Manziel closes chapter on ‘Johnny Football’
BEREA, Ohio — Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel held a funeral Wednesday for Johnny Football.
“I’m trying to really close a chapter on my life and move forward and really continue to build on the things that I’ve done throughout this offseason,” Manziel said in his first interview since Dec. 29 after the Browns wrapped up their second practice of mandatory minicamp.
Manziel admitted he became overwhelmed by the Johnny Football persona he helped create when he took college football by storm and won the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M in 2012.
The hype, celebrity and partying became too much to handle. It played a part in his nightmarish rookie season with the Browns after they drafted him 22nd overall last year, and it ultimately contributed to him spending more than 10 weeks this offseason in an inpatient rehabilitation facility specializing in alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
“I think it just overtook who I was just as person, too,” Manziel said. “I think, at times, Johnny Football probably took over me a little bit, too, and I bought into that. I think I didn’t do my best to hush things down, push down the hype. I think at times I welcomed it with immaturity and just accepted that a little bit, and that’s my fault.
“At the end of the day, everything that happened last year is not on anybody else but myself. I guess I wasn’t prepared to handle the type of spotlight that I got and all the hype that came with it. So moving forward, I’m trying to do my part to push that down, suffocate that a little bit and just try to live my life and come out here, and I’m happy being back out here on the football field, I’m happy being back out here with these guys and I’m excited to come to work every day.”
In an effort to bury Johnny Football, Manziel vowed to no longer flash his popular “money sign” hand gesture. In the past, he would routinely rub his fingers against his thumbs after making plays on the gridiron or while posing for photographs. He even did it on stage at Radio City Music Hall when he was drafted.
“The money sign will not be back,” Manziel said. “I will not be making it.”
Manziel, 22, politely told reporters he wouldn’t discuss details of his private life, but it’s clear the issues he faced off the field last year interfered with his job. He led the offense to just three points in six quarters as a starter and finished 0-2 after taking veteran Brian Hoyer’s spot in the lineup in December.
He described his rookie season as a time he is not “proud of, not one that I want to look back on very much.” His poor performances and behavior away from the field cast a large shadow of doubt on whether he’ll ever live up to the expectations the Browns placed upon him when they traded up four spots to pick him.
“Obviously, last year was, in my mind, for me personally, a disaster,” Manziel said. “I didn’t come out and perform.
“I think it’s even my fault — the way that I’ve built myself up. I set myself up for a little bit of failure in that regard if I didn’t come out as a rookie and really perform.”
Manziel thanked the Browns for their support throughout this offseason. He said his teammates embraced him when he rejoined the team after rehab and acknowledged his TMZ lifestyle has put many of them in difficult positions in the past.
“My private life has been out there to a maximum degree,” Manziel said. “There’s no doubt about that. So for me, one thing that I want to do moving forward in this offseason is just try to quiet that to the best of my ability — whatever I can do to help quiet the noise that has surrounded this team and surrounded myself. I don’t want that anymore. I just want to be another player on this team that is in here trying to get better and trying to be successful. We want to win here.
“Off the field, I was a little bit of a distraction. I feel bad about that today. I feel bad about that throughout the last months of my life really thinking back and seeing how much of my life outside of this field and outside of this locker room was documented. It’s not fair for [Pro Bowl cornerback] Joe Haden to be having to answer questions about me every day. It’s not fair for [All-Pro left tackle] Joe Thomas and all these guys to just continue to have questions asked about me. I don’t think that’s fair at all, and I don’t want that.”
Manziel has promised to change before, only to fall short of delivering.
After he landed on injured reserve last year, he didn’t show up to receive treatment on his hamstring the morning of Dec. 27 — the day before the season finale — at team headquarters because he stayed out too late the previous night partying with friends. The Browns reportedly sent security to rouse Manziel at his former downtown Cleveland apartment because they couldn’t reach him by phone.
Two days later, he told reporters he needed to “look myself in the mirror and hold myself accountable and start making some deals with myself.”
But the next day, a video of Manziel hanging out with friends at a nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla., appeared on social media. His partying continued during stops in Houston and Aspen, Colo. He checked into rehab Jan. 28 and news of his release broke April 11.
Manziel realizes he must earn trust this time around.
“Actions speak way louder than words,” he said. “So as much as I may have intended to do some of those things [I promised to do] last year and really truly wanted to, I don’t think I was in a position personally. Now I think I’m doing the right things and taking the right steps necessary for me to put myself in the best position possible to be exactly what this organization drafted me to be. I don’t want to give up on that fact at all. I’m not giving up on the fact that they brought me in here as a first-round pick and want to see something out of me. That’s not lost on me and hopefully not other people in this locker room, either.”
Manziel has been working as the No. 2 quarterback throughout spring practices. Coach Mike Pettine has labeled veteran journeyman Josh McCown the favorite to head into the coming season as the starter. Last year, Pettine pitted Manziel against Hoyer in training camp, but this year, there has been no hint of a quarterback competition.
“Obviously that’s Coach Pettine’s decision,” Manziel said. “But for now, I’m just doing all that I can do … to try and get better.”
Manziel has been inconsistent this spring. He fumbled three shotgun snaps on Tuesday but rebounded with a better showing Wednesday, highlighted by an impressive back-shoulder throw for a completion to rookie running back Duke Johnson in team drills.
Late last year, Manziel admitted he didn’t take his job seriously enough. Now he’s focused on improving his dedication and commitment, spending much more time at the team’s training facility, even when the players are off practice.