Believe it or not, there was actually once a time in my life when I watched “ESPN First Take” on a regular basis. I’m not proud of it, and in fact, I’m a little embarrassed even bringing it up right now.
But it’s true. Every weekday morning, I would go out and get something for breakfast to bring back to the house, and then at 10 a.m. Eastern, I would sit down in front of the TV, turn the channel to ESPN2, and eat my food while I watched “First Take.” It was like my daily morning ritual. For some odd reason, there was something about Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith that I thoroughly enjoyed. I don’t know if it was the way they debated sports as if it was life or death, or if it was their endless bickering with each other and their slew of random guests on the show, or if it was just because I thought they had really cool jobs, getting to talk about sports for a living.
(For the record, I don’t watch the show anymore, and I don’t watch Skip’s new show on Fox Sports either. I eventually came to my senses.)
What’s my point of this whole thing? I was at the height of my “First Take” fandom around the time when Johnny Manziel was playing quarterback at Texas A&M and preparing for the NFL Draft. I knew everything there was to know about Johnny Football. Why is that? Because roughly 85 percent of the show was just Skip spewing nonsense about how Manziel was going to be the greatest thing to ever happen to the NFL. According to Skip, if Manziel wasn’t taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, it would be the biggest travesty in the history of sports.
Seriously, I wanted to tell Skip to shut up and get a room. The Texans had the first pick in the draft that year, and I remember Skip tweeting something along the lines of “Mark my words, if the Houston Texans do not draft Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick, they will forever regret it” or something of that nature. It was basically just a classic Skip Bayless tweet, trying to make himself sound like the most intelligent football mind in the world, when in reality, he’s actually terrible … and I mean terrible … at judging which college quarterbacks will actually be successful in the NFL. I’m pretty sure Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne from “Dumb and Dumber” could analyze quarterbacks as well as Skip.
But it’s not like Skip was wrong about Manziel’s talent. The guy was a natural. He had a God-given ability to play quarterback at the college level. That’s why when he was at Texas A&M, Manziel became the most-hyped college football player in America. He became the first freshman, and only the fifth player in NCAA history, to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. He also won both the Davey O’Brien Award and the Heisman Trophy that year, becoming the first freshman to ever win either award. When you think about it, that is truly remarkable.
But if you are going to have success in the NFL, you have to actually have your head on your shoulders. That’s where Skip’s confidence in Manziel went wrong. Manziel was in the news for off-the-field controversies just about as frequently as he was for his play on the field. He was arrested before his freshman season at Texas A&M and charged with three misdemeanors, which stemmed from a fight that he had been involved in. That was before he even became a superstar.
Once Manziel was thrust into the national spotlight, he became well-known for his arrogance, his excessive partying, and alcohol abuse. Usually someone with this kind of reputation is going to have a tough time finding success at the professional level, because the NFL is a different beast than college football. And NFL teams realized this. They realized that Manziel would be more trouble than he was worth, even if he was a phenomenal football talent. Success in professional sports takes more than just talent. You also have to have your mind in the right place.
This is why 21 picks went by on draft night in 2014, and every single one of them passed on Manziel – including the Cleveland Browns once, until they finally gave in and selected him with the 22nd pick after trading up.
(Naturally, a disaster like Johnny Manziel’s NFL career could only happen to the city of Cleveland. Sorry guys.)
Manziel was a member of the Browns for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and those two years were filled with nothing but poor performances on the field and numerous controversies off the field. Who could’ve ever seen that coming? Oh yeah, that’s right. Everybody in America, except for Skip Bayless.
The Browns released Manziel in March of 2016, and his life had become such a mess with drugs and alcohol that it even led his own father to say things like “Hopefully he doesn’t die before he comes to his senses” and “I hope he goes to jail, maybe it’s the best thing for him.” I mean, does it get more intense than that? Clearly, Manziel couldn’t handle the superstardom that was heaped upon him at a young age, and it caused his life to completely spiral out of control.
What’s my reason for bringing all of this up? Two years later in 2018, Manziel claims to have his life back on the right track after undergoing counseling and rehabilitation sessions, and he’s now attempting an NFL comeback at age 25. He recently worked out at the Texas A&M Pro Day, and the New England Patriots were there to check him out. Not only were they there, but they actually met with both before and after his workout. Everybody knows the Pats are in the market for a quarterback of the future, since Tom Brady will be turning 41 in August.
The intrigue with Manziel is understandable. I mean, he’s Johnny Football. If he could somehow find a way to recreate the magic he had on the football field during his freshman year at Texas A&M and actually go on to have a decent career in the NFL, it would be one of the most incredible comeback stories ever. It would maybe even be something that Hollywood would make into a movie at some point in the 2040s.
The problem: these comeback stories don’t usually work out. Once you’re stuck with the reputation, it doesn’t usually go away. Bringing Manziel to New England would create the media circus of all media circuses, and God knows Bill Belichick isn’t overly fond of the media. The Patriots are already under enough scrutiny on a daily basis as it is. Would it really be a good idea to add Johnny Manziel to that fire?
And also, it would be a humongous gamble. Manziel’s pro football career got off to an absolute disaster of a start, and it’s rare that athletes actually turn that around completely. In order for that to happen, Manziel would’ve had to undergo a complete reconstruction of his personality. How often does something like that actually work out?
You get my point here. The Pats should stay away from Manziel, and I think they will do just that. Ultimately, Belichick will decide that there are other, and better, options.
My advice to all NFL teams is simple: if you’re looking for a quarterback of the future, look to the draft. Don’t take a chance on a project that already failed miserably the first time.