Often times when discussing legacies, numbers take over. Wins, statistics and trophies lead the conversation. With Johnny Manziel, however, simply citing numbers and hardware—all plentiful and ridiculous—will insufficiently encompass the most exciting college football player of our lifetime.
The way to appreciate Manziel won’t come by simply pointing at his name in the SEC record book, an exhausting exercise given his historical presence. It’s the moments, the absurdity of his highlights and the impossible plays that were made possible that truly summarize his greatness.
It was on another level. And now, he'll take it to another level.
On Wednesday, the worst-kept secret became official. Manziel declared for the 2014 NFL draft, leaving Texas A&M early after two magnificent seasons as starting quarterback. Gil Brandt of NFL.com first broke the report.
Manziel later confirmed the news to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, offering the following on the decision:
After long discussions with my family, friends, teammates, and coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the 2014 NFL Draft. The decision was such a tough one for me because of how much I wanted to go back be with all those guys that I love playing with, and to work with Coach Sumlin and Coach Spav and be part of a program that's continuing to grow. But I felt like this is was it best for me now.
I feel very relieved. It's a weight off my shoulders. I'm ready to become a professional and dedicate myself to making my dream a reality of becoming the best quarterback I can be.
By officially declaring, Manziel will quickly become one of the more intriguing prospects in the history of the NFL. His style will come into question, as will his size, but his sheer playmaking ability and underrated arm will be too intriguing for many teams to pass on. The production speaks for itself.
No, it’s not just about numbers, but Manziel will leave A&M with a number of records. In fact, his name will be at the top at just about every meaningful statistic a quarterback can obtain.
Manziel will also leave with a handful of SEC marks, including the most total offense in a single season with 5,116 yards (3,706 passing, 1,410 rushing) in 2012. Manziel overtook Cam Newton (4,327 total yards) in his 12th game of that season; Newton accumulated his total in 14 games.
Manziel will also leave as the SEC’s all-time leader for total offense in a game. His 576-yard performance against Louisiana Tech is tops overall, while his 562 yards against Alabama during the 2013 season checks in at No. 2. Yes, he also owns the bronze medal in the department. And he did it all in two years.
In that time, the program has undergone a radical change for the better.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin just signed a lucrative new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid coaches in all of college football. With Sumlin just getting started, recruiting is absolutely thriving. Texas A&M current has the No. 4-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports, after closing with the No. 8 class in 2013.
Beyond the team, Kyle Field is currently undergoing a $450 million expansion that will push its total capacity from nearly 83,000 to well over 100,000 when it is completed in 2015.
This has all been made possible by the overwhelming financial support the school is currently enjoying. Last year, the school raised more than $740 million in donations, besting the previous best year by more than $300 million.
These unbelievable developments aren’t solely because of what Manziel was able to accomplish with a football in his hands, but he has been the catalyst of it all. His Heisman Trophy run (and win) added validity to his 2012 season and brought attention the school has since capitalized from.
Along the way there were controversial tweets, casino visits, nights out, endless celebrity encounters, and an autograph scandal along with a subsequent NCAA investigation. In the first game of the season, he pointed at a scoreboard and the Internet nearly broke because of it.
He was larger than life and the game itself, a role he embraced. It wasn’t always smooth—never easy—but the rigors of his celebrity status seemed to calm in the final months. And with the world of expectations on his shoulders this year—and an entire football world ready to pounce on his failure—Manziel delivered the same magic game after game.
You could make the argument that he was even better in 2014, a scenario that seemed impossible before the season began.
The only knock that can (and will) be made against Manziel’s college accomplishments is the lack of championships. And it’s a legitimate one. He’ll head to the NFL without an SEC title or BCS National Championship, although this is really through no fault of his own.
In fact, A&M was still able to win nine games in 2013 despite navigating a brutal schedule and allowing more than 32 points per game (good for No. 96 nationally).
Simply put, there's only so much one man can do.
More significant that any record, statistic or empty trophy slot were the moments that will carry on, and this is where Manziel’s legacy enters another stratosphere.
Like his play against Alabama in 2012, somehow escaping the grasp of Alabama tacklers to find his target wide open in the end zone.
Or his play against Alabama in 2013 where he somehow upped the ante, unsatisfied with the difficulty level from a season ago. Manziel escaped yet another dicey situation, tossing a miracle pass to his wideout on a play that will never quite make much sense.
And then, of course, there’s his miraculous touchdown throw still fresh from A&M’s wild comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It will never make much sense, so don’t bother trying to understand how or why it worked.
This is who Johnny Manziel was at A&M, the kind of player you can’t wait to tell your children about.
To truly understand the magnitude of his ability, you had to watch him destroy a Nick Saban defense that was deemed indestructible. Or make future NFL stars look utterly helpless in their efforts to bring him down. Or exercise two consecutive spin moves on a single play with the grace of a ballroom dancer.
He was always unpredictable, never boring and almost always successful, a combination of style, improv and skill that may never be matched.
After a while, you almost became numb to the absurdity, a testament of just how normal he made the incredible seem. Numbers, as magnificent as they might be, simply don't do his legacy justice.
Hopefully you were tuning in.