As soon as the Cleveland Browns selected Johnny Manziel, the mania had begun in Cleveland. In all honesty, the true hysteria started when the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles was completed and the Browns moved into the 22nd pick, or maybe it was months ago when Manziel was still at Texas A&M. Although Manziel is still a long way from stepping foot on an NFL field, his impact on Cleveland cannot be understated. As much as I was caught up in the excitement of the whole first round, I could not believe the hyperbole of some individuals already comparing Manziel to LeBron James, as far as impact on Cleveland is concerned. Although I do not think this is a fair comparison, I am starting to believe Manziel Mania is bigger than anyone’s outrageous expectations. Can Johnny Football erase the memory of The Decision? More importantly, can he win football games, and regain the prestige that the Browns have lost over the past two decades? Is JFF really the guy Cleveland can get behind?
With the already of established “Johnny Football” persona, Manziel quickly endeared himself to Browns fans, as well as the wallets. Since April 1st, Manziel has the number 1 selling jersey among all NFL players (it’s worth noting that his jersey has only been on sale since May 9th). Clearly Johnny Football is good for business, but who is Johnny Football? If we are being honest, I believe part of the Manziel Mystic is that Johnny Football cannot be defined. Obviously he is very confident in his game, but also very team orientated. He enjoyed party-lifestyle while at Texas A&M which endeared him to every unmarried, young male in America who wished to be him, whereas the humble, eloquent pre-draft Manziel seems to appeal to the old guard of Browns fans. Regardless of this juxtaposition of Manziel’s character traits, one theme remains throughout: he’s a competitor. Stories ranging from his infamous “wreck this league text”, to his pre-draft comments about being the 21st starting quarterback for the Browns who finally brought them a Super Bowl title, Manziel is a competitor, and that might be the ‘it factor’ head coach Mike Pettine said he wanted in a quarterback during the pre-draft process.
“I’m looking for a guy that’s got that ‘it’ factor – not necessarily starting with the physical talent first. (We’ll) do a lot of homework from a background standpoint, talking to guys, people they’ve played with, coaches, just trying to see who has that ‘it’ factor. You see a lot of guys that have the physical talent to play and there’s just something missing.”
-Mike Pettine, March 25th, 2014
There are still many question marks surrounding Johnny Football’s game. Is he tall enough, is his arm strong enough, can his body hold up in the NFL? All of these are legitimate concerns, but ultimately, aren’t the intangibles, the ‘it’ factor what the Browns have been lacking lately? Can’t we all agree that even with the physical tools guys like Tim Couch, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden had, there was something missing?
As remarkable and storied as the Browns history is, dating back to Otto Graham and Jim Brown, lately the Browns have so accurately been portrayed as The Factory of Sadness. But that isn’t the Browns I was told about when I was a kid in the 90’s. Even though I wasn’t born yet, I still love Bernie Kosar and feel the pain of the Drive and Red Right 88, but why is that? Ultimately, I believe, as I suspect many other Browns fans do, that this is Believeland. That after everything the Browns franchise has been through, the fans, the city and the northern half of Ohio still believes in their Browns. That maybe, just maybe the Browns can finally put everything together and have a winning franchise. Not an outlier of a year like 2007 (10-6), or even the year they made the playoffs in 2002 (9-7), but a true sustained winner. Isn’t possible that behind general manager Ray Farmer’s vision (with aid from Joe Banner’s draft picks), and Mike Pettine’s leadership this Browns team is poised to be a breakout team in the league this year? Perhaps the only thing that is missing from the equation is a championship-caliber quarterback, a gritty, tough, competitor that is willing to “pour their heart out for the Dawg Pound”. Perhaps Johnny Manziel is the player, the face of the franchise, that Believeland has yearned for since Bernie Kosar left the Browns.