TELANDER: Johnny Football and the ugly truth

Written By BY RICK TELANDERSports Columnist Posted: 05/11/2014, 02:38am

Did you see that double-raised-arm, fingers-to-thumbs rubbing motion Johnny Manziel made when he strode across the stage Thursday night at the NFL draft in New York?

That’s his ‘‘countin’ scratch’’ gesture, like, Yo, I’m feeling the money! He did it when Texas A&M played Rice, taunting the other team for taunting him, and he got a penalty for it, as well as a lecture from head coach Kevin Sumlin.

What you see with this 21-year-old kid is a cocky, undersized, very immature but very skilled athlete who has a dubious attitude and worldview, as well as one of the craziest back stories ever. He didn’t come from poverty and deprivation. He came from wealth and privilege.

His great-grandfather Bobby Joe ‘‘The Syrian Kid’’ Manziel, a bantamweight boxer born in Lebanon who was pals with heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, made a fortune in the Texas oil business back in the 1930s. Nearly broke, the story goes, the ex-boxer borrowed $400 from Dempsey, drilled a well in Gladewater, Texas, and struck a gusher. More wells came after that, and the Manziel empire was guaranteed for generations.

So was trouble. Criminals, drug charges, notoriety, shame.

Indeed, that’s why the Manziels moved to little Kerrville, Texas, in the hill country outside San Antonio, before Johnny went to high school — to avoid public censure and gossip.

Well, there’s still plenty of that.

Manziel’s father, John Paul, told ESPN the Magazine’s Wright Thompson last year that he was worried about his son’s anger and drinking and immaturity issues.

‘‘Yeah, it could all come unraveled,” Manziel’s father told Thompson. ‘‘And when it does, it’s gonna be bad. Real bad.’’

Is it already unraveling?

TMZ, our new source for public morality, quickly published photos online of a wasted-looking Manziel spraying champagne post-draft at a late-night Manhattan club with new best pals Drake, Meek Mill and Busta Rhymes. The guy doesn’t hold back, that’s for sure.

‘‘Johnny Manziel was . . . raging his face off at Avenue in NYC with a bunch of stars, booze and super hot chicks  . . .’’ went the headline. Gotta love that, super-staid NFL! Cleveland hasn’t had such hot news since it got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Why, even Cleveland traitor LeBron James is a Johnny Football fan, wearing the kid’s Browns jersey and getting behind the Ohio movement. Could King James someday leave the Miami Heat and come back to the Cavaliers out of buddy love? Right now everything seems possible with Johnny Football.

Manziel polarizes us not just because of his potential pro football skills and general arrogance but because he makes us ponder the hypocrisy we all would prefer to hide within: sports are supposed to be all about winning and sacrifice, but we know, like everything else, they’re all about money and fame.

The idea of a humble, modest jock suits us a lot more than a wild, in-your-face mercenary. Tim Tebow was polarizing. But that was because he wasn’t really a quarterback at all, just a big, ascetic, Bible-spouting lug who could win in college, preach on his off days and resemble Beaver Cleaver as an adult.

It probably is fortunate that Manziel — can we call him Johnny Cleveland? Johnny Paycheck? — has incumbent Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer in front of him. Hoyer likely will start the season, which is good for Manziel because Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is looking at a full-season suspension from the league for failing another drug test.

How good was Gordon? Despite missing two games last season for being a doper, he led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving. The dude was the first player in NFL history to have consecutive 200-yard receiving games. Let Hoyer take the gas for losing such a star.

Meanwhile, we have this smart-assed, money-loving, controversial quarterback coming to a city that has known little but failure and ridicule in business and in life. What if Johnny avoids being crushed and detested and impotent and leads the Browns to success? What if he does it?

His Alfred E. Neuman, jug-eared face would look perfect smirking down on the rest of the world from some illuminated billboard high above Lake Erie. Take that, folks! And shove it!

It’s nuts for a town to even consider linking its dreams of self-esteem to a cocky, clueless boy who plays a game.

But deep inside, everybody knows something else: Nobody wants to lose. And we’ll take winning where we find it.

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