Johnny Manziel: 'The bigger the stage, the better he plays'

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by TED MADDEN

WFAA

Posted on September 16, 2013 at 12:19 AM

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In the heart of Aggieland, there is unconditional love for Johnny Manziel. But fans there aren't blind to the controversy surrounding him.

"If you walk into our MSE, you'll see the words of integrity and leadership and respect, and things like that," said current student Kiri Isaac. "And ... ehhhhh. I don't know. I'm torn."

"It's questionable. He's young," said Keely Moore, a fan who was tailgating with friends before the Alabama game. "We all had fun in college."

We asked one fan whether she would worry if Manziel were her son. "No," said Betsy Isaac, Texas A&M class of 1980. "As a matter of fact, I will say this: I think about everything Johnny has done, and if that's all my two boys had ever done. I'd be okay, I'd be okay. I really would!"

Andrew Darko played basketball at Texas A&M a few years ago and was among the tailgaters. "I think he's a great athlete," he said. "And as an athlete myself, you have to have a confidence and swagger about you, so I think he can be portrayed negatively on TV."

The story about Johnny Manziel is still being written, and it's not just about football. Another big chapter is in the books after playing No. 1 Alabama.

It was a loss, but what a loss it was.

After blowing an early 14-0 lead, Manziel and the Aggies roared back from a 35-14 deficit in the third quarter to get to within a touchdown, twice.

Manziel threw for a career-high 464 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, and he did it against the best team in the country.

"His play was Johnny-like," said Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. "If anyone's seen him play, that's about right."

"I think what I said at SEC media days and my previous interviews, saying that I worked this off-season to be a better passer and be better in the pocket and get better in those areas, instead of free-lancing as much, I think you can look at today and the games we had previous and say that that happened," Manziel said after the titanic contest.

Answering questions about what a great game you played is easy. It's harder to answer questions about the autograph scandal, and Manziel chose not to.

"No I'm not answering any questions about it," he said in the post-game news conference in response to a reporter's question. "This isn't the time to really answer that."

The reporter followed up: "Coach Sumlin said you weren't going to meet with us earlier this week on the advice from your family and attorneys. Has that changed, or what was the logic there, what was the story there?"

"I don't know," Manziel began, before Texas A&M Sports Information Director Alan Cannon jumped in.

"He came in here wanting to talk about the game and his teammates," said Cannon. "So if you want to honor that, we'll take those questions. If not, we can go ahead and end this quickly."

Texas A&M's only other Heisman winner, John David Crow, spoke with fans and signed autographs before the game. We asked him whether Manziel is a good representative of the school.

"In some respects he is, and in some respects he's not," Crow said. "I think everybody out there would answer that question the same way. We all make mistakes — I don't care how old you are."

Manziel is a wild card, but one thing that seems a sure thing is that this guy shows up for big games. A former teammate predicted Manziel would have the best game of his career against Alabama.

"This is the biggest level I think he's played on," said Ben Bredthauer, who was an A&M long snapper from 2008-2011. "So in my opinion he's going to have his best day as an Aggie. The bigger the stage the better he plays."

Considering the opponent, you could argue this was his best game as a passer, and maybe his second best overall to the game he had against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

It wasn't perfect — he threw two interceptions — and neither is Manziel. But he's an Aggie, and those fans love him regardless.

E-mail tmadden@wfaa.com

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