For the first time in several months, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel had an opportunity to separate himself from all of the drama from his tumultuous offseason and finally play football.
Unfortunately, Manziel couldn’t do it.
Despite completing 6-of-8 passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns in a half of work, Manziel tainted his season opener by mocking - even if inadvertently - the NCAA and taunting Rice players, which got him a 15-yard misconduct penalty.
Manziel missed the first half of the game while serving a suspension for an “inadvertent” NCAA violation related to signing autographs for money. That became a hot topic on the field as the Rice players were jarring with Manziel about his signature.
Manziel could have left it alone, turned a deaf ear, instead he yelled back and made a motion like he was autographing something. After he threw his first touchdown pass, he rubbed his fingers together like he was handling money. Several emailers have said the money signal has been something Manziel has used since last season, but given his recent run-in with the NCAA, which interviewed him on suspicions of taking money for autographs, he should have thought better about using the motion fresh off suspension.
After his third touchdown, he got into the face of a couple Rice players, talked some smack, got A&M a 15-yard penalty and was benched for the rest of the game.
It was the best and worst of Johnny Football rolled into 30 minutes of play.
“That wasn’t very smart and that’s why he didn’t go back into the game either,” Sumlin said after the game. “You would hope at this point, you’d learn from something like that. We’re still working on that and that’s why he wasn’t going back in the game no matter what was happening.”
This was an opportunity missed for Manziel. A chance to show that he wasn’t like people were saying. That he was the same quiet, polite, unassuming football player that went under the radar for the bulk of the 2012 season before winning the bronze statue that changed his life and ultimately, the nation’s opinion of him.
There’s no disputing Manziel’s talent. He’s still shifty. He looked even more comfortable in the pocket. He made several dazzling plays that brought back memories of his Heisman-winning campaign.
But that’s not the impression he left on those who tuned in to watch him play. He left the impression of a spoiled brat, who couldn't just put his head down and do his job.
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Teams are going to taunt Manziel. They’re going to bring up his offseason antics; his run-in with the NCAA. Manziel’s best defense is to let people talk and answer them with stellar plays on the field.
If he had just done that against Rice on Saturday, some of the respect that he’s lost might have been restored.
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