To some Johnny Manziel is the Miley Cyrus of college football. The sophomore from Kerrville, Texas is riding the title of Heisman nationwide, basking in the spotlight as the first real collegiate superstar celebrity in the social media age.
While a good deal of that fame comes as a result of his ability between the lines, a growing majority of “Johnny Football’s” fame stems from his off-the-field antics, a list that ranges from frat parties to arrests.
Senior Cory Eastwood acknowledges Manziel’s shortcomings off the field, but suggests that his performance on the field is a redeeming quality.
“He just makes plays happen, that is what he does,” Eastwood said. “He is ignorant off the field, but what really matters is that he can take over a game at any moment.”
In a period where Twitter and Instagram serve as documentaries, Manziel propelled himself to the top of college football. However, while his name is as household as Tide and Febreze, this timeline will provide insight as to why Johnny Football draws just as many enemies as admirers.
The story begins early February 2011, when Johnny Manziel switched his commitment from the University of Oregon to Texas A&M University. In the rearview of then-Aggie signal caller Ryan Tannehill, Manziel was given a redshirt for his freshman year, delaying the saga that is Johnny Football for a few short months.
Upon Tannehill’s departure, however, Manziel jumped straight into the thick of things, both as a competitor for the starting quarterback position and as a violator of Texas law. On June 29, 2012, Manziel was arrested for disorderly conduct by fighting, failure to identify and possession of a fake driver’s license.
Despite his early off-the-field troubles, on Aug. 15, 2012, Manziel was officially announced as the starter for the opening game of the 2012 Aggie season against Louisiana Tech University, a game moved to Oct. 13th in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.
On Sept. 17th the fairly unknown freshman was revealed to the world, throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns and adding 124 yards and two more scores on the ground in a 48-3 win over Southern Methodist University. Manziel would reel in Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors, the first of 12 SEC awards he would claim in his debut season.
Two weeks later against Arkansas, Johnny Football set a school record with 453 yards through the air with three touchdowns and 104 yards and another score on the ground. This performance set new records for both the SEC and A&M for total offense in a game (557 yards), and earned Manziel SEC Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week honors.
After another two weeks, in the rescheduled game against Louisiana Tech, Manziel re-broke his own total offense records, throwing for 395 yards and three TDs and adding 181 rushing yards and another score. He also added the Walter Camp National Player of the Week Award to his already extensive collection.
Halloween of ’12 reintroduced the off-field antics of Johnny Football, somewhat innocent for now. Pictures began to surface on the Internet of Manziel in the Northgate District dressed as Scooby-Doo, a gesture that was accepted as playful by the public and established Manziel as an Internet focus.
On Nov. 10, 2012, Manziel gifted America with what has since been labeled as his “Heisman Moment” against Alabama. As underdogs to the top-ranked team in the country, Manziel led the Aggies with nearly 400 total yards of offense in the upset of the season. His stunning performance demanded the attention of America, and for the first time the freshman began to creep into Heisman conversations.
In December 2012, Manziel made history. For the first time, a freshman accepted the Heisman Trophy, an honor routinely given to veterans, sparking debates and controversy as to the merits of Manziel. The trophy would serve as the stone that created the unforeseen ripple effects soon to follow.
Freshman Jared Price alluded to a certain allowance that is given off the field to players who are widely regarded as the best in their sport.
“The number one reason why I like Manziel is because I enjoy watching the best compete,” Price said. “I love Tiger [Woods], I love LeBron [James] and I like Johnny Football. Tiger has done way worse things off the course than Manziel has dreamed of anyways.”
The rest of December served as the beginning of Manziel’s Heisman tour. After sitting courtside in Houston for a Rockets game, Manziel tweeted a picture posing with James Harden in the locker room.
The following night, Manziel was courtside for the Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks game, sparking speculation as to how a college student was paying for such high-dollar tickets.
For many, this is where the Manziel Twitter-frenzy began. Riddled with comments and rumors, Manziel fired off a tweet to subdue his opposition, saying:
“Bought myself a little birthday present tonight stop hating #HEATvsMAVS”
From that point forward, Manziel began to enter the public eye more as a superstar celebrity than a college athlete.
In his final return to the field as a freshman, Manziel manhandled the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl 41-3, posting a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards and putting to rest any thoughts of a Heisman slump.
Not allowing for any time between his Heisman season and the offseason, Manziel posted a picture that same night of himself and two friends at WinStar World Casino holding stacks of winnings.
The very next day, TMZ.com released photographs of Manziel enjoying Dom Perignon at a 21-and-over Dallas-area nightclub. In his own defense, Manziel was quoted as having suggested that this was not illegal since his “parents were present at the establishment.”
On Jan. 24, his Internet stock was heightened even further after he featured in the latest Dude Perfect trick-shot video on YouTube, also solidifying his social media celebrity status.
Throughout the week of Feb. 3, Johnny Football took in the atmospheres of both the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. His personal Instagram account documented interactions with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, the stars of Duck Dynasty and NFL wild child Rob Gronkowski, who is no stranger to the media.
Later that month it was revealed, controversially, that Johnny Manziel’s class schedule was made up of four online classes and nothing else. The “reason”: Manziel did not want his “presence to cause a distraction” in the classroom.
In March, Manziel’s family filed to trademark the name “Johnny Football,” just before Manziel made headlines for initiating a scuffle with a graduate assistant after throwing an interception during a practice.
March also served as the start of Manziel’s self-imposed “Twitter timeout,” which has only been broken once – four days later when Manziel uploaded a picture with LeBron after a win over the Spurs.
Also scattered throughout March was Manziel’s well-known trip to Toronto to take in a Drake concert and subsequent spring break trip to Cabo where pictures surfaced of Manziel with several bikini-clad fans and a henna tattoo of the Texas Longhorns logo.
To kick April off, Manziel was photographed inside his car with a marijuana cigarette, although later proven to have been Photoshopped. He also added a trip to New York to take in a Yankees game and UFC 59 in the same day, and threw the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game before Sunday Night Baseball.
In May, Manziel threw another first pitch, this time for the San Diego Padres by re-enacting the scramble, fumble and touchdown pass that won the Alabama game. He also blasted a homerun during batting practice.
Manziel then spent the rest of May shrouded in rumor portraying him as a Superman. He shot a 79 at Pebble Beach, and supposedly completed 25 out of 27 passes at a George Whitfield quarterback session while blindfolded.
June brought about an infamous tweet on the heels of Manziel receiving a ticket in College Station and, reportedly, having his new Mercedes-Benz keyed. He tweeted:
“B——- like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave college station… whenever it may be.”
July, however, was the highlight of Manziel’s troubles in the summer. After missing a morning meeting, Manziel was asked to leave the Manning Passing Academy. While this appears a forgivable mistake, pictures from the night before of drinking at a club allowed for speculation that a hangover kept Manziel from the morning festivities.
This scare apparently did not last long, however, as a video was released soon after of Manziel being rejected from a fraternity party at the University of Texas, showered with both beer and words.
July brought with it an appearance at the ESPY’s in Los Angeles, as well as the spotlight at the SEC Media Day. However, a feature article written by Wright Thompson in ESPN The Magazine was a low-key magnifying glass on the life of Johnny Manziel.
In August, Outside the Lines released information suggesting that Manziel had violated an NCAA violation for allegedly accepting a flat, five-figure fee from memorabilia broker Drew Tieman. The NCAA opened an investigation, and Manziel was suspended for the first half of the opening game of the Heisman’s return.
The suspension did not seem to humble the redshirt sophomore, who entered the game in the second half with a salute to the cheering crowd. He later celebrated a touchdown with a gesture representing money, and was spotted “air signing” to the opposing defense in reference to the autograph allegations.
The worst came in the fourth quarter when Manziel was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct during an argument with a player of the opposing defense. Texas A&M Head Coach Mike Sumlin removed Manziel from the game and the defending Heisman Trophy winner spent both the beginning and the end of his sophomore return on the bench for shortcomings in character.
”He is very irresponsible, immature and disrespectful off the field, but he has swag,” Price said.