By the usual measurements, this is one of those vapid, empty-calorie stories about a first round draft pick playing footsie with a team official on draft day: "Johnny Manziel texts coach 'come get me'." For anyone else, anyone just a fraction less punchable, whatever. For Manziel, though, god, how great is this?
Here's the quote, from a KBCN-FM radio interview with Cleveland quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains:
"We're sitting there and they keep showing Johnny on T.V. and Johnny and I are texting and he shoots me a text and he says, 'I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there. I want to wreck this league together.'
"When I got that text, I forwarded it to the owner and to the head coach (Mike Pettine),'' Loggains said Thursday on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly on Arkansas ESPN. "I'm like 'this guy wants to be here. He wants to be part of it.' As soon as that happened, Mr. Haslam said, 'pull the trigger. We're trading up to go get this guy.'''
God, that little shit. What possible other reaction is there, really? I wish you guys would come get me. [punch] Hurry up and draft me. [two-fisted punch] I want to wreck this league together. [googling Ohio's laws for assault and malice] And then the Browns go out and actually fucking do it. The rich kid gets the girl, and the car, and into Princeton, because he said so.
Manziel is a wrestling heel—"the young Million Dollar Man," Marchman calls him. He has a signature taunt, "counting money" in a way that makes no actual sense unless enacted by a small child or a movie villain or an asshole. He pantomimes autographs on footballs, and wags his finger at defensive linemen, because no, they can't have one. Manziel is a troll, who has the confidence of his convictions and really does have outlaw blood waiting to spill out of his mouth once you finally punch him. Manziel is a drunk, and probably hungover, and will fight your ass, despite the optics of being, for all intents, the football equivalent of Justin Bieber bursting out of an SUV to slapfight a paparazzo.
He's an obnoxious little prick, and deeply, deeply annoying, and—this is the key part—very good at football. How fantastic is that? The NFL is so dour and monochromatic that a drunk shithead who has at least some zest for life, the fortitude to hang onto it, and the talent to back all of it up is refreshing. And if he's such an outsized asshole that every person who comes into contact with him wants to stab him through the face, and he is good enough to succeed in spite of them, and himself, and the consequences of every other rule of decorum he's broken, well, that's just irresistible.
It's funny to imagine Manziel, dog-ass hungover, BMW parked in front of a stadium fire hydrant, slipping the edge around an outside linebacker and zipping a pass 45 yards for a touchdown while his try-hard backup who hasn't missed curfew since the eighth grade sits nailed to the bench. How pissed is Bill Belichick going to be when the defense he sacrificed two dozen goats and a bus full of kindergarteners to conjure out of Muspelheim gets torn up by Manziel and his smug asshole face? (God, his face is awful.) If you accept the premise that sports and the people in them take themselves entirely too seriously, how can you not root for this little prick running around, pissing all over the field everyone else just got done consecrating?
(For gasbag liberal scolds like us, there is the added thrill of disassembling the success-through-morality allegory.)
Even if you want to root against him, it is hard to imagine a better villain. He is profoundly annoying—a young J.J. Redick crossed with the non-sexist/racist/abusive/felonious elements of Floyd Mayweather's schtick—and he plays the most brutal team sport on the planet. You want to see him smashed in the face—and you will! And in the sternum and throwing shoulder and ass, too. Look at the little shithead run! Watch him get smeared, and get up, and sneer, and throw another goddamn touchdown, and oh how I hate him. Shit, tell me you wouldn't go watch a real life Kenny Powers every time he came through town.
The thing is, he's got to be good. Maybe not an MVP, but good enough to stand up and hit you in the mouth for a 30-yard run and a 50-yard touchdown every time you think he's about to get his comeuppance. That's why Terrell Owens's routine had so much appeal, on both sides of the aisle—Well, keep him out of the endzone if you don't want him acting up—and why FredEx was... FredEx; it's why Adrien Broner was hilarious when he was acting up and knocking guys out, and is just tired now that he fights like a chump. But most of all, it's because if you're going to be an unhammered nail in the NFL, if you want to speak out like Richard Sherman, or shed the whole trope of the warrior culture like Tom Brady, you don't just have to be good, you have to be so good as to have the confidence and standing to simply not give a shit, and continue not giving a shit when ESPN and FOX come for you, and Peter King is looking up synonyms for "respect" in between Orange Mocha Light frappucinos. That's the guy you hope makes it in the league, the one who's just going to cup his hand to his ear, not listen to you anyway, and walk into the endzone doing this: