If you want a moment to crystallize the ascension of college football as our nation’s second-most popular sport, Johnny Manziel’s SEC media days appearance Wednesday morning is a perfect illustration of that rise.
On the morning after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Manziel, the 20-year-old sophomore quarterback of Texas A&M, appeared live on ESPN’s "SportsCenter" to address his Manning Passing Academy departure and his offseason.
ESPN promoted the interview for nearly 24 hours. The "SportsCenter" exclusive, carried live across the nation, came before Manziel’s first scheduled appearance before the SEC Media Days throngs at 8:30 in the morning.
This was the latest culmination of the SEC’s rise from regional conference to national behemoth — why a quarterback left an offseason football camp early is the biggest story in a sporting-mad country.
This was Johnny Manziel, a second-year college quarterback, already more famous and recognizable than 10 or 12 of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL, sitting down to talk to the nation.
Here was ESPN anchor Joe Tessitore’s "Frost v. Nixon" moment.
Tessitore did not disappoint. He completely and totally grilled Manziel on what happened at the Manning Passing Academy and also about his offseason. At no point did Tessitore smile or acknowledge the latent absurdity of the story.
No, this was Egypt.
This was a bombing in Afghanistan.
This was . . . a college kid saying that he overslept and missed a meeting.
Oh, the humanity.
If Tessitore had gotten eight minutes with George W. Bush, we might have managed to avoid the entire Iraq war.
We can debate whether the story deserved this measure of attention, but what we can’t debate is that people care. The rise of the SEC means that the top SEC players are some of the most famous athletes in America. Even if they’re still unable to legally buy a beer, what they do on and off the field is big news, tiny morsels of food for a media and public that constantly demands more. More stories, more instantenous, more analysis, more entertainment.
More, more, more.
And all delivered immediately.
By tomorrow ESPN, which was flying Manziel to Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards, will be debating whether he is getting too much media attention.
Seriously, this will happen.
Because Manziel’s a rock-star celebrity who drives ratings.
Love him or hate him, you care about Manziel. When I asked him Wednesday about this scrutiny and the Twitter hate, Manziel said, "You gotta be doing something right for people to hate you like that."
As a I wrote Monday, he’s the most scutinized college athlete ever, Tim Tebow with the poon-chasing gene.
Manziel’s insistence that he overslept is the fourth different explanation that’s been proferred for why he left the football camp in the past four days. First, we had a report that Manziel was hung over and missed Saturday practices leading to his camp dismissal, then the Manning Passing Academy released a statement saying that Johnny was ill. Finally Manziel’s own dad said that Johnny was home resting and suffering from dehydration.
All of these are different reasons.
Now Manziel’s offered a fourth different justification: He overslept because his phone died. Oh, and that his roommate at the Manning camp, AJ McCarron, didn’t wake him up. And no one else did either. In fact, no one bothered to knock on his door when he didn’t show up on time.
Doesn’t that seem pretty unlikely, that if the Heisman Trophy winner was late for a meeting, you wouldn’t send someone to grab him from bed? And doesn’t it also seem unlikely that there would be four different explanations offered over four days for why Johnny Football left the camp?
I’m not a professional detective, but with all these differing explanations, isn’t the real story here pretty obvious?
Manziel likely hooked up with a girl he met while out Friday night, went back to her place instead of to his room, his phone died there — how often does your phone die when you’re where you’re expecting to sleep? — and he showed up late on Saturday. Archie Manning, surely tired of Manziel’s showing up late for meetings, probably then went ahead and sent him home. Here’s guessing that Manziel’s avoided telling the truth about what really happened because he has a hot girlfriend and he doesn’t want her to find out. Plus, it’s kind of awkward to talk about your sex life on national television.
Although, can you imagine the drop-the-mic moment if this morning Manziel had said live on TV, "Yeah, I was hooking up with a girl I met out at the bar and she wanted to hook up again the next morning and I couldn’t say no, Joe."
What would Tessitore’s next question have been? What about his facial expression?
This would have been priceless television.
Then I could have followed up by asking Manziel whether he preferred blondes, brunettes or redheads and Manziel could have answered, "Hopefully all three, at the same time."
And we would have had the greatest quote in the history of SEC Media Days.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, since the dismissal broke, everyone has done their best to respond to the story without throwing Manziel under the hook-up bus. The result? Four different explanations, all dodging the real reason.
That’s the only real explanation that makes sense here.
And it also makes all the attention even more ridiculous.
And kind of hysterical.
What we’ve got here is a garden-variety, college hook-up that has turned into the college sports version of Watergate because Manziel is the most scrutinized college athlete ever. What did he know and when did he know it? I was halfway expecting Manziel to leave for the ESPYs after flashing the peace sign on the steps of his airplane.
Four years ago, Tim Tebow came to SEC Media Days and said he didn’t believe in premarital sex, four years later Manziel shows up at media days and pulls a Bill Clinton, dodging admitting to a hook-up that threatens to cost him millions of dollars in NFL draft impact.
I mean, that’s gotta be it, right?
This happens everywhere for 20-year-old girls and guys on summer break.
Except usually the story is contained to three or four people and doesn’t get broken apart by over 1,000 media.
Right now, Manziel is probably texting McCarron to get the story straight on why McCarron didn’t wake up Manziel. Because you know McCarron will get asked about it at media days tomorrow. My bet on their excuse? McCarron’s day started earlier than Manziel’s and he figured Johnny would wake up on his own. Get ready for that answer from McCarron. Because it’s coming.
When you dive into the four different stories here, discovering what really happened isn’t that complicated.
Manziel’s the anti-Tebow, a lot more like what most of us would have been like if we’d won the Heisman our second year in college. And his star is burning so brightly that why he left the Manning football camp is a bigger story than the Major League All-Star Game.
It’s wild, but it’s just another chapter in the Johnny Football Experience.
At Notre Dame they have pretend girlfriends. In the SEC the quarterbacks allegedly pretend they didn’t hook up with other girls.