CANTON, Ohio – This is a story about a priest and homeless man who watch football.
This is a(nother) story about Johnny Manziel.
Monday, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam addressed an overflow crowd at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club, which meets every Monday from September-May and invites figures from across the sports world to speak. Each week’s meeting begins with an invocation, which this week was handled by a priest from a local Catholic church.
The priest asked that those in attendance pray for the release and safe return of the girls who have been kidnapped in Nigeria, but not until after he’d asked a higher power for a blessing for the Browns — and specifically for Manziel, drafted in the first round by the Browns last Thursday night.
"Father, I’ve never heard a prayer quite like that," Haslam said when he took to the podium. "I’m not sure what Brian Hoyer would think of that."
Hoyer is the Browns incumbent starting quarterback and a native of the Cleveland area. Signed by the Browns last May, Hoyer took over the starting job three games into 2013 and won his first three starts, suffering a season-ending knee injury in that third game.
The Browns went 4-12, again, and are totally new again, having fired coach Rob Chudzinski, CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi since the end of last season. Now, the team has another new quarterback, though new coach Mike Pettine said before the draft that he didn’t see any rookie quarterback coming in and beating out Hoyer for the starting job.
At Monday’s speaking engagement, Haslam echoed that.
"Johnny is not our starter," Haslam said. "That’s the way it is right now. We were frank with him…that that’s our expectation."
Haslam said Manziel understands that he’s currently the backup quarterback and that the Browns leadership has told him, "You’re our backup quarterback. This is a hard-working, blue-collar town. This isn’t Hollywood. We want you to come in and go to work."
After the selection of Manziel, a national reporter embedded with the team during the draft said Haslam told him he was going to dinner recently when he was stopped on the sidewalk by a homeless man who told Haslam the team should draft Manziel. Haslam told the crowd Monday that story was true but wasn’t reported 100 percent accurately.
Haslam said he was on his way to speak at an event to benefit the Downtown Cleveland YMCA, and as he approached the doors to the building where the event was being a held, a man who’d been laying on his side rolled over, looked at Haslam and told him simply, "Pick Manziel."
It’s believable. Johnny Fever is real — the NFL released information Monday saying Manziel’s is the top-selling jersey in the league over the last two months; he was drafted four days ago — and the Browns hope to eventually capitalize not only on Manziel’s fame, but his skills.
Right now, though, he’s just your average backup quarterback for whom Northeast Ohio priests are praying.