EDMONTON — Johnny Manziel has yet to do a single thing to help the Hamilton Tiger-Cats win a game that matters, but the sizzle is already selling.
Yes, the monetization of Johnny Football started at the team store where jerseys were flying off the shelves on Saturday, mere minutes after the much ballyhooed quarterback signed a two-year deal.
If the cash register and ticket wicket is as far as Manziel mania goes in 2018, it won’t be nearly enough of an impact to satisfy the competitor in him or to justify the team’s investment in him, which is far more than financial.
The Ticats placed their reputation on the line to court a high-profile player who built a sizeable rap sheet off the field, including a violation of the National Football League’s substance abuse policy and a charge of domestic violence.
While Manziel is chiefly responsible for a level of conduct that won’t besmirch Hamilton’s good name, the Canadian Football League approved his contract, which is tacit acceptance of his presence, and the Tabbies surely did extensive homework on the man before offering the deal. So they’re all hanging out their assets.
The Tabbies will surround and support him with people and resources to ensure every chance of success. That was immediately evident in the debut press conference on Saturday, when head coach June Jones shut down a reporter who asked Manziel to address the 2016 charge of domestic violence.
Manziel is theirs to defend and deploy for two years, warts and all, sizzle and steak. While Manziel is impatient to get throwing and competing, the Ticats are wary of tossing him to the wolves, lest they all look bad. So Jones made it clear on Saturday that Jeremiah Masoli is his starter.
But he’s like any other coach, and he has to leave the door open a crack, lest complacency set in with No. 1 and resignation take hold of the rest. So he walked that fine line as best he could in the presence of the media.
“Let me tell you something right now, he’s got his work ahead of him to beat out Jeremiah,” Jones said of Manziel.
“He’s got a lot to catch up on, but he’ll spend the time to get that done. I know he will because he’s already learned that lesson.”
And that’s the truly interesting subtext of this signing. Manziel is a hotshot pivot who didn’t show appropriate respect for his privileged position, and he has been humbled by the subsequent unemployment his behaviour provoked. The year on the couch that he has talked about so often, and again on Saturday, dulled the reflexes and sapped the swagger.
But he said he has learned from a plethora of mistakes, and worked hard on his personal life and the football side of things in the past six months.
“I feel like I’m in the best place I’ve been mentally and physically in my life and now it’s just consistency from me.”
He said he needs to keep doing the things that ensure success on and off the field. Hamilton wants nothing more, nothing less.
If he’s humble and attentive, if he demonstrates a level of respect that forces him to invest fully in learning the nuances of a game that has eaten up many an American pivot before him, he’ll be fine.
Because he has been blessed with a litany of attributes tailor-made it seems for the multi-level movement of the Canadian game. Yes, it’s a game he does not know well at all, but he has spoken to former teammates who went on to star in this league, Eskimo Derel Walker and former Eskimo Brandon Zylstra among them. Walker, for one, is betting it won’t take Manziel long to get to know the game and play it well.
“He’s a guy who can definitely make plays. He definitely has a nice arm and this is a passing league. He’s one hell of a player, if you ask me, one hell of a competitor, and I’m just looking forward to seeing what he does up here,” said Walker.
He’s going to make the Hamilton Tiger-Cats more interesting, even if he doesn’t make them better. But he might do both. And it will be fun for everyone to watch, for the next two years anyway.
“I’m humbled to be here,” said Manziel. “I’m very excited to be here, and this isn’t just a pit stop for me. I’m not just coming here to get what I need and go back down to the NFL.”
Some would argue two years is exactly that. But if Manziel stays out of trouble and plays enough and well enough to parlay this opportunity into a second chance down south, there is surely no sin in using the CFL as a springboard to the NFL. He’s hardly the first to try it.