Johnny Manziel, suspended for the first half of Texas A&M's season opener against Rice, was supposed to enter an already-lopsided game when he took the field in the third quarter.
But the Owls didn't roll over.
The Aggies had six defensive starters on the bench in the first half, all serving at least two-quarter suspensions like Manziel. That helped contribute, in part, to a surprisingly close 28-21 halftime score, at which point Johnny Football came trotting onto the field.
During the first half, after Rice raced to 7-0 and 14-7 leads, Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk wondered (sarcastically) if A&M would consider subbing him in during the first half:
How much of a lead does #Rice need to have before Johnny Manziel comes in to the game?— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) August 31, 2013
B/R NFL writer Mike Freeman, on the other hand, speculated as to how Manziel was spending his time during the suspension:
Is Manziel signing footballs while he's waiting to go into the game?— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) August 31, 2013
Business Insider's Cork Gaines took a screen capture of how Manziel started his suspension: with a trademarked and unabashed "Tebow":
Manziel is Tebowing. pic.twitter.com/wTmWIks04B— Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) August 31, 2013
And NFL.com's Joe Fortenbaugh got a halftime update from Vegas, which posted A&M as 18.5-point favorites in the second half.
Texas A&M leads Rice 28-21 at the half. 2H line (aka "Manziel Line") opens Texas A&M -17 offshore, -18.5 at the Wynn.— Joe Fortenbaugh (@JoeFortenbaugh) August 31, 2013
A&M bettors could find a discount at offshore books, which listed the Aggies at minus-17.
Finally, it was time for the second half to kick off, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner got to take the field and start his defense of that title.
CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel, who was in attendance, took note of how anxious he looked before things got started:
Aggies are warming up in one end zone. Manziel stalking sideline, wiping hands, wanting to do this right now.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) August 31, 2013
Rice controlled the ball first, and promptly turned it over. Texas A&M took over in opposing territory, and on Manziel's first snap, he scrambled out of trouble for a first down:
GIF: Johnny Manziel scrambles for a first down on his first play of the 2013 season. http://t.co/oLmcjFp9rj— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 31, 2013
But eventually the drive fizzled out, and A&M settled for a field goal, which prompted B/R's Adam Kramer to get ready for a much-needed overreaction column:
HAS MANZIEL LOST IT? MY COLUMN:— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) August 31, 2013
And his sarcasm was a popular reaction among college football writers:
Johnny Football is overrated. #hotsportstake— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 31, 2013
Joeckel would have led them to a TD— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) August 31, 2013
The Aggies got the ball back with good field position again, and this time they found much more success. Manziel threw a nice touchdown to favorite target Mike Evans on a crossing route.
Manziel to Mike Evans. No rust to speak of.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) August 31, 2013
Fox Sports' Clay Travis implored him to sign the ball and throw it in the crowd Terrell Owens-style, which would have been the funniest thing ever:
Johnny Manziel tosses his first touchdown pass. Please sign the ball and toss it into the stands. Please.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGID) August 31, 2013
And according to ESPN's Skip Bayless, he got into some signature-related smack talk after the throw:
Manziel gets into "sign THIS" trash talk with Rice tackler, throws TD pass on next play. That's Johnny Football.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) August 31, 2013
But everything Skip says should be taken with a grain of salt, so it was a blessing when Rivals writer Justin Hokanson found and posted a confirming Vine:
Rice marched down the field on a long, momentum-killing drive after that touchdown, cutting the lead back to 10. A bad decision on the kick return left A&M starting inside its own 10-yard line, at which point Manziel was back on the clock.
And it didn't take long for him to make an impact.
The Aggies marched 93 yards in six plays, highlighted by a 35-yard pass from Manziel to Malcome Kennedy, and an 18-yard swing-pass touchdown from Manziel to running back Ben Malena.
CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel had an update on Manziel's early season box score:
First 17 minutes of Manziel's season: 104 yards of offense, 17 points. A&M leading Rice 45-28.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) August 31, 2013
ESPN scouting expert Todd McShay lauded his confidence in the pocket:
At first glance, Manziel much more patient in pocket... Going through progressions.— Todd McShay (@McShay13) August 31, 2013
And Skip Bayless, upset after the Patriots cut Tim Tebow, hitched his wagon to another divisive signal-caller:
Johnny Football, puttin' on a show, launching 2nd Heisman campaign.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) August 31, 2013
When Texas A&M got the ball back, it was more of the same. But after a quick Aggies touchdown, Johnny football got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Rice players:
Manziel woofing after that TD pass ... just got a flag for it.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) August 31, 2013
B/R's Barrett Sallee laughed at Manziel's heel turn, noting how he did the classic "SCOREBOARD" taunt—straight from the schoolyard:
Manziel went "scoreboard" to Rice. He's awesome. #TrollSoHard— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) August 31, 2013
Kevin Sumlin yelled at Manziel on the sideline, prompting a very apt Friday Night Lights reference from B/R's T.J. McAloon:
Sumlin and Manziel is like Coach Taylor and Vince from East Dillion.— T.J. McAloon (@tjmcaloon) August 31, 2013
And as Manziel's afternoon came to an end (on an interesting note), Pac-12 Network's Bryan Fischer said what we were all thinking:
I’m sure nobody will discuss the Manziel unsportsmanlike penalty this week.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) August 31, 2013
Manziel finished the day with 98 yards on 6-of-8 passing, three touchdowns through the air and 19 yards on six carries.