Johnny Manziel’s First Step to Canton or Oblivion?


Nov 30, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) scores a touchdown as Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Nigel Bradham (53) defends during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Admit it Cleveland Browns fans – Manziel-mania consumed us last spring. Whether you thought he’d be the second coming of Otto Graham or an overhyped, undersized bust, we joined the whole sports world in chronicling his every step: from his “wreck this league” draft day boast to NFL Network broadcasting his first Berea workout live on national TV.

Johnny Manziel took just one positive step when the games counted – his end zone TD leap in Buffalo – but we’ve run out of fingers and toes counting all his progressively worse “stupider than the last one” missteps. Hanging with the Biebs, inflatable swans, flipping off the Redskins’ bench in an exhibition game, the debacle against Cincinnati, the faux injury against the Panthers. Then he capped off his wasted rookie season by miserably flunking the most basic task of any job: getting out of bed for work.

Johnny Football wasted last season and, in the process, may have sabotaged any chance at a pro career. None of that matters now, however, because Manziel took the most important step of his young life when he walked through the front door of that substance abuse treatment center in February.

As new age Zen or old-time religion hokey as it may sound, Johnny Manziel will jump start his recovery when he lets go and gives up control to his higher power.

Every 12-step program begins with the same first step – admitting you have a problem and that you are powerless over the addiction. You just can’t say it, and stopping the behavior (drinking, drugs, smoking, overeating, sex) by sheer willpower  – “white knuckling” – fails even the most successful Type A athletes, CEOs and politicians.

For Manziel to have any shot at an NFL career, or even just a sober, healthy life, he’ll have to not just understand but believe in his core that he’s an addict. That’s the first step, recognizing the addiction has him licked, and it’s a much tougher personal challenge than beating ‘Bama in Legion Field or picking up the Steelers zone blitz.

As new age Zen or old-time religion hokey as it may sound, Manziel will jump start his recovery when he lets go and gives up control to his higher power. Right now, he’s probably still gliding on the post-rehab euphoria, with no clue how the “new Johnny” will tackle the real world danger zones around every corner. It’s a cliche, but true – sobriety is one day at a time, and so far, so good:

  • His 10-plus-week in-patient stay blew the doors off that “21 Days to Break a Habit” myth, and topped the more scientific benchmark of 66 days by more than 10 percent.
  • His prepared statement struck all the right PR chords, teammates seem to welcoming him back  and new Browns O-Coordinator John DeFilipo called JFF’s work “awesome.”  (“Awful” would describe Johnny 2014.)
  • Recovering addicts report dramatically improved work habits and job performances, that living sober in the moment means not forcing outcomes that exist only within the addict’s brain. In a football sense, “New Johnny” might not force passes into triple coverage or try to outrun 270-pound defensive ends who run a 4.4.

Contrary to general media speculation, there is one post-rehab change in Manziel’s lifestyle that might be a step backwards: moving from the Metropolitan at The 9 in downtown to a West Side golf-course community. Addiction doesn’t know geography – and his new neighborhood may pose a greater risk.

Cleveland rocks, and I’m my hometown’s biggest out-of-state booster, but let’s be honest: the city’s quiet on most LeBron-less nights. Last time anyone partied hard at 9th & Euclid was the 1970s, when I joined other bell-bottomed swingers discoing between the three points of Cleveland’s Bermuda Triangle – The Keg & Quarter, The Rusty Scupper and The Theatrical Grill.

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Conversely, golf courses are a fresh air hothouse to cultivate compulsive behavior. Drinking is encouraged, gambling condoned, smoking tobacco (some places even weed) tolerated, and the most “heart healthy” fare at the turn – hot dog, cheese crackers and a  Miller Lite.

Wherever he pays his mortgage, Manziel faces long odds.

On the field, he’s staring at 3rd and long – can he read pro defenses, get smacked around in the pocket, manage the Dawg Pound’s Super Bowl fantasies, all while tuning out millions of haters rooting for him to fail? Off the field, it’s 4th and forever.

Manziel’s taken that critical first step of the 12-step Road to Happy Destiny. If he avoids inflatable swans, works the program (because it does work), and spends his time in the film room and not the 19th hole, well, he might just wreck this league after all.

Do you think Johnny Manziel has taken the first step toward a successful NFL career?

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