Any attempt to get a handle on the Manziel phenomenon is rising to the level of tackling the presidency of Abraham Lincoln or the Beatles first trip to the USA. The ripple effects from such figures and events are so vast it is difficult to decide which angle offers the best approach.
Manziel’s performance before former President George H.W. Bush and Texas governor Rick Perry came off like the pro-day equivalent of the Fab Four arriving at JFK Airport on Feb. 7, 1964. Texans beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, who has been reporting on the NFL since 1977, succinctly summed up the magnitude of the coverage:
When Johnny Football took the field to the cadence of Drake’s 5AM in Toronto, was he a gladiator in helmet and pads entering the arena or the heir apparent to the king of the Texas gridiron attending his coronation? With nationally known politicians in attendance, calling it an inauguration would be a more fitting description.
In addition to appearing in partial football regalia, Manziel gave his workout its own distinctive flair. It ran the gamut from taking every snap from under center to being chased around the pocket with a broom (below) to having his private quarterback coach George Whitfield throwing bean bags at him.
The effortless way Manziel went 61 of 64 in a highly orchestrated exhibition of passing prowess changed some minds but failed to sway others. Former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski of ESPN weighed in after the combine by saying:
I wouldn’t take him in the first three rounds. That’s my opinion. It’s incomplete right now. But he has not done a whole lot to me.
“Jaws” reversed course after observing the array of throws on display at Texas A&M:
George Whitfield has done a terrific job of coaching him (Manziel) up…Throwing the football with velocity and accuracy. I saw a couple of throws that hung just a little bit...But when you watched his improved mechanics today it was pretty impressive.
Conversely, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer characterized the circus atmosphere to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a “sideshow.” Zimmer relayed to Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle the whole thing felt “choreographed.”Two unnamed coaches told Ed Werder of ESPN teams “need to be aware of the environment his presence creates.”
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports published his Mock Draft 6.0 on March 26 and headlined it as the first “Where Johnny Manziel isn't a first-rounder.” Prisco is not about to change his view just because the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner wowed the crowd under controlled conditions:
A literal Google search of Johnny Manziel and "most polarizing" yields over 7,500 results. A check of the first 50 showed only two false returns. A dazzling pro day will bridge the divide for some, but Prisco, Zimmer and many others will continue to be unconvinced.
For the purpose of this article, only the judgments of Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien matter. John McClain quoted each falling back on the old “He made every throw” expression. No one is tipping his hand this long before draft day, least of all the holders of the biggest brass ring of them all.
Those members of Texans management in attendance were scheduled to have dinner with Manziel the evening after his workout. The organization has a reputation for preferring solid citizens over eccentric extroverts. If Johnny’s table manners turn out to be as impeccable as his aerial exploits, he will be one step closer to being the first name called in the 2014 NFL draft.