About a decade ago, my parents retired to Kerrville, Texas, a little town 60 miles northwest of San Antonio.
Nestled in the hill country along the Guadalupe River, the town reminded me of a place where the cartoon Road Runner might have lived, amid the mesas, bluffs and tumbleweeds.
During my visits, I always would drive by the Tivy High School football field, located on a knoll beside the school, knowing how crazy Texans are about football and thinking I had to take in a ‘‘Friday Night Lights’’ special.
Sadly, I never did watch the Antlers play football before illness forced my parents to move to Dallas. And I regret not doing that. Why? Because I could have seen young Johnny Manziel play quarterback for Tivy.
More important, I could have seen him at his peak, not as he is now — in a deep valley created by one of the saddest, most pathetic personal declines in the history of U.S. football.
Manziel, a first-round pick of the Browns in the 2014 draft, is a train wreck of formerly comic and now tragic proportions. What he has thrown away through drug and alcohol abuse, crazed partying and domestic-violence charges amounts to an artist taking his career paintings and dropping an accelerant and lit flare atop them all.
Just 23, Manziel has been suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell for four games next season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. In truth, the suspension barely matters. Nor does the fact Manziel might get more time off, depending on the outcome of his domestic-violence case.
Indeed, he could go to jail if found guilty of the grand-jury charges, which include kidnapping and threatening to kill his former girlfriend. It’s hard to throw fly patterns from a prison cell.
Manziel has been cut by the Browns and dropped by two agents, and no team even is interested in him. That is because this kid — can we call him a kid, given that his maturity level seems to be that of a preteen? — isn’t fighting to play in the NFL; he’s fighting to keep on living.
His father, Paul, has gone so far as to say he’s worried about his son’s life coming to an end soon. Manziel obviously can’t stop himself on his race to the bottom — where he hopefully might be at last — and drug and alcohol treatment and mental therapy are the only things that can save him.
Back in high school, before he won the 2012 Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M and the 2012 Sporting News Player of the Year award and earned consensus All-America honors, Manziel was a prep phenom, a boy with the speed, agility, arm, vision and, yes, cockiness, to bring the game to its knees.
The world was there for him. He was insulated in that little town, then suddenly he was named Mr. Texas Football. That he couldn’t handle the fame, spotlight and expectations that followed is obvious.
Now? He’s just a warning sign, a huge cautionary tale to those who would believe talent and daring are enough to succeed in this world. Reason also is necessary. And restraint. And deep self-discipline of the type it’s nearly impossible to have while an ornery youth.
It might be that his family wealth and easy mastery of a tough game kept him from having the willpower to make it big.
Not showing up for treatment? Wearing a wig to sneak into a nightclub incognito? Hitting a girl so hard in the ear she temporarily lost her hearing? These are signs of a lost soul.
And though Manziel clearly is a chemical addict of some sort, that in itself is no excuse for his destructive behavior. If you have cancer, it’s up to you to seek treatment.
Bad luck must be treated as a natural hurdle in life. What’s the saying? S— happens? It does.
Manziel likely has one more chance to grow up and get back in the game. Who doesn’t have one more chance?
But it’s a very long shot. Very long.
The short shot disappeared somewhere back in the hill country of Texas.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.