It only takes one.
One NFL team to believe he has turned it around.
One NFL team to believe his hard-partying days are over.
One NFL team to embrace this new and improved person.
One NFL team to believe he can help it win with no drama off the field.
America loves a comeback, and Johnny Manziel started his on a drearyApril day on a high school football field in Northwest Austin.
He’s far removed from the bright NFL lights and the lifestyle that led to his premature ouster after being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft, but nothing says he can’t make it back to the league. Michael Vick ran a dogfighting ring, went to prison and made it back. Tennis legend Andre Agassi dropped from No. 1 in the world to playing satellite tournaments in small venues before he regained his career footing. Outside of kneeling for the national anthem, odds are Johnny will get a chance to show he can still play in the NFL.
It’s called the Spring League, and Johnny Football was its headliner Saturday at the Palace on Parmer. The weather kept some away — Austin doesn’t do cold — but several hundred braved the elements to see the show. There were plenty of No. 2 Manziel shirts in the stands, and several were wearing vintage Cleveland Browns Manziel jerseys.
The 300 or so plunked down $40 apiece and were all seated behind Manziel’s South team bench. They roared with approval when he found former Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley with a 2-yard touchdown pass, his first since Dec. 20, 2015, when he threw a 7-yarder against the Seattle Seahawks.
Manziel’s team lost 11-7 but the final score didn’t really matter to most of those in attendance except for Manziel — competitor that he is — who did not hide his disgust with the final result. Seconds removed from a late comeback that didn’t materialize, Manziel was not happy.
“On the field with two minutes to win the game, I’m pissed right now,” he said. “Trying to shake it off a little bit. It’s our first game.”
While Johnny was still dealing with the outcome in his first competitive in 2 1/2 seasons, the fans were just happy to see him back, judging from all the “Johnny!” screams and requests for autographs and selfies.
He completed 8 of 16 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown but was sacked four times. He fumbled twice but his teammates recovered both. You know the other players were more than eager to get a shot at a former Heisman Trophy winner who once had the world at his fingertips, and just like Johnny, they’re out there to get noticed by NFL organizations.
“I made through the game, took some hits, I had fun and I made some mistakes,” he said. “It is what is. You can’t expect after the last two years to come out and play a flawless game. I think I did some decent things but I’m definitely not happy enough with it.”
The sub-40-degree temperatures might have taken the spring out of the Spring League, but Manziel still had a little spring in his steps against other players. That was evident.
“He’s a guy who came in and gets everyone fired up practice,” said teammate Shaquille Lewis. “He’s a natural born leader.”
Ability isn’t really the question because he can play, but the real issue will come down to whether he’s willing to put in the work Monday through Saturday to become a pro again, assuming he has cleaned up has act outside the lines.
Rebuilding his image is a must, and to that end he is still working with Denise C. Michaels of the D.C.-based Sanderson Strategies Group. Michaels is a self-described “communications and reputation specialist working to position and protect clients in sports and business.” She has her work cut out because her client of several years must not only prove he still play in that league but he must also that he’s a changed man.
His camp is hoping this is a work in progress. It’s a big job ahead of them, as evidenced by the past week when Johnny stuck those size 15s in his mouth during an interview on “The Dan Patrick Show,” ripping the Cleveland Browns for drafting him with the 22nd overall pick.
“If Cleveland did any of their homework they would have known I wasn’t a guy who came in every day and watched film,” he said. “I wasn’t a guy who really knew the X’s and O’s of football.”
So how is today any different? Has he all of sudden become a fan of Jon Gruden’s “QB Camp”? Has his new lifestyle paved the way for film study? Those answers will come in time.
Manziel will be back at it Thursday for another game, and the public address announcer at the Palace promises better weather. If he makes it back to the NFL, this will be part of his comeback story.
He had to start somewhere.