentlessly, A&M fans threaten to make future messages worse. But that's not how it's going to be for me. I'm going to love Johnny Manziel on the field, if he can get there this season, and this is why:

This picture. Right here. It was in the New York Post on Sunday morning, part of a story about Manziel. And if there's a story about Manziel, I'm clicking it.

(What's that infinite monkey theorem? Something about giving an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite number of days, and eventually one of them will type Shakespeare. Me, I'd wait for one of them to type something about Manziel. Because I'm always looking for something new to read about Manziel.)

But anyway, back to that picture in the Post. I wasn't ready for it. I was ready for another story about Manziel, the flawed person, and that's what the story is about. But the picture is Manziel the football supernova. I don't know what makes it the perfect Johnny Manziel photo -- The cleats, socks and pants all in white? The bold high-stepping, barely in bounds? The touchdown? -- but it's perfect. And when I saw it, I chuckled out loud.

That's when it hit me: You still love Johnny Football.

So I'm wondering: Do you still love Johnny Football? Not talking to A&M fans. He's your guy, of course you love him. Got it. But what about the rest of you? People like me, people without an allegiance to A&M or to an A&M rival. Neutral people who fell in love with Johnny Football because it was impossible not to fall in love with a guy who plays like that. Do you still love the player?

Lots of you have fallen out of love with Johnny Manziel, the person, whether it was for reasons I think are silly (his offseason of hobnobbing with LeBron, partying with Drake, posting pictures of every little fun thing he did online) or for reasons that are more legit (how he screwed up at the Manning camp, the off-putting way he and his family came off in that epic ESPN The Magazine story, the allegations that he is selling his autographs).

The anti-Manziel crowd has grown this offseason, and it's Manziel's fault. These are self-inflicted wounds, although the allegations of NCAA violations remain unproved. Many believe the allegations are true, because the Manziel family has made it clear they feel ripped off by all the money flowing from the Johnny Football machine, money that has been out of reach of Manziel himself. Now come stories that Manziel -- who in one offseason has taken the image of the entitled, self-centered star to new heights -- grabbed some of that money? Hey, it's awfully believable.

All of which makes Manziel awfully unlikable.

Know who else isn't going to ruin it for me? The media who are determined to make Manziel the face of the anti-NCAA movement. Assuming Manziel sold his autographs, goes the narrative, what's wrong with that? This kid has generated millions for his school, his coach, even the NCAA ... and all he has to show for it is a lousy Heisman Trophy? Unfair. So now the word is out: Death to the NCAA. The media and public couldn't get behind Georgia receiver A.J. Green when he sold his jersey for cash, and the media and public couldn't get behind Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor when he exchanged his autographs for tattoos, but in Johnny Manziel there's apparently something people can get behind.

Whatever the case, it's not going to make me resent Johnny Football, the player. Off the field he's not Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. He's not noble. He's not risking personal consequences by leading a sit-down at midfield to draw attention to the hypocrisy of "amateurism" of college football. He's a spoiled little rich kid who wants rims for his Mercedes. He's tired of asking Daddy for some of that oil money, so he jeopardized A&M's legitimate national championship aspirations to print some of that Johnny Football money for himself -- allegedly. If people can't see Manziel for what he is, that's on them.

Loving Johnny Football, the player? That's on me. And I'm going to embrace it. He plays football in a way that speaks to me, for reasons I can't explain. Why do some pieces of art grab you? You don't know; they just do. Johnny Manziel plays football in a way that grabs me. He's a masterpiece, and I'm going to swoon when he steps back on the field.

Just don't ask me to like the little jerk when he steps off.

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