Upon conclusion of the 2013 season, since re-entering the NFL as a franchise in 1999, the Cleveland Browns had started a mind-bogging 20 different players at the quarterback position. Twenty different players, 20 different stories, none of them with a happy ending.
The most diehard of Browns fans can rattle off the names like Arya Stark reciting her kill list — Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Luke McCown, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer…..The Hound.
And then, come draft time in 2014, here comes Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner with an electric skill set but also with reams of evidence on social media that scream "The only way this can end is in a disaster!" To say there were "red flags" on Manziel would've been the understatement of the decade. Hell, Johnny should have shown up at the draft draped in a red flag, like Rocky adorned in the Stars and Stripes at the end of Rocky IV.
All the warning signs were there, so appropriately, the Browns used a first-round pick on Manziel, which considering their aforementioned history at the quarterback position, was a little bit like a gas puddle drafting a lit match.
We all know how 2014 went for Manziel. His Eddie Haskell-like hiatus from social media and the limelight pre-draft ended the moment his name was called by Roger Goodell. Within seconds, Manziel was making the "money sign" with his hands. Within a couple of hours, he was chugging champagne from a bottle the size of a smart car. Johnny Football was back.
However, within a few months, Johnny Football almost killed Johnny Manziel, or at least Johnny Manziel's football career. 2014 saw Manziel start two games that both ended with the league asking, "What the hell is wrong with this kid?" But the football stuff on the field was just the surface. Beneath the football veneer was a personal life that was in shambles, largely because of Manziel's alcohol abuse. Missed injury treatments, oversleeping, late nights, fights in his building, weekend getaways chronicled on Instagram…this was 2014 for Johnny Manziel.
It could have ended in a lot of terrible places. Fortunately, the bottom for Manziel was a rehab facility. Now Manziel returns in 2015, ten weeks after he sought treatment, apparently humbled, clearly more focused, and saying all the right things (at the very least).
Yesterday, Manziel met with the media for the first time since the day he left rehab in April, and in the NFL's closest thing to a WWE "babyface" turn (wrestling speak for "converting from a villain to a hero"), Manziel essentially pronounced his up-all-night alter ego "Johnny Football" dead.
In a 13-minute mea culpa, Manziel admitted that his rookie year was a "disaster" and basically said he was to blame for it.
"At times Johnny Football probably took over me a little bit and I bought into that,'' said Manziel. "I didn't do my best to hush things down, push down the hype. At times I welcomed it with immaturity and just accepted that a little bit, and that's my fault. At the end of the day, everything that happened last year is not on anybody else but myself.
"I guess I wasn't prepared to handle the type of spotlight that I got and all the hype that came with it. So moving forward, I'm trying to do my part to just push that down, suffocate that a little bit and try and live my life and come out here, and I'm happy being back out here on the football field.''
Manziel thanked the media for being respectful, and thanked the Browns' brass for their patience with him, but stopped short of disclosing precise details about his trip to rehab. Instead, he was hoping everyone could move forward.
"My private life and what goes on, that's documented enough,'' he said. "I'm sitting here eager to talk about the 2015 Cleveland Browns, what we have this year and what we have in this locker room moving forward. I'm trying to really close a chapter on my life and move forward. Not one that I'm very proud of. Not one that I want to look back on very much and draw back on, that's for sure."
Last season, it was well documented that many Browns veterans, the most vocal of whom was Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, went to head coach Mike Pettine and expressed their views on Manziel and their concurrent support for former Brown (and current Texan) Brian Hoyer. It was clear that the veteran Browns players were not comfortable with the reins being handed to Manziel. Manziel now understands why.
"Off the field, I was a little bit of a distraction,'' he said. "I feel bad about that today. I feel bad about that throughout the last months of my life really thinking back and seeing how much of my life outside of this field and outside of this locker room was documented. It's not fair for Joe Haden to be having to answer questions about me every day. It's not fair for Joe Thomas and all these guys to just continue to have questions asked about me. That's part of the reason why I'm up here today, to finally get me out here and get me answering these questions because I don't think it's fair for them.''
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Manziel has still been seen out about town socially — at Cavs playoffs games, at WWE on Monday — but the fanfare has dulled to a low roar, in part because Manziel himself is making an effort not to fan the flames. That modus operandi will reportedly trickle all the way down to celebrations after touchdowns.
"The money sign will not be back,'' Manziel said. "I won't be making it.''
Deflate the swans, delete Bieber's number. Johnny Football is dead.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.