What do you write about for sports on July 20? Let's see... tennis? Nah. Bicycle racing? I think not. Baseball? That won't get interesting for a while yet. Hockey? Gone. Basketball? If you want to write about LeBron, be my guest. NASCAR? I don't know much about it, but we have someone who does. Soccer? I think we've had our fill. What's that leave? Football isn't even in preseason camp yet.
All of this leaves us with dribs and drabs. Stuff like Richard Sherman on Twitter. A reformed Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson playing out his career in Canada. The Rangers suddenly the worst team in baseball. And Johnny Football.... now there's the germ of an idea!
The icon of Texas college ball for the past few years, Johnny Manziel is a newsmaker. Clearly wanting to play pro ball in his home state, he instead slipped enough for the Cleveland Browns to snag him. He rode into town on a white horse, garnering LeBron James like attention from the declining, victory-starved city.
Once the Metropolis of the Western Reserve, now the Mistake by the Lake, Cleveland has seen better times. In the industrially charged postwar era, the city seemed to spawn winners. Bill Veeck came to town and immediately the Indians were in enormous Municipal Stadium, filling it to the brim and winning a pennant and a World Series. Paul Brown, fresh out of WWII tactical planning (something a lot of football coaches did during the war), founded the Browns franchise in the AAFC and drove the NFL Rams (a good team) out of town to a waiting LA. The Browns went to the title game for ten straight years, winning seven, all four in the AAFC and three out of six in the NFL.
Even after Bill Veeck was forced to sell his Indians interests to fund a divorce and leave town, the Indians continued to prosper. The 1954 Yankees won 102 games, more than they had won in any of their prior five seasons, all of them Series winning campaigns --- and finished 9 games behind the Indians who went 111-43. Even when the Tribe and the Brownies weren't winning championships they were elite contenders with big stars.
How things can change. Last year's Indians gave hope for the future though, and the Indians have had a couple of contending runs in the past two decades. The Browns were contenders too --- until they weren't the Browns anymore. The Ravens have continued to win at a decent pace, but few in Cleveland care.
Give them credit. The city managed to pressure the stone cold NFL into getting them a new team, one replete with all the paperwork to make them appear a continuation of the departed heroes.
One problem: so far they're not, and it's been a while. A couple of times they've risen with a promising season, only to inexplicably sink back into the quagmire. Few teams have had such a wealth of picks in the draft year after year. Most have been squandered.
Front office and coaching chaos have played the major role. Drafts have been the brain child of a different regime marching to a different drummer over and over. This year's was the first of the latest such regime, as the incompetent Holmgren organization faded away finally. Remember them? They traded UP from 4th to 3rd to get Trent Richardson. This year, the new guys got Johnny.
To be sure, the Browns drafted plenty more. And to be sure, they've been in need of a franchise quarterback since day one of the great reawakening. Brian Hoyer may have been the best-looking thing they saw for a long time, but he played about six quarters of football before the tidal wave of pass rushers finally ran him down. No wonder Manziel was welcomed.
But Manziel's triumphant entry into the city wasn't without its flaws. Media types proclaimed him arrogant for not cueing into their leading questions. The Browns instantly began a campaign to quell enthusiasm by proclaiming from the highest team sources that he wasn't the starter, nor deserved to be from his workout performances. All of it rolled off him seemingly, perhaps a sign that the kid had the stuff to shrug off the torrent of attention, good and bad, that follows him. Or not.
More recent weeks have seen the media opining on his choice of weekend venues. Seems all that money has him in Vegas a lot. But the media opining has generally been of the 'so what, let him enjoy himself for a while' bent. What's so bad about a kid (and he is a kid) wanting to splurge a little before getting down to business?
No one comes to mind more in all this than Joe Namath, the Alabama whiz who took the pro football world by storm by signing with the recently-renamed Jets for then-absurd money after the 1964 college football season. He liked to party, and immediately became Broadway Joe. Was he shy? Nope. Flamboyant? Yup. Good? You bet he was.
There's the rub. Namath was a true can't-miss, and even he spent a couple of seasons with training wheels on. No quarterback in this year's draft is a can't miss. The past several drafts had been inundated with can't-misses. How're they doing?
Wilson and Kaepernick are doing ok out west. Luck has been a Godsend for a dismantled Colts powerhouse. The rest?
Newton finally had a winning season, and did it by sublimating the idiot 'Superman' routine in favor of managing his team. But when the playoffs came around Superman returned and ate kryptonite. Sam Bradford and the Rams have had ups and downs so far, mostly downs. Tannehill looks good in Miami. Then he doesn't. Guys like Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert... fading away. Griffin was dynamic his first season, used his legs like he was at Baylor, and got crushed. Last year he was a shadow of his former self. Geno Smith? EJ Manuel? Others? Many of these guys would be on the practice squad if not for the high picks spent on them.
Is Johnny different? Maybe. His college heroics seem to show that certain something everyone, especially Cleveland, wants. Those intangibles. That winning way.
How good he is will uniquely determine how long he lasts in the NFL, though. Namath was very very good and knew it. That attitude spawns not just adoration but revulsion, and he had legions of non-fans waiting for him to slip up. Once he was no longer at the top of his game, mostly by virtue of the knees he'd ruined scrambling at Bama, he was a goner. But it took Namath years to burn his political capital. Johnny has been torching his from day one.
It's a different world. Namath was hounded by cameras, but most of them were huge affairs carried by professionals. If someone on the street managed to snap a Kodak, it wasn't just a matter of emailing it to the local scandal sheet.
Today, every Tom, Dick and Harriet is armed with an HD videocam, an HD still cam, and a sound recorder. They're called 'software apps', and all fit into a pocket. Ah, the wonders of the microprocessor and its peripherals. And you can bet, with someone as allergic to anonymity as Manziel, that everywhere he goes he has several dozen of the things aimed at him.
How then does somebody already roundly criticized for hanging out in Vegas instead of cramming for his pro football career (hardly a trivial matter these days, especially for a quarterback), manage to get himself videoed rolling up a $20 in a public restroom? All of that 'so what, give the kid a break' sports media wagon-circling just went out the window.
The past week has been full of condescending commentary about proof, fairness... you name it. And there's nothing illegal about rolling up a twenty. But unless you're from a much older generation (even that's a maybe), there's not much doubt about what that means 99.9% of the time. And it's not origami.
What he was clearly doing is disturbing enough to an employer paying millions (to an athlete no less). But what is just as disturbing is the stupidity required to do such a thing, even if it was just rolling up a bill (which it wasn't). In front of others? With smartphones? Who instantly publicized the scene? "Manziel Snorts Up" is news on the calibre of "Man Bites Dog."
NFL damage control will try to hold this down, and has been doing so with moderate success. But sheez, Louise, those counting on a dedicated team contributor (if not much more) for all that money must be having second thoughts.... like maybe, "how often does he do this when there's no camera around?" or "is this guy capable of thinking at all?" Perhaps "is his health in question?"
I was on this guy's bandwagon as a pick for the Texans, his natural landing spot. It is telling to me that Houston passed him up (for a defensive end?) despite having traded their veteran quarterback to Oakland. I don't think their plan was to bring in Ryan Fitzpatrick to replace Matt Schaub. I doubt that plan A for the team that couldn't score last year was to get another bookend to go with JJ Watt. That smells like Plan B --- get the best player available. I also don't think the plan was to just hand the keys to Case Keenum.
I have a feeling they may have found something out about Johnny that confirmed their worst suspicions at some point, and acted accordingly. Hopefully it wasn't what it sure looks like.