The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured a cartoon on their pages Sunday morning. It was Johnny Manziel, “Johnny Football”, taking up an entire page in cartoon form, playing a guitar like Chuck Berry. The image was half a step away from doing a duckwalk across the pages of Cleveland’s sole newspaper.
Nothing is too big, too silly, or too ludicrous when it comes to Johnny Football. His reputation as a playmaker and off-field roustabout from the plains of Texas preceded him before he stepped onto the NFL’s stage, creating more media havoc than any player since Tim Tebow.
The media is voracious and its appetite is never met. More information, rumors, faster, more, faster, more, faster.
And we have feasted on Johnny Manziel.
Based on what? College success? An intangible “it” factor?
There is no “it factor” in NFL football. There is no “karma”. There is only bigger, smarter, stronger, faster.
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals were bigger, smarter, stronger, and faster than the Browns, and a confident young man from Texas was humbled on the national stage.
Let’s hope he learned from it.
The Browns poor luck with starting quarterbacks is well documented, even receiving national attention due to its extreme futility. But few on the national stage ever really witnessed how horrific it has been, the awful play of guys like Spurgeon Wynn and Brandon Weeden passing them by unnoticed as they focused on whichever NFL team was ascendant that year.
To us, though, Johnny Manziel’s horrible first game was nothing new. We’ve seen eye-poppingly bad quarterback stats before and empty stadiums in the fourth quarter before. The only question is where on the spectrum this particular debacle happens to lie.
Despite a horrible start to his career, only the foolish would write Johnny Manziel off after one game. His was always an outside chance to be successful at a game that favors 6’5" pocket passers, but after fifteen years of waiting for a franchise quarterback, Browns fans can afford to patiently wait a little longer to see if Manziel is that one of a hundred fleet-running passers who can make it in the NFL.
Like the few left in that Stadium on Sunday afternoon, I waited through the depressing fourth quarter, hoping for a signal, a moment, a flash… some indication that things will be different this time. It never came.
As we waited, knives were being sharpened across the nation, ready to slice a young man from Texas to pieces for being a 22-year-old who thinks he holds the world in his hands.
As the speed of information flowing from source to destination nears instantaneous, so does the turnaround from building a celebrity up to tearing them down. It used to be that the famous got a year or so of good press before the savagery began. Now it’s as soon as the opportunity presents itself: Build them up, tear them down. Build them up, tear them down. Faster, more, faster, more.
After Sunday, the lame headlines and tweets are ready to pour out, the rancid vitriol of an American sports and celebrity culture that hates the subjects it covers almost as much as it hates itself. The game now will be to see who can satirize “Johnny Football” most egregiously, as pundits of varying worth attempt to play negativity leapfrog in a 48-hour media window to try to gain attention. It will be as dull as defensive players doing the “money sign” after a Manziel sack has already become.
We can let that game play out tonight and tomorrow. Not everyone has to play.
After twenty years, no one who has been along for the ride with Browns fans can take any joy in the bad start for our latest hope. There is no schadenfreude.
There’s just a little more sadness, a little more reality, and a little longer wait.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been patiently waiting alongside the rest of us for a long, long time. You survived this massacre, you’ll bounce back and will be here next week.
And you will still hold out hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, something amazing will happen.
Follow Barry at @BarryMcBride on Twitter or feel free to write him at BarryMcBride at Gmail dot com.