Johnny Manziel was on track to be one of the greatest football players of all time but in just a few short years, he went from being a beloved national football icon to a forgotten, failing idiot.
“Untold: Johnny Football” on Netflix seeks to share the story of the now-30-year-old’s rapid rise and fall from football fame through profanity-laced interviews with Manziel, his family, and even former coaches and managers. It ultimately proves, however, that Manziel has few to no regrets about how his quarterback career abruptly ended.
The world was rooting for Johnny Football but he blew his chance to stay in the big leagues because he wanted the world.
There’s no denying that Texas native Johnny Manziel was a star football player. He could catch, he could run, and — as his high school coaches found out his sophomore year — he could throw. Not long after Manziel was promoted to varsity quarterback, scouts all across the country flocked to Lone Star State on Friday nights to watch the award-winning kid from Kerrville do his thing.
Manziel was definitely going places, probably on a full scholarship. His parents confirmed in the “Untold” episode that he wished it would be the University of Texas. Ultimately, Manziel received offers from several universities including Baylor, Iowa State, Rice, Stanford, and Oregon.
The documentary does not mention these offers or Manziel’s first commitment to play at Oregon. Instead, it hones in on his ultimate decision to play at Texas A&M University under head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. He would be part of TAMU’s first team in the NCAA Southeastern Conference.
TAMU’s 2011 decision to transfer from the Big 12 to the SEC certainly raised eyebrows and doubts. But by the time cleats hit the field in the fall of 2012, the Aggies led by Manziel were kicking butt and taking names.
One of the biggest moments in that season and in the documentary was TAMU’s upset victory over Alabama. The 29-24 win seemed like a turning point for the SEC rookies.
Manziel, of course, was not the sole proprietor of TAMU’s incredible SEC debut. Plenty of other Aggie players pulled their weight and more during the 2012 season. Manziel, however, received most of the credit.
Even though he was forbidden by Sumlin to talk to the press, Manziel easily became front-page news nearly every week. It wasn’t long into his redshirt season that the college football folks at ESPN and other sports networks were buzzing about his chances at receiving the Heisman.
I’m no sports journalist now and I certainly wasn’t back then, but little high school me was also jazzed about Manziel’s prospects in 2012. Just a few games into his spectacular season, I told my Aggie grad dad that I was sure Manziel would take the top player trophy. Dad promised me that if Manziel won the Heisman, he would reward my prediction with tickets to TAMU’s bowl game.
On Jan. 4, 2013, I was one of tens of thousands of Manziel fans who watched him break the FBS bowl run record with 229 yards rushing on 17 carries at the Cotton Bowl. Thanks to Manziel’s fast feet, TAMU won their fight against their old Big 12 rivals the Oklahoma Sooners 41 to 13.
Things were looking up for Manziel and TAMU going into the 2013 season. But Manziel was already headed down a dark path.
“Once he won the Heisman, I saw a different side of him,” Manziel’s sister Meri recounted to the doc crew. “There was nothing stopping him from doing what he wanted to do.”
Manziel’s 2012 season looked great on paper, but not even TAMU’s press policy could keep word about his summer alcohol arrest or sexy Scooby-Doo celebration from entering the public eye.
“I always felt you had to be careful in telling Johnny how to live his life,” Kingsbury explained. “It wasn’t ideal for us as coaches, but it’s kinda like, that’s the dark side he needed to play good, and as long as he wasn’t getting in trouble, do your deal.”
“Johnny F-cking Football” would go on to do some deals. Manziel and his unofficial manager friend Nate Fitch admitted on camera that they began raking in cash in exchange for under-the-table autographs, something the NCAA prohibited.
The NCAA grew suspicious about Manziel’s suddenly enriched lifestyle, which included cross-country vacations and elaborate parties with celebrities, so Fitch made up the story that Manziel’s family got rich on oil royalties. The media ran with it.
The autograph scheme ultimately landed Manziel on the bench for just half of a game in his 2013 season, a penalty he said through a smirk was well worth the secret exchanges he would continue doing even after getting flagged.
It’s important to note that the documentary directors, up to this point, made a big deal about highlighting just how much money TAMU made off of its glorious 2012 season. In a way, the documentary almost appeared to justify Manziel’s cash flow and inflated image.
Similarly, Manziel’s new agent Erik Burkhardt tried for months to manipulate Manziel’s reputation before the NFL draft. But Manziel, still inflated by his successful and short-lived college career, continued to live it up.
He even went on a Beverly Hills bender just a few days before he was due at the NFL scouting combine, which prompted a scramble to get drug tests to look clean. Despite his recklessness and hungover performance, Manziel was drafted in the first round in a Hail Mary move by the struggling Cleveland Browns.
The Browns desperately needed a hero to save their flailing franchise and Manziel desperately wanted to be one. But he wasn’t.
Fines, excessive partying, domestic violence, injuries, and Manziel’s growing arrogance about his football skills severely hampered the quarterback’s ability to fulfill his pro football destiny. “Win or lose, we booze” only got Manziel so far.
Coaches trying to control a 19-year-old kid in a college town is one thing. Managers wrangling a multimillionaire hotshot who travels all over the country to drink away his cognizance is another.
After a couple of rocky years in Cleveland, it was no surprise that Manziel was fired by the Browns. He responded by going on a $5 million bender and trying to commit suicide.
Manziel now spends his time either drinking with buddies at his mansion in Arizona or staying with his parents in Texas because, as his sister Meri put it, “he’s not in a place mentally to go out and do something right now.”
It’s clear that Manziel believes this documentary will save face for him and maybe even elicit some empathy. For former fans like me, it does the complete opposite. Manziel’s ongoing self-adulation shows he learned nothing from his fall from fame and simply wants to punt the blame for it on anyone but himself.
Manziel had unmatched natural talent but he squandered it on excessive drinking, pills, partying, and aggression. Talent can only go so far without character, discipline, and some semblance of morality. And as far as viewers can tell from this episode of “Untold,” Manziel still lacks all of those.