Late in a forgettable Canadian Football League debut for Johnny Manziel, the announcers began to refer endlessly to the “flashes.”
Flashes are Manziel speak for the deft maneuvers in the pocket. The beautiful, balletic plays that evade rushers, roll him outside of the tackle box and connect him with a receiver running what looks to be the fifth or sixth broken-play emergency route. In these moments the 25-year-old former Heisman Trophy winner can still drop a dime. He hits his target in stride, in the only place his receiver can catch it. It makes the fans stand up and do that money thing with their hands, the gesture Manziel used to do in a different time, when he was supposedly a different person.
But after Manziel’s Montreal Alouettes fell 50-11 to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, in his first start in the CFL, one might start to wonder if the flashes are all we ever really had of Johnny Football. What if all of us—the fans, the media, the evaluators—were all suckered into those Brett Favre comparisons, blind to the fact that Manziel was always a football equivalent of an M-80—burning brightly before a dramatic blowup? Stitch Manziel’s flashes together, and there’s a highlight reel worth clicking on to waste a lunch hour on Youtube. Then what?
It’s true that Manziel had just four practices with the Alouettes before going 11-of-20 for 104 yards and four interceptions on Friday night. It’s also true that the Alouettes are very bad, a team that went 3-15 a year ago and is currently 1-5 under former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman. Another thing to consider for the rubbernecking crowd who turned into see this twisted human experiment on ESPN: The CFL is vastly different, especially for quarterbacks and skill-position players. Believe it or not, it could have been worse.
Manziel’s lack of preparation and the scarcity of tangible football moments on Friday don’t have to be connected, though. A look back at the legend of Johnny Football reveals a Texas A&M team without a playbook. It shows game-winning touchdowns in the NFL that his own coaches freely admit had little to do with the scripted instructions. It features moments when Manziel had time to bury his head in a playbook and chose not to. He always fancied this rambling style, and maybe it just doesn’t work anymore. On Friday he threw picks into damn near triple coverage. He threw picks off his back foot. He chucked balls behind his receivers and bypassed open men waving their hands.
Of course, the inevitable will be delayed. We’ll talk about Montreal will need to build a team around Manziel, and how more time with Sherman, a coach who had just three Favre-related top-10 offensive seasons in 10 years as a coach or coordinator in professional football, will make all the difference. We’ll highlight the times he pats his teammates on the back and walks into the huddle without giving the opposing sideline a middle finger like it’s a step in the right direction. We might even burn another summer Friday night watching good, hard-working players take second billing to a comeback attempt rooted partially in media rights and merchandise sales. We’ll do it because we’re predictable and because we give certain people endless chances.
Not until Johnny Manziel is 37, slinging passes in a green-scaled uniform for the Northern Kentucky River Monsters, will we stop wagging our finger at the television and saying, “If the right coach just takes a chance on him! The possibilities!”
That’s what happens when the flashes become engrained in us. We confuse stage presence with skill and expertise. For years, Manziel got by on stage presence alone. Maybe it's time we demand a little proof before getting suckered in again.
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