Joe Montana’s new pro football league, and what he thinks of Johnny Manziel

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Doug Farrar
·5 min read
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Every few years, you’ll see a group of football people and entrepreneurs create a new league to either compete or provide complementary entertainment to the NFL. Not that any other entity is going to go head-to-head with the 800-pound gorilla anymore — the days of the American Football League going from zero to forcing a merger in seven years are gone for all kinds of reasons — but as they say, the more football, the better.

The newest league to try its luck is the Fan Controlled Football league, an indoor league created by Project Fanchise, which really got rolling in 2016 when Project Fanchise purchased an expansion team in the Indoor Football League for the 2017 season. Fan involvement was the predominant idea, with the idea that fans could gain equity in the league and even call the plays.

A version of 7-on-7 with a three-man offensive line, the FCF brand of football has teams starting at their own 10-yard line and attempting to travel 40 yards for touchdowns. There are no kickoffs, no punts, and no goal posts — extra points are determined by one-on-one battles between receivers and defensive backs. Team owners and co-owners include past and present NFL players Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, Dalvin Cook, and Austin Ekeler.

The FCF reached out to Joe Montana in 2018, and he came on board as a key investor and Chief Strategic Officer. That involves assisting with the development of the league’s business strategy, including its approach for sponsors and partners; guiding the league’s front office operations, and ensuring its focus on fan engagement.

“They approached me with this idea, and I thought it was great,” Montana told me this week. “It’s great for a couple of reasons: You keep a lot of guys employed and on the radar of some of the teams in the NFL. On the other side of it, you’re creating something that the fans haven’t seen before, and it’s truly fan engagement — being able to call the plays, being able to be part-owner. I think the one-hour streaming on their app or Twitch — I think it speaks to where everyone is going today. It’s faster. Nobody really wants to sit there for three-and-a-half hours and watch games every weekend anymore.

“I think when you look at the engagement numbers — last week, we already had over 800,000 viewers, and what that leads into is hopefully more participation on the fan side, and seeing that the game is real, and you do actually have some say in called plays. I think that keeps the engagement high, and the hour goes really fast when you’re involved in the game.”

At that point, I had to turn the tables and ask: How would Joe Montana, as a quarterback, responded to fans calling your plays in, say, a Super Bowl — as opposed to, say, Bill Walsh?

“Well, isn’t the coach just a fan anyway?” Montana said with a laugh. “No. It’s fun to see… the quarterback gets plays called to him anyway, and I think having the fans involved more at that point, but also trying to make things happen with the fans. [The quarterback] is going to do his best to make that play a success, no matter what comes in.”

(And honestly, I’d take an even bet with an FCF fan calling a passing game as opposed to, say, Adam Gase).

Perhaps the most prominent player in the FCF right now is Johnny Manziel, whose professional career hasn’t gone quite as well as Montana’s did. From the NFL to the Canadian Football League to the Alliance of American Football to FCF, Manziel has certainly had quite the world tour over the last decade. I asked Montana if he’d spoken to Manziel directly about how to create a professional rebound, and what he’d tell any quarterback at any level who’s trying to turn it around.

“Yeah… I think the thing he has to prove is that he wants to play,” Montana said. “That he doesn’t want to play the games that are outside the game. Too much running around, too many things going on on the side, and not enough concentration on really showing an understanding of what it takes to play at that level. It can be a hard transition once you have that label, so it’s going to take twice as much work and twice as much dedication to be able to prove that he now has made changes in his life that will take those distractions away as he gets more and more involved in the games.”

(Perhaps sticking to one sport would help).

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“A big reason I’m here is I’m a little bored,” Manziel told USA Today’s Josh Peter in February about his own involvement in the FCF. “I’ve been playing golf five days a week, hanging with my boys and playing cards and running around Scottsdale having a blast with a great group of friends that I’ve acquired out there. But I don’t have much of a schedule unless I create one, and I haven’t really created one.”

So… maybe it isn’t Manziel who’s interested in an NFL future. Perhaps it’s Josh Gordon, the ridiculously talented receiver whose battles with substance abuse have created unfortunate barriers to the NFL career his athletic gifts would otherwise ensure.

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You can find out more about the FCF here.