At the likely end of a career filled with phenomenal plays, unimaginable triumphs and unforgettable moments that only he could provide, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel saved his best for last.
From very early on in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Aggies seemed utterly defeated by a Duke team that was simply playing better football than its counterpart from the mighty Southeastern Conference.
Despite being a massive favorite, Texas A&M found itself trailing its ACC foe by three touchdowns at halftime. The Aggies defense was inept as it had ever been, and with Duke receiving the ball to start the second half of play, it looked as though nothing would stand in the way of the Blue Devils executing a stunning upset.
A report by NFL.com's Gil Brandt surfaced earlier this week that this would be Manziel's final game at the collegiate level, and thus, it seemed inevitable that the Heisman Trophy winner would host one last hurrah before heading to the pros.
No surprise but Manziel and Evans will be playing final college games tomorrow, multiple sources tell me. #TAMUvsDUKE— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 30, 2013
But at the Georgia Dome, that happy ending was nowhere to be found.
Surely, Johnny Football's career couldn't end like this. It couldn't end with Manziel ripping into his favorite receiver Mike Evans on the sideline. It couldn't end with a loss to a team that, prior to last year, hadn't been to a bowl since 1995.
Manziel knew the last page of his lore couldn't be written this way—so he made sure it wasn't.
And of course, Manziel's collegiate finale couldn't come to its conclusion without a circus act by the impossibly talented quarterback.
After a quick defensive stop to start the second half, Manziel pulled out one last magic trick. After being bottled up in a collapsing pocket, No. 2 hurdled a defender, running straight into one of his offensive linemen in the process. He somehow evaded two Duke defenders, spun back out of the pocket to his left and then threw across his body to receiver Travis Labhart for a 19-yard touchdown.
As Labhart—a former practice player for the Texas A&M women's basketball squad—reached the ball across the goal line, the energy of the game shifted toward the Aggies sideline, where Manziel was going wild with his teammates and coaches.
Johnny Manziel on his message to his teammates when way down: "Don't quit. Don't even look at the scoreboard"— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 1, 2014
He needed some help from his maligned defense, including two late interceptions, to complete the 52-48 comeback victory, but it all wouldn't have been possible if Manziel hadn't turned in a flawless performance.
The redshirt sophomore finished 30-of-38 passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns, while running 11 times for 73 yards and a score.
This was Manziel's masterpiece.
Throughout the game, ESPN counted down the top five moments of Manziel's career.
The native of Kerrville, Texas, turned Texas A&M into a contender its first year in the SEC. He was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman and became a national celebrity seemingly overnight. Much of that was thanks to the No. 1 moment in ESPN's countdown, which came in a shocking upset of Alabama in 2012 that won him the Heisman.
The highlight that has been played thousands of times since its inception, the near-fumble turned touchdown, played one last time on the air before Manziel's career likely ended.
But by the time he settled into the victory formation to cap the comeback victory on New Year's Eve, he had a new No. 1 moment.
The previous one sealed his Heisman victory, but there's no telling where the new one will take him. It could make him the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
A very smart college head coach texted me today predicting Manziel "is going to be the 1st pick in the draft after tonight."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 1, 2014
Even if it doesn't slide him up in the eyes of professional scouts and general managers, it cements his place as one of the greatest to ever play college football.
It also exposes this year's Heisman results, which tabbed him as just the fifth-best player in the nation, as a total farce. With all due respect to Jameis Winston, AJ McCarron, Jordan Lynch and Andre Williams, there isn't a player that is as "outstanding" as Manziel.
Even when the Aggies were down, with an embarrassing defeat—and potentially a blowout one at that—staring them in the face, there was still hope.
More than hope, there was a lingering inevitability that somehow, some way, Johnny Football would make something happen and bring A&M back.
And he did it.
College football's Mount Olympus is a crowded one with countless legendary players, recent and historic, vying for the top spot.
But after tossing lightning bolts on defenses across the nation for the last two years, Manziel made his case as college football's Zeus.