Manziel brings life back to Cleveland


PERHAPS now Browns fans can stop talking about the Bernie Kosar years and the Kardiac Kids.

That’s about all many followers of the NFL’s version of Our Gang – the Cleveland Browns – had until Thursday night. They couldn’t brag about recent playoff appearances – a one-and-done effort in 2002 – since the expansion season of 1999. Most recent draft choices are collecting loads of money, and none of it is football related.

When Commissioner Roger Goodell called quarterback Johnny Manziel’s name with the 22nd pick to the Browns, relevancy returned to Cleveland. A franchise that is shunned by the Monday Night Football cameras will be the darling of the networks on future calls for national broadcasts.

You can love Manziel or hate him, but you can’t get rid of him. He’s here for a while, whether it’s as a baseball-cap wearing side kick to Brian Hoyer or the starter. Manziel will fuel the ratings for every radio talk show in northeastern Ohio and make for lively banter by elbow-bending bar dwellers.

Manziel’s celebrity status follows him wherever he goes. Although he didn’t flaunt it during an impressive in-person meeting with reporters Friday, no one in the room could deny its palpable presence.

Cornerback Justin Gilbert, who should have been the star of the press conference as the eighth overall pick, was impressed as he sat next to Manziel. Gilbert was more adoring fan than new teammate when informed by his mom Thursday night that the Browns had selected Manziel.

“I was on my way back to the hotel and heard his name and that we had Johnny Manziel,” Gilbert said. “I let down the window and started screaming. I’m excited to be on his team and expect nothing but the best from him.”

Gilbert’s reference to “his team” is interesting in that Jimmy Haslam signs the paychecks and Mike Pettine is the coach. That comment clearly presents the dilemma facing Hoyer, who, according to Pettine, should be the starter next season while Manziel observes. Hoyer could pull off a rare win in Pittsburgh on the opening Sunday of the season, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep fans from clamoring for Manziel.

Manziel might not start against the Steelers on Sept. 7, but he might be the man behind center when the AFC North rivals meet here Oct. 12. There’s too much electrifying game film of Manziel doing things quarterbacks aren’t supposed to do while at Texas A&M to tie him to the sideline.

It’s easy to see why Manziel was such a captivating player during two seasons at College Station. He worked the room during Friday’s press conference like a crafty politician. The self-confidence he exudes is undeniable. That “it” factor so often mentioned is written on him like a line of war paint.

The problem that Pettine has to keep from festering is the grandeur of the “Johnny Football” mystique. The quickest way to drive a wedge through a locker room is for a cocky 21-year-old to burst into the room armed with stockpiles of arrogance.

Manziel was reassuring in saying that won’t happen.

“Obviously I’m a rookie coming in,” Manziel said. “I’m low guy on the totem pole, and I know my place. More than anything, I need to show these guys with actions other than words or anything I could say to earn their respect. I’m going to do whatever I can to get these guys to be comfortable with me and that I want what’s best for this team.”

That might be more challenging than throwing a spiral through a December wind at First Energy Stadium. Not when Manziel hangs with Canadian recording artist Drake and is represented by LRMR and Maverick Carter, longtime associate of LeBron James.

When Manziel walked on stage at Radio City Music Hall after being drafted and made a gesture of rolling money in both fingers to the crowd, it was his way of communicating with Drake and others in his new circle of friends. Later that night he was pictured drinking champagne with family members in New York City.

Manziel sees nothing wrong with any of it.

“I am 21-years-old,” he said.

A glass of champagne is a long way from his antics as Johnny Football shortly after winning the Heisman Trophy. He promises to keep that person locked away from the public.

“Right now the main thing in my life is football and trying to be the best quarterback as possible,” Manziel said. “Everything else is extra and really there’s no time for it right now.”

That’s exactly what Pettine wants to hear.