Everyone has an opinion on Jonathan Paul Manziel. Some think he is distasteful, others idolize him and still others just want their own Scooby Doo costume. There is a fascinating article by Clay Travis that illustrates this point exactly. What you think of Johnny Manziel actually says a lot about you and your own values.
Since I am living in Houston the Manziel talk is at an all time high. So in case your dad is Christopher Walken and you are just now emerging from your 1970s bomb shelter, the Houston Texans have the number one overall pick and Johnny Football, the most exciting and controversial college player of the past two years is being discussed as a possible selection. I have been reading a lot pieces on Manziel lately but many of them seem to be more about grandstanding and page views than actually saying anything valuable about what Johnny Manziel will do for our fair city. This is something I plan to rectify.
Having the number one overall pick sometimes feels like more of a curse than a blessing. The alarmingly low success rates of even first round picks make you feel like the first overall pick just gives you the first chance to screw up. In regard to quarterbacks, a piece here at House of Houston highlighted that over the past decade only about 30% of the quarterbacks taken in the first round could be considered successful. There are many different definitions of success, but the point is that there is nothing guaranteed about the draft. Millions of dollars have been spent by 32 NFL teams to try to make the act of drafting college age athletes more of an exact science and for the most part those 32 NFL teams continue to fail more than they succeed. So with this in mind, I am not going to hypothesize as to whether or not Johnny will succeed or fail at the NFL level. My status as an amateur sports writer, who barely played in high school, and watches an exorbitant amount of football still doesn’t bestow me with what I feel is a better researched opinion than the well paid scouts of NFL franchises.
At this point I think the odds of Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, or Johnny Manziel succeeding in the long run are all about even. So let’s say, for the sake of argument, it’s guaranteed the Texans select a quarterback and that no matter which quarterback the Texans select, that quarterback will attain at least moderate success at his position. Think Cam Newton during his first two years; good but not great. Winning will obviously be the best way to help the city of Houston but I think Manziel brings more to the table for Houston than just a winning season.
So instead of comparing the college stats of David Carr and Johnny Manziel, let’s talk about something that matters.
BHS (Battered Houstonian Syndrome)
Houston reminds me a lot of Texas A&M before the Manziel years. I’ve been an Aggie for 7 years and a Houstonian for 16 so I’ve seen some ups and downs for both entities. There was a term that got used in Aggie circles called BAS or battered Aggie syndrome and it referred to the Aggie tendency to assume Murphy’s Law whenever it could apply. A&M hadn’t been considered a football program worth talking about since the late 90s and multiple times the program looked poised for a break out year only to have everything that could go wrong, go wrong. This only fed the common ideology that the University of Texas was the dominant school in Texas and led to massive inferiority complex that most non-Aggies like to cite today. Aggies used to spend more time aggressively defending their school than they did supporting it. Does that remind you of any fan base around here? Yeah I agree, battered Houstonians walk among us.
Well sufficed to say things have changed quite a bit since the day of the battered Aggie. Many folks are responsible for the miraculous turnaround of Texas A&M but none more prominent than Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin. The culture change that has occurred at that school is a sight to see. Students walk taller, coeds smile brighter, and the mascot poops more regularly. Now once again, winning is the ultimate reason for this turn around but winning programs have come, gone, and then been forgotten. What Johnny did is something that is quite a bit harder to forget. Johnny made it cool to be an Aggie.
I’ll get into how he did that soon but I want to set the table before sitting down to eat. Houstonians are a proud bunch. We appreciate our city and see all of the value and opportunity it offers us. But for some reason the outside world likes to sit down in the intersection of La Branch and Walker and take a dump directly on us. Traffic, polluted, flat, ghetto, industrial, and dirty are all words you hear from mainstream media or the general public to describe our beautiful city. Or on the flipside we get completely ignored by all the above despite being the 4th largest city in the United States. You think Craig Biggio gets into the hall of fame on the first ballot if he wasn’t in Houston his whole career? I sure as hell think so.
I swear I don’t understand how this viewpoint went national. Houston is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in America. Our food scene is second to none, we have the strongest real estate markets in the country, our job creation rate is through the roof, and the nightlife is a freaking blast. However, to go back to the Aggie analogy, Dallas is Houston’s UT. Dallas and Houston were built to be natural rivals. The two largest cities in the state each with their own respective teams for the majority of major league sports but Dallas gets more national and regional attention than it knows what to do with. There is a freaking ESPN Dallas; I mean come on, really? And then to name your baseball team the Texas Rangers? Bite me. High profile owners like Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban, and formerly Nolan Ryan saturate the news cycles with whatever ridiculous thing they uttered at a press conference while the 33-17 Rockets sit on the back burner for the most part. Dallas-ites (?) take the most pot shots at Houston but really it’s hard to argue with them. It’s been a while since Houston has won anything worth mentioning (sorry Dynamo) and from the outside looking in Dallas is pretty cool. They have all those LED lights on their buildings…that’s something I guess…
So before I get too far off topic, how can Johnny Manziel rectify any of this? Well very much in the same way he did for Texas A&M.
Johnny has become a larger than life character. And that is the kind of person Houston needs. Talent is great but talent alone is not what makes a great profile. Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA, and thankfully the Rockets were able to lure him here, but what has his move to Houston brought him? A slot as a reserve on the All-star team and so far not even a mention for defensive player of the year, an award he has competed for since his first year in the league. Houston needs someone who can’t be ignored, and Johnny Manziel has proven to be just that. You think the coverage Tim Tebow received was excessive? Wait until the media starts covering someone who actually plays quarterback. Everything from his celebrity mentors to his late night adventures will bring insane amounts of publicity Houston’s way and as everybody knows 15 minutes can save you 15%…wait that’s not it…oh there is no such thing as bad publicity. As a Houstonian I’m not looking for just a winning team (circa 2012 Texans), I’m looking for a reason for the outside world to put their eyes on us, I’m looking for a face of the city. A face that makes it cool to be a Houstonian again.
As I stated at the beginning, I’m assuming which ever quarterback the Texans draft will achieve at least moderate success in his first years with the team. Do you think Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles is the guy to pick the city of Houston up and put it on a pedestal? And that leads me to my next point.
The truest super stars in sports are the players that get put into positions that practically guarantee failure, only to rise above and achieve greatness. Players like these define the cities that they play in. Michael Jordan and Chicago, Tom Brady and Boston, Joe Namath and New York. I’m not comparing Johnny Manziel to players of this caliber because for now everything that Johnny has accomplished has been at the amateur level; the highest level of amateur play, the SEC, but amateur nonetheless. What I do think is worth talking about is how heavily the odds were stacked against him going into the 2013 college football season. Coming off of his Heisman campaign the media and Johnny himself put a large bullseye on his back. The Aggies had lost most of their starting defense, as well as the starting right tackle and his safety blanket of a wide receiver.
“He won the Heisman in a down year.”
“Now that SEC defenses have had a year to scout him, he is in trouble.”
“All the partying has distracted from football and alienated his teammates, they won’t play for him.”
“He is a bad kid, how dare he make money off of his own name.”
Blah, blah, blah.
Johnny Manziel came out and had an even better year than his Heisman campaign, against arguably a harder schedule. Check the stats for yourself.
In order to be a true superstar you obviously have to be very talented. The names I mentioned above did not reach their level of greatness just because of their mental fortitude. But without it where would they be? Houston puts a lot of pressure on its football players especially. As has been proven time and time again, not everyone is cut out for life under the microscope (see Mark Sanchez, JaMarcus Russell…etc).
A player that makes the impossible possible is rare but not THAT rare. Big game pitchers, 2 minute drill quarterbacks, and last second shot takers exist in their respective leagues at all times it seems. Houston has had a player of such a caliber in each situation at least once throughout its sporting history. But right now with the exception of maaaaaybe James Harden, Houston is a superstar wasteland. Dwight Howard is a fantastic player but probably one of the weakest minded sports figures I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The Astros are the Astros for now, and Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt are the best at their position but their positions aren’t the ones of the most consequence. We need a mentally tough premiere star at a premiere position. If Johnny Manziel fails it won’t be because of his mental makeup. He has what it takes to be a superstar on and off the field and he has proven that to those of us that have paid close enough attention to his career. And since there is no guarantee as to which of the three highly touted quarterback prospects will display the most talent at the next level, I will put my money on the player that has already proven he can handle the limelight, regardless of how brightly it glares.
Houston deserves to be recognized as one of America’s finest cities but unfortunately just like the college landscape, the prominence of your program (city) is heavily based upon the success of your athletic teams. Winning is an integral part of growing Houston’s brand but alone it achieves very little. Johnny Manziel brings with him a larger than life persona and mental grit that would advance this city’s cause further than any other prospect in this 2014 NFL draft and because of this, it would be a mistake to pass on him with the number one overall pick. Let him do for Houston, what he was able to do for Texas A&M.
I look forward to the day when Houstonians no longer defend themselves, but instead head over to Reliant to watch opposing teams TRY to defend against Johnny.