In the great tradition of outlaw quarterbacks, from Joe Namath to Ken Stabler to Jim McMahon to Brett Favre, Johnny Manziel’s arrival often can inspire the townies to stable the horses, lock up the womenfolk and hide the whiskey.
But not in Seattle. Here, he is not only welcomed, he could be a product endorser. At least, he could if Microsoft was at all alert.
On the sidelines Sunday during the Cleveland Browns’ 24-10 win over San Francisco, TV cameras caught Johnny Football sitting on the bench, impulsively pounding a Surface tablet against his forehead, angry at what its video replay revealed about a terrible pass that turned a potential touchdown drive into an interception.
The Vine went viral, another public Manziel moment immortalized in a video inventory that approaches the volume of Clan Kardashian.
“It was pretty funny,” he told reporters on a teleconference this week prior to Sunday’s 1 p.m. tiff with the Seahawks at the Clink. After confirming the tablet was undamaged, he said he received no endorsement pitch from the Redmond computer shop.
“I mean, their products are pretty durable, I do know that,” he said, laughing. Alas, it was another opportunity squandered for Microsoft to emerge from the backwater. At least Steve Ballmer can’t be blamed for this misplay.
But the moment also offered a bit of a metaphor for the popular narrative of Manziel as reckless maverick who tightropes above the abyss of career peril, weaving and wobbling, to the consternation of the Browns’ faithful:
What will it take to pound some sense into this kid’s head?
Apart from the attempt to insert video into the skull, Manziel, 23, does seem to be absorbing some football sense. Sunday, Manziel completed 21 for 31 passes for 270 yards, plus a touchdown to go with the pick, in the triumph over the 49ers that broke a seven-game losing streak.
It may have been his best game in a turbulent two years since the Heisman Trophy winner brought his rolling party from Texas A&M to the shores of Lake Erie.
“Outside of the hiccup that’s been talked about way too much over the bye week, his preparation has been very much on point,” Browns coach Mike Pettine told Seattle reporters. The hiccup to which he referred was a video showing Manziel partying in a bar in Austin, which would be fairly innocent stuff for most.
But in showing Manziel with a bottle of champagne and acting in a manner consistent with consuming its contents, it disappointed the hell out of the Browns and their fans, because Manziel was in alcohol rehab from Jan. 28 to April 11.
Making it worse, Manziel lied about the video to Pettine and the Browns, claiming it was old, not taken during the November bye week. Pettine, who had just named Manziel his starter, demoted him to third string ahead of the Monday night game Nov. 30 against the Ravens.
You may remember the game as one of the most notorious losses in the Browns’ lamentable history. The Ravens blocked a potential game-winning field goal as time expired, then returned the ball for a touchdown in a 33-27 win. The presumption was that had Manziel played, the Browns, forced to start backup Josh McCown, would have not needed the field goal.
Pettine was not as gentle then about Manziel as he was this week.
“When you have a great opportunity in front of you, it is important that you demonstrate that you can handle the responsibility that comes with it,” Pettine said Nov. 26. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the trust and the accountability piece. This is where we had an obvious shortcoming.”
The latest in a long string of controversies dating back to high school — a glimpse at this remarkable Manziel family timeline by the San Antonio Express-News shows how he may have come by his bodacious behavior — seems to have caused him to hit the pause button. Momentarily, anyway.
“I hope I’m not disrespecting the game,” he said. “I have made it hard on myself and embarrassed myself, and probably the NFL in the process with some of the things that I’ve done over the past couple years, sure.
“The only thing I can do now is make sure that I’m not making those mistakes, and hold myself to a higher standard . . . I’m trying to play the game the right way, and every Sunday that I’ve been out there I’ve been having a lot of fun, I do know that.”
Manziel sounds as if he hasn’t quite solved the risk-reward of the celebrity high life and the responsibilities of being a franchise quarterback.
“At times, I’m sure it’s a little bit overblown,” he said. “At times, I’ve done it to myself and made it that way going back to some of the college days. But I guess that’s just part of playing a position.
“Fair or not, it’s the world that I live in, and kind of have to embrace it. Now, it’s how do I live in that world and how do I make the best of my situation I am in.”
Manziel is hardly the first pro football player to confuse one kind of play with another kind of play. But for Seahawks fans used to the ultra-vanilla flavoring of Russell Wilson, Manziel makes Wilson’s Recovery Water nanobubbles seem cute.
Then again, when Wilson throws 16 touchdowns and no interceptions over four games, he can pour champagne over his Surface tablet, smack it off Pete Carroll’s head, and get a commercial out of it.