Great nicknames last forever. When someone mentions The Steel Curtain, football fans flash back to see the black and gold Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the 1970s. You’ve probably heard about The Dream Team, who captured the 1992 Olympic gold medal, winning games by an average of 44 points. These nicknames are earned through sustained success and greatness. Then, there are nicknames like Johnny Football.
The wonder kid from Tyler, Texas earned his nickname with the Texas A&M Aggies after being named the Heisman Trophy winner back in 2012. Since that social movement crowned him as king, Johnny Manziel washed out of the National Football League, played in something called “The Spring League,” then got traded by one Canadian Football League team and was cut by another. After all these years, the Johnny Football name has lost its meaning, and Manziel is becoming more of a myth than the legend he once was.
Despite not proving that he actually plays at an elite level since college, Manziel signed with the Memphis Express of The Alliance of American Football. The three-year, $250,000 contract — standard for every player in the AAF — gives Manziel time to grow and get back in the NFL picture for the first time since 2015.
Manziel’s issues with sobriety and the spotlight are well documented, but he’s said on numerous occasions that those problems are in the past. This isn’t about the personal struggle he’s gone through to get back to playing football, this is about his ability on the field.
Enough is enough. He’s only Johnny Football because he owns a United States trademark on the name.
It was a publicity stunt when the Cleveland Browns selected him as a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. It was a publicity stunt when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats first signed him to a CFL contract in 2018. It was a publicity stunt when the Montreal Alouettes traded for him, then watched him throw five touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight CFL appearances.
How many more teams are going to fall for this trick?
In college, Manziel was successful because attributes like mobility, instincts, arm strength, and the ability to sell jerseys made him a high-profile quarterback prospect. Teams refused to accept that he’d never proven how to throw from the pocket and couldn’t read a defense. Manziel’s constant reliance on his legs to make plays made him a star in college, but that doesn’t work in the pros.
Did you often see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady running around like a maniac and slinging wild jump balls? Exactly.
“We completed extensive background work to determine whether it would be appropriate for Johnny to play this season, and after consulting with many people familiar with his situation, we concluded that it would be good for him to resume his pro football career here at The Alliance.”
— AAF co-founder Bill Polian, h/t The New York Times
Christian Hackenberg started the year at quarterback for Memphis, but he was benched by coach Mike Singletary. The Express watched his replacement, quarterback Zach Mettenberger, go down with an ankle injury in a loss to the Salt Lake Stallions this past Saturday night. After him, some guy named Brandon Silvers finished the game. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but this is a little drastic.
Johnny Football was a great college player. Hell, he might be one of the best college quarterbacks we’ll ever see. That doesn’t make him a professional football player, especially after all these years with zero success.
His final shot has arrived with Memphis, but this one has to be it.
Week 6 AAF Standings
Orlando Apollos (5-1)
Birmingham Iron (4-2)
Atlanta Legends (2-4)
Memphis Express (1-5)
San Antonio Commanders (4-2)
San Diego Fleet (3-3)
Arizona Hotshots (3-3)
Salt Lake Stallions (2-4)