It's been the greatest off season in the history of Texas A&M football. That won't mean anything once the 2013 campaign kicks off in just a few weeks and but it's been something to live through a time in which if people start talking college football, Texas A&M is usually the first topic that they are discussing.
That happens when the last impression people have of you is decisively whipping a quality bowl opponent and finishing in the top five nationally. It carries over when on back to back days in the spring you're part of announcements about a groundbreaking conference network and a state of the art stadium that would even make Jerry Jones a little bit envious.
Most of all, Texas A&M is in the news because there's an obsession with quarterback Johnny Manziel. He went from obscure backup quarterback to Heisman Trophy winner in a matter of months at a time when social media matured and if there was a person made for Twitter, it was Johnny Manziel.
If it's been the off season of A&M, it's been the summer of Johnny Manziel. For that, A&M fans everywhere should be grateful. Manziel has transcended football to the point that the fact he left the Manning Passing Academy early resulted in the SEC Media Days being covered more heavily than Major League Baseball's all star game. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive took time to do a one on one interview with our own Mark Passwaters because literally everyone else in the room was trying to talk or listen to Manziel.
Men want to be Manziel. Women want to be with him. He even makes kids cry; Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that a seven year old at the Manning camp became tearful when she realized that Manziel was not there and she would not get a chance to meet her favorite player.
But there's a flip side to the positives that come with being a celebrity and Manziel and A&M have had to deal with the negatives as well. Manziel's every move is now scrutinized because he's now held to a higher standard, that of a Heisman Trophy winner. Heisman Trophy winners don't leave camps early hosted by the first family of pro football. They don't tell people that they are frustrated about personal matters that most of us wouldn't give a second thought about such as getting a parking ticket. They don't post pictures of themselves posing with NBA star LeBron James at a NBA Finals game and give the impression that they are better than everyone else (even though they are).
Manziel commented at the SEC Media Days that he was just a 20 year old kid and people criticized him for that too, even after he appeared contrite and apologized for the Manning Passing Academy incident.
I will agree with people that Manziel has a higher responsibility than most 20 year olds. That comes with the territory of being in the spotlight and being the Heisman Trophy winner, regardless of whether he wants it or not.
But, there's two aspects to his behavior…one off the field, the other on the field. In fact, the question that needs to be asked from the standpoint of an A&M fan is this: will any of this affect Manziel's performance on the field? Publicized off season occurrences…personal items….can have negative consequences when it comes to athletics in that you miss playing time because you're dealing with legal issues, etc. So far, whatever has happened to him personally hasn't been an issue professionally. He hasn't been arrested or facing a court date. He's eligible as far as we know. He's not injured. He's not part of an ongoing NCAA investigation. He's been working out with his teammates to make A&M a better team and working to improve his game to make himself a better player.
When you look at it that way…so far, so good.
What everyone misses about Manziel is that he is one of the most competitive people ever and loves to play the game. He hates to lose at anything from football to fishing. That doesn't just manifest itself on the field in his performance but also in his preparation off of it as well as well. He went to work under quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. last summer because he didn't win the starting job at A&M. He then earned it and by the Arkansas game he was in complete charge of A&M's offensive scheme. When he started making better decisions after the LSU game, the Aggies beat national champion Alabama on the road and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
You see, everyone who follows Manziel does so ultimately because he makes plays that no one else in college or even the NFL can make. We all want to impose our belief system on how he should behave off the field because we KNOW how we would act if we were blessed with those types of gifts. Manziel was tweeting about going to events prior to him becoming the starting quarterback at A&M much as he has been in recent months. Back then, no one cared. Now, people think that he is rubbing it their face that he can do things they can't. He hasn't changed but their perception of him has.
In the end, whether we want to admit it or not because if Manziel doesn't produce on the field, then no one is going to care nearly as much about him off the field. And here's the thing about Manziel; he's got so much drive…which can be both a good thing as well as a distraction….that when he's on a football field, that's when he's at his best as a player and a person. We say that shouldn't be all that matters but in the end it really is all that matters unless something off the field impacts his play on the field.
Also, even if something happens off the field that people feel a need to write reams of copy about, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tex Schramm, the former Dallas Cowboys general manager and one of the greatest publicists ever, once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. For all of the talk about Manziel's tweets and other items, all it's done is keep A&M in the limelight. The Aggies continue to garner interest from prospects in recruiting that they never would have had a chance at in previous years and even managed to land the nation's top drop back quarterback in Kyle Allen from Arizona of all places. Would that have happened without Johnny Manziel?
Not only that, people make money off of Manziel just by being associated with him. A&M's merchandise sales are at an all time high due to his success. Last year's offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, parlayed Manziel's success into a head coaching job at Texas Tech. A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin got a significant raise for himself based on A&M's performance last season with a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC West. Manziel just makes it rain for everyone.
As long as Manziel continues to produce on the field, he'll keep A&M in the headlines and that's a good thing. Most of all, he is at his best on the field which is what people should be focusing on….and unfortunately for opponents, that's all they will have to talk about once the season starts.