"Swagger" would be an appropriate term to summarize Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's return to the gridiron, coming off his Heisman Trophy-winning freshman season.
Manziel was suspended for the first half of Saturday's opener in College Station against Rice, but entered to a roaring crowd and went on to throw three touchdown passes in just over a quarter of action.
The offseason autograph scandal and the other high-profile public appearances Manziel made off the gridiron drew the ire and criticism of many analysts and outsiders. That boyish naiveté seems to translate poorly in the press, but it is part of what makes Manziel so compelling to watch as a quarterback.
Several Rice defenders were sparring with Manziel throughout the game. When the initial exchange occurred, Manziel, in a somewhat self-deprecating way, made a gesture that hinted at signing an autograph.
Instead of not backing up his words, the sophomore proved that his play from the pocket has matured, even if his behavior away from the field hasn't quite followed that path.
There was an opportunity to tuck and run, but Manziel instead clearly went through all his progressions, then rifled a pass to receiver Mike Evans for a 23-yard touchdown.
That led to this celebration from Manziel:
It's almost as though Johnny Football relishes the spotlight and the animosity toward him due to his antics and the fact that he's unafraid to do whatever he wants.
As entertaining as Manziel is to watch, he did cross the line after his third touchdown throw. According to the ESPN telecast, he was jawing off to two Rice defenders who weren't antagonizing him, and was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin sat Manziel for the rest of the game and wasn't thrilled with his conduct:
While some may criticize the further damage Manziel had done to his image, he had already inflicted irreparable wounds on an Owls team that came out of the halftime break down only seven points.
Sure, the Texas A&M defense began getting stops and forcing turnovers, but it was ultimately Manziel who provided the unique spark that drove the team to a 52-31 victory.
No one can deny how impressive Manziel was in completing six of eight passes for 94 yards and three scores. With all the expectations placed on him and amid all the scrutiny, Johnny Football delivered.
The field is Manziel's sanctuary, and his competitive fire shines through as much as the brilliant plays he makes. At age 20, he does have to keep his emotions a little more in check, but the passion, banter and embracing of the limelight are all characteristics of a successful quarterback.
Love him or hate him—Manziel is one of a kind.
That rings true in terms of his personality in an unprecedented age of social media exposure and in his accomplishments as a quarterback as the only freshman ever to win the Heisman.
The young man has paved his own way so far; it's worked out pretty well. Based on his explosive 2013 debut, there is little indication Manziel is set to regress. To suggest he should dynamically change his personality would diminish his undeniably big brand and possibly affect his play.
Manziel takes all the media attention in stride, just as gracefully as he scampers past defenders to the end zone. Perhaps onlookers should stray from psychoanalysis and appreciate the unique character—and growing legend—that is Johnny Football.
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