Much has been written about Johnny Manziel's heel turn, as the once-beloved reigning Heisman Trophy winner has quickly—and almost intentionally—gone from hero to villain in the span of a few short months.
But there's one over-the-top bad guy even Johnny Football, in all his autograph-signing glory, will never be able to top.
Nicholas Lou Saban.
No one can convince you to like, or even tolerate, Manziel's antics. He is what he is, and whether you love him or hate him, you almost certainly have a strong opinion.
If you fall in the first camp—guilty!—it will be easy to root for him on Saturday, when his No. 6 Aggies host No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m., CBS). You're used to it after cheering him on each weekend. But if you find his act either irksome or tedious or downright offensive, don't think of cheering for A&M as rooting for the "bad guy."
Think of it as rooting against the Crimson.
If you pull for a third-party SEC team, there is more than one reason you should root for A&M on Saturday. The most obvious (and important) is one of practicality: It will help your team's chances in 2013.
Alabama, as you're acutely aware, is the back-to-back BCS national champion and has hoisted the crystal trophy in three of the last four years. Whether or not you're partial to the word "dynasty"—which is grossly misused in most sports contexts—it's hard to deny that Alabama has built one.
It's won 17 of its last 19 games, and in the process, it's crushed the dreams of countless lost souls in Athens, Gainesville and Baton Rogue alike. As the Tide proved in 2012 and 2011, one loss does not a worthless season make; they can regenerate title hopes like an earthworm or a sea sponge cut in half.
But it cripples their margin for error.
Yes, a victory would propel Texas A&M to the forefront of the national title chase, giving other SEC teams a new alpha to chase. But the Aggies can be had much more easily than the Tide. Their defense is a shootout waiting to happen, showing marked ill effects after losing Damontre Moore and five other starters this offseason. It's a squad that many teams, on the right day, can play well against and beat.
Alabama is different, but it doesn't match up well with A&M. Manziel already proved he could move the ball (with unprecedented efficiency) against its defense, and Kevin Sumlin can adequately match Saban's wit. What's more, Kyle Field, where the game will take place, has always been one of the toughest road venues in college football—long before A&M's recent surge in exposure and popularity.
These aren't bandwagon football fans. These are fans who can truly alter a game.
After Saturday, though, Alabama's only road games are at Mississippi State and Auburn, two teams it should (and will) beat thoroughly. LSU must travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium in November, and the SEC Championship, should Alabama make it, would be played on a neutral field.
This is the Tide's best (and perhaps only) chance to go down; and when any kingpin falls, it means valuable opportunity for his underlings. If your team is one of said vassals, why would you root for the kingpin to stay in power?
Then there's the whole "Manziel as a bad guy" thing, which might rub some people the wrong way. He's eager to capitalize on his brand and he only cares about himself and (according to some people) he's lied to the media on multiple occasions.
But where do you think he learned those things? It's not like he's the first high-profile college football figure to exploit his brand at the expense of a school. He's not even the only one in this game.
In most parts of Alabama, Saban is written about in hagiographic tones. Speaking ill of the Tide's head football coach is apropos to treason. It's morally wrong to criticize a man who's brought so much joy to a city, state and school.
But that doesn't erase his past. And while Saban has kept his nose clean (and his mouth free of fib), for the most part, since arriving in Tuscaloosa, when put in the context of Alabama vs. Manziel, it's easier to forgive than forget.
For those unfamiliar: Saban was the coach at LSU before he was the coach at Alabama. Because of his success in Baton Rogue, including a BCS National Championship in 2003, he piqued the interest of numerous NFL teams. One of those teams was the Miami Dolphins, whom Saban was mutually interested in, but he vehemently denied any and all reports.
Eventually he left for Miami, where he failed miserably at the NFL level, then left in a similar deceitful fashion to accept his current post at Alabama. When the dust had settled and the sausage had been made, former ESPN (and current Yahoo!) writer Pat Forde penned a piece called "Saban Only Lied When His Lips Were Moving."
Here's how it began:
With Nick Saban en route to a coronation in Tuscaloosa, it's officially time to change the vocabulary used to describe college coaches.
"Integrity" is out. "Character" is out. "Teacher" is out. "Leader of men" is out.
"Liar" is in.
Saban's failure with the Dolphins was also documented by the NFL Network, which ranked him among the 10 worst coaches in league history (the good stuff starts at 2:07):
Which is all to say that rooting for Manziel, in the eyes of many people, wouldn't be considered rooting for the "bad guy." No matter your moral reservation, someone has to win; and no matter who wins, either Saban or Manziel will add to (the good part of) his legacy.
You get to choose which evil is the lesser one.
It's entirely subjective, whether you think Manziel is an over-privileged yuppie or Saban is a two-bit phony and fraud; those are matters of pure opinion, and your opinion is just that—yours.
If you don't feel like coloring it by taking sides, in either direction, feel free to call it a wash and enjoy the game for what it is: Two of the best in the business going at it with supreme national repercussions.
But unless you want to watch another cascade of Crimson confetti, ignore all the Manziel backlash and root for the team—and the player—who's most capable of preventing it.
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