Johnny Manziel. A name that invokes a plethora of opinions and thoughts. A college football phenom who looked like he had an immensely bright future ahead of him only to have his off-field demeanor tarnish his professional career and reputation.
His journey was recently documented on the new Netflix documentary called "Untold: Johnny Football." A major component of the documentary was Manziel's roller coaster relationship with Nate Fitch. But who is Nate Fitch and how does he fit in Manziel's tumultuous journey?
Manziel's Best Friend and Business Partner: Nate Fitch
Manziel and Fitch met in middle school in their hometown of Kerrville, Texas, during the mid-2000s. Fitch knew they would be friends because Manziel liked what he liked: "Video games, football and girls." While Manziel found national recruitment intrigue during his time at Tivy High School, Fitch was by his side, mostly to have someone to party with. In the documentary, Fitch says that the outcome of the game didn't matter to Manziel, it was what happened after the game that Manziel cared about. "Win or lose, we booze."
The relationship changed drastically after Manziel led the Texas A&M Aggies to a massive upset over Alabama in November 2012. Given no shot to win, the 15th-ranked Aggies beat the No. 1 Crimson Tide, 29-24. Manziel went 24-for-31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 18 times for 92 yards. He finished the game with a 97 QBR. His performance in the game shot him into the national spotlight. He became an instant celebrity overnight.
With this new found fame, Fitch saw a business opportunity and essentially became Manziel's manager. In the doc, Manziel said "everything went through" Nate. While Manziel's jersey was becoming one of the best-selling items for Adidas, Fitch looked for ways for Manziel to cash in on his fame.
At the 2013 BCS National Championship Game in Miami, the duo were able to find that source of income through signing memorabilia. They would make multiple trips to Miami throughout the offseason to sign more memorabilia, and to make the money, Fitch felt Manziel should've been making through his name, image and likeness. From there, both Manziel and Fitch could be seen throughout the country, at celebrity parties, clubs, and even courtside at NBA games. During this time, the nickname "Uncle Fitch" was donned. Fitch also set up interviews through back channels that weren't associated with the school. Anything you wanted from Johnny football, Uncle Nate was your guy.
Fitch became very important for Manziel when the NCAA got word of possible violations and investigated Manziel for receiving payment for autographs. Fitch devised a plan to get Manziel out of trouble, which he goes into detail about in the documentary.
Uncle Nate's Plan to Cover For Manziel
The first part of the plan was to take pictures of Manziel signing autographs to publicly show he wasn't getting paid to do so. In reality, Fitch convinced Manziel to launder payments through Manziel's grandfather. Manziel would give his grandfather the cash and have his grandfather write him out checks he could cash at the bank.
The second part of the plan was to explain how Manziel could afford such a lavish lifestyle if he wasn't getting paid to sign autographs. Fitch came up with the elaborate story that Manziel's family was extremely wealthy. Fitch described it as "the biggest spin," convincing the country that the Manziels had oil money. The plan worked, as Manziel was only suspended for half a game to start the 2012-2013 season after the NCAA couldn't find concrete evidence that Manziel received payments for autographs.
Fitch and Manziel's relationship became rocky after Manziel announced he was entering the draft. Despite what he felt as being "super loyal" to Manziel, it was clear that outside voices didn't want him in the picture leading up to draft day.
"I think I was considered a really risky person," Fitch said in the documentary.
Articles attacking Fitch's character started to come out. Wright Thompson wrote for ESPN in 2013 and called Fitch "a Turtle who wants to be an E," referencing characters from the TV show Entourage on HBO. It appears Manziel's new team were distancing themselves from Fitch, in hopes it would help Manziel's draft stock.
Manziel and Fitch have not talked since then, but Fitch still remains loyal to Manziel. In 2016, when it seemed that Manziel was spiraling out of control with drug and alcohol abuse, Fitch publicly shared his concern for his friend and pleaded for Manziel to seek help. In the documentary, Fitch says he didn't care about the business aspect of things.
"I loved Johnny, he was my best friend," Fitch said.
The story of Johnny Football can't be told without Uncle Nate.
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.