Imagine a place where a team is taken away, reborn and then makes the playoffs just once in 15 seasons. Try and envision a town that blindly supports a sports franchise that is out of contention after just two months of a season. Now imagine that town and team instantly becoming relevant by adding just one player. That is what Johhny Manziel means to the Cleveland Browns.
When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted LeBron James in 2003, it instantly re-energized a region. Not only did they select a player who was supposed to be the best prospect since Michael Jordan, but he was also from right in their backyard.
The Browns drafting Manziel is a completely different situation but almost as important. When James left the Cave and decided to “take his talents to South Beach,” it devastated Northeast Ohio. At one point in 2007, the Cavs were in the NBA Finals, the Browns won 10 games and the Indians were in the American League Championship Series.
Now, just seven years later, the Indians reaching a one-game playoff is the height of sports accomplishment in Cleveland. The Cavaliers and Kyrie Irving have never recovered from James’ departure despite having five lottery picks on their roster including, two No. 1 overall picks.
The Browns have still never found a quarterback and continue to hover in the four- to six-win range each and every year. Regimes have changed, coaches have changed and even ownership has changed, but the problem at the quarterback position remains the same. That is, until they drafted Johnny Football.
Manziel is possibly the most polarizing and exciting player to ever come out of college, and he is now in Cleveland. As soon as the Browns made the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up and select Manziel, they became relevant again. Whether he can win remains to be seen, but that hasn’t stopped the world from gawking.
There are billboards of Manziel wearing a Browns uniform in Times Square in New York. Fans are lined up outside the Browns’ facility with Manziel signs and season tickets are selling like hot cakes:
As of 5pm ET, the Browns say they have sold 2,300 new season tickets since Manziel was drafted— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 9, 2014
The last time anyone around the country paid any attention to the Browns was when they traded running back Trent Richardson. Before that, it was when they failed to trade for Robert Griffin III. And before that, it was when they ran Colt McCoy back on the field after a concussion.
Are you seeing a pattern with these instances? The only time the Browns make the new cycle is when it’s negative. Not this time, however. This time it’s Johnny Time.
The front page of The Cleveland Plain Dealer exclaimed, “Here’s Johnny!” It just feels so much like when the Cavs selected James in 2003:
Obviously the circumstances are different, but it is the void left behind by James that Manziel will have to fill. Manziel has already been photoshopped onto the famous Nike ad campaign that featured James on the side of a downtown Cleveland building with the phrase, “We Are All Witnesses.”
In fact, Aaron Goldhammer from ESPN Cleveland says that Nike may already be working on something similar:
We have it on some authority that Nike may put Manziel on the LBJ billboard space outside the Q...— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) May 9, 2014
Things have already changed in Cleveland, and all it took was the NFL commissioner saying the words, “with the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select quarterback Johnny Manziel.” Perception is often reality and that is especially true when there are no games to be lost.
The problem with the Manziel’s fame and attention is that it comes along with scrutiny if the team loses. If he plays poorly, those cameras don’t go away, and the spotlight does not turn off. If he plays poorly, the cameras will multiply, and that spotlight will turn into a pressure cooker.
Manziel was not with the Browns 24 hours and already had to deal with a “Cleveland-esque” happening. According to ESPN’s Outside The Lines, wide receiving Josh Gordon is facing a one-year ban from the NFL for yet another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards last season despite a stable of mediocre quarterbacks and only playing 14 games (also because of a substance abuse suspension).
Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny.
So while the perception of the Browns has already changed, the reality has not. They are still a team coming off of a four-win season with a new coaching staff and a ton to prove. They still have off-the-field issues to deal with, and they still have not been to the playoffs for over a decade.
Johnny Manziel will need a lot more than star power to carry the Browns to the place that will truly make them relevant. It is a place the Browns have never been before. He needs to transform his personality from Johnny Football into Johnny Super Bowl.