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Johnny Manziel’s Short Rise and Long Fall

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Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)
Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

 

Johnny Manziel was once considered one of the most promising NFL prospects of all time, winning the Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award as a freshman at Texas A&M. Unfortunately, the fame that accompanied his rise also accelerated his downfall; he is a free agent after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, and his parents have expressed public concern over his drinking and drug use.

Vanity Fair recently published an article about Manziel’s inability to handle sudden fame and success, as well as the efforts friends and family made (or didn’t make, in some cases) to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Born a natural athlete with a hyper-competitive streak, Johnny led Texas A&M’s football team to an 11–2 season and a Cotton Bowl victory. He also broke Archie Manning’s total offense record, which had stood for nearly 50 years, in 2012 during a game against Alabama. Two years later, he was drafted to the Cleveland Browns.

Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies takes the stage after he was picked #22 overall by the Cleveland Browns during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, 2014 in New York City. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies takes the stage after he was picked #22 overall by the Cleveland Browns during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, 2014 in New York City. (Elsa/Getty Images)

 

Despite his high school and college football accomplishments, some people in the NFL were still skeptical about “Johnny Football.” For one thing, he was short (5’10”) for an NFL quarterback, and for another thing, his off-the-field conduct raised doubts about his dedication to the game. Johnny was a heavy drinker, and rumors of MDMA and cocaine use swirled around an endless parade of photographs of him partying at clubs (including one with a rolled-up dollar bill whose implications were obvious).

Additionally, tensions within his college support system left him feeling adrift once he arrived in Cleveland. His de facto manager, Nate Fitch, was accusing Manziel’s other friends of being a bad influence on him (they, in turn, accuse him of only seeing Manziel as a career meal ticket), and was replaced with professional agents when Manziel began his NFL career.

Because Fitch was one of the only stabilizing elements in Manziel’s life, the young star completely flew off the rails as a professional quarterback. In his NFL debut, the talented athlete was sacked three times and threw two interceptions in the 31-0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns walks off of the field after being defeated by the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 at Paul Brown Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)
Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns walks off of the field after being defeated by the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 at Paul Brown Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

 

“He looked like a rookie, played like a rookie,” was coach Mike Pettine’s response to Manziel’s performance. NFL columnist Mike Freeman was even more blunt. “Manziel is the biggest bust of all time,” he told Vanity Fair. “He was lazy. He didn’t study. The guy is out of the NFL today because he refused to work at his craft.”

Today, Johnny is unemployed and living in Los Angeles, wavering between pledging to clean up his act and being photographed in clubs. He also, among other things, allegedly trashed a rental property and got into a fistfight at a friend’s Hawaiian wedding since getting cut from the Browns. With his remaining friends and family growing more worried by the day, it’s unclear where Johnny’s life is heading, but he’s not pointed in a good direction.

To get the full story, you can read the Vanity Fair article here. Gain some appreciation for Manziel’s talent with this highlight reel—from his two years playing at Texas A&M—below.