Several intriguing games dominated the airwaves Saturday night, ranging from No. 5 Georgia's visit with No. 8 Clemson to No. 12 LSU facing off with No. 20 TCU in AT&T Stadium. All were important matchups, each on a national broadcast.
But nothing...NOTHING...compared to the negative attention Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel received throughout the evening and into Sunday morning from pundits and critics across the country.
A Short Timeline, If You Will
Sunday, August 4th—ESPN breaks a story regarding Manziel accepting monetary compensation for a number of autograph signings he performed during the offseason.
Wednesday, August 28th—Texas A&M and the NCAA release a joint statement saying there was no evidence the 20-year-old quarterback ever received money in exchange for autographs, but due to his inadvertent violation regarding the situation, the university agreed to suspend Manziel for the first half of A&M's season opener against Rice. Conclusion: Issue closed.
Saturday, August 31st—Manziel spends the first half against Rice on the bench, as promised, having ESPN commentators analyze every move he makes while he bides his time until the second half. He then proceeds to perform well, both send and receive trash talk, and walk away from a 52-31 lead late in the second half. No big deal, right?
Wrong. According to most every ESPN analyst from Mark May to Lou Holtz (and every one in between), Manziel has pierced the sanctity of the game. Call off the season, Johnny Football has ruined the very sport he earned him his legendary name.
A Quick Glance at Their Three-fold Reasoning
1) Following Manziel's debut play of the 2013 season (which ended with him scrambling 12 yards for a first down), the quarterback mouthed back and forth with a Rice defender before scrawling a signature-like motion in the air as he returned to the offensive huddle. The gesture caught the attention of many viewers, with a Gif of the moment up online just minutes following the play.
The National Response
Johnny Manziel is mocking his suspension, sending a message to the NCAA and college football fans that he hasn't learned anything from the autograph-gate that enveloped his life the past month.
It's almost as if Johnny Football was forced to deal with a month's worth of the NCAA, Texas A&M and the national media looking into every detail of his life as the autograph scandal took its natural course, and when taunted about it on the football field, he responded in kind. The passion of the game brings out an intensity unlike most in everyday life, and unsurprisingly, the cockiness behind Manziel's personality came out in the gesture.
I refuse to crucify a 20-year-old quarterback for being cocky, especially due to his position and current situation. Not only is he the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but he's also a starting college QB...part of the job description is a certain level of confidence bordering on arrogance.
2) Manziel flashed a gesture in celebration that resembled someone rubbing dollar bills together between their fingers. Again, it caught national attention as videos, pictures and Gifs of the moment popped up all over the Internet. Shocker.
The National Response
Manziel is, once again, taunting everyone who tried to bury him under a pile of autograph allegations.
This is a joke, right? It's a celebration, not a symbol to the public that Manziel is the world's greatest con man. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd performed the same gesture during the Tigers' victory over Georgia Saturday night. Perhaps if the analysts had been watching the game instead of breaking down Manziel's every move, they might have caught on sooner.
3) Following Manziel's third touchdown throw of the day, two Rice defenders continued to jaw at the quarterback as he continued his way to the sideline. After a few words himself, Manziel closed any semblance of an argument by pointing to the scoreboard, which currently read Texas A&M 51, Rice 28. In case anyone missed the 90s, "scoreboard" is the ultimate comeback when you're ahead.
The referees thought differently, flagging Manziel for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The flag effectively forced head coach Kevin Sumlin to bench his young star, but not before Manziel lightly bumped past Sumlin on his way to the water coolers.
The National Response
First off, complete and utter disrespect to the game itself. Manziel failed to adhere to the very rules and regulations set in place to prevent such behavior (actually, as the ESPN commentators discuss Manziel's lack of discipline, A&M true freshman Daeshon Hall is ejected for fighting and they barely take notice).
Second, Manziel bumped into his head coach as he was yelling at him. The ultimate sign of disrespect—the bump—clearly qualifies Manziel as outside the jurisdiction of even A&M's coaching staff. Everything is out of control in College Station.
The penalty was undeserving, first off. Manziel, while walking back to the sideline, was approached by two defenders from Rice (neither of whom were flagged), who mouthed off at him—while they were already down 23 points. If anything, Manziel did everyone a favor by directing the two to the most blatant and simple comeback in the book. For that, I say well done.
As for "the bump," it was almost literally nothing. Manziel, moments after receiving a ridiculous penalty, was walking back to the sideline and Sumlin saw fit to grill him on the flag, as any decent head coach would. Manziel merely bumped into the enraged Sumlin, signaling more an absence of mind rather than a symbol of disrespect.
A Few Fun Headlines
Since Manziel's antics transpired, the media has been on a feeding frenzy regarding the young quarterback.
Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel: Unteachable and maybe Unreachable, The Washington Post
Johnny Manziel: Embrace the Dark Side, National Football Post
Manziel has made A&M the new villain, FoxSports
And that's just to name a few.
In reality, Saturday's "antics" were just Johnny Manziel being, well, Johnny Football. From an attitude perspective, Manziel showed nothing against Rice that anyone who has watched or followed Texas A&M hasn't seen before.
The only difference this time is the perception of Manziel created by his offseason escapades and the overwhelming scrutiny he's receiving after winning the Heisman.
And that, apparently, makes all the difference in the world.