LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2014 — The football world is atwitter on Twitter. The masses are falling on their faces on Facebook. In a piece of news so shocking that it shocks those who easily get shocked, a rich young man is being criticized for…hide the women and cover the eyes and ears of the children…partying.
Cleveland Browns franchise quarterback Johnny Manziel is 21 years old and rich. His hobbies include partying in Las Vegas and having pictures taken of himself partying in Las Vegas. For having too much fun, he is now being cautioned by others to stop having fun and start behaving like an adult.
At the risk of defending a kid who has done nothing wrong, it is long past time to defend a kid who has done nothing wrong. The real tragedy is that the kid nicknamed Johnny Football lives in such a politically correct, hyper-sensitized puritanical time in society. By National Football League partying standards, this kid is an amateur.
Go back to the 1970s. Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler used to “read the game plan by the light of the juke box.” Those Raiders were the outlaws of the NFL, and “The Snake” led them to five straight AFC Title Games including a Super Bowl victory.
This was during the era when the Miami Dolphins had the only perfect season and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steel Curtain won it all four times. Stabler’s Raiders had a locker room where only two rules were written on the blackboard. Rule number one was, “Show up on Sunday.” Rule number two was to stay out of trouble with the law. At the bottom was written that as long as rule number one was obeyed, do not worry about rule two.
Now go back to the 1960s. Joe Namath and the New York Jets shocked the football world as 18 point underdogs in Super Bowl III. Broadway Joe wore a fur coat on the sideline, partied in the nightclubs with multiple women on each arm, and still threw for over 4,000 yards in a season long before the passing game took over the NFL. Namath told the football world before Super Bowl that the Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. He actually said, “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” Then he backed up his boast.
Now go back to the 1950s. The original fraternity leader as team leader was Bobby Layne. The Detroit Lions had a hero on the field and in the bars. The late Art Donovan summed up those Lions teams perfectly. “When Bobby said play, you played. When Bobby said drink, you drank.” The Lions won it all in 1957, but Lions owner William Clay Ford resented his celebrity quarterback’s antics. The Lions have won one playoff game in the 56 years since Layne was traded away.
Jets owner Sonny Werblin and Raiders owner Al Davis did not make the same mistake as Ford. “Just win baby” was the official Raiders motto. Characters were celebrated, not denigrated.
The year 1964 was the last time the Cleveland Browns won anything. Their half-century of futility has made them a sports laughingstock. Now along comes a cocky, arrogant rich kid spending his time with beautiful women in top nightclubs in glamorous cities.
Rather than punish this kid, the right thing to do is sit back and wait. The NFL is the ultimate meritocracy. If Johnny Football in any way dishonors the game of football, he will be ruthlessly punished. Just ask Matt Leinart.
Leinart was caught partying in the spa with multiple women. After some very brief success, Leinart suffered multiple injuries and flamed out of the league.
Broadway Joe, the Snake, and Layne always respected the game of football. They partied hard, but played harder on the field. They were winners.
Manziel has not crossed the line. He is not selling drugs, committing rapes, or robbing anybody at gunpoint. He is socializing, and heartily so.
If he breaks the law, he risks going to jail or ending up dead. If he fails on the field, he loses the respect of his teammates and all of his endorsements. All of the money and fame means nothing if the end result is being seen as a loser.
The modern era has seen squeaky clean leaders Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers light up the league and win championships. Yet the most fun quarterback of their era was still Brett Favre. The gunslinger did his share of partying during his twenty years in the league. He also won a Super Bowl and got to multiple NFC Title Games very late in his career. Favre may or may not have visited a casino or two during his playing days, but he was certainly a riverboat gambler on the field.
Manziel has talked a big game. He has pushed all of his chips to the center of the table. If he backs up his talk, he becomes a hero and a savior to Cleveland who could rival LeBron James. If he fails, he becomes a zero in a city that does not need another sports zero.
Manziel will have the pressure of the world on him come September. Let the kid have fun during the last true summer break of his life until he retires.