It was hard to watch Johnny Manziel on the sideline Saturday — not from any sense of sympathy or frustration, just exhaustion from the countless shots of Johnny Manziel on the sideline. That’s not his fault.
Yet it was so much harder to watch him play football. How does a guy who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman nine months ago become so reviled so quickly? Teams are sometimes hated collectively by everyone but their alumni. Coaches are sometimes hated by lots of fans of teams other than their own. Players? Not that often.
Manziel went into Texas A&M’s game Saturday against Rice with a chance to do a little damage control to his reputation and instead moved himself to the top of the college football hate parade after one week.
Johnny Football: impressive as always.
College football implemented new taunting rules two seasons ago. Unlike those recently beefed up by the NFL, they are a little more stringent and cover situations other than the end zone. In college football, taunting includes obscene language, pointing fingers, baiting, ridiculing an opponent verbally or simulating the firing of a weapon.
Sadly, miming the signing of an autograph and rubbing your fingers together to indicate money are not on the list. So Manziel was able to get away with both those classy moves more than once against Rice, drawing the ire of the opposing players as well as his own coach. He eventually drew a 15-yard penalty for taunting, not his own selfish sign language, and Coach Kevin Sumlin yanked him from the game.
“That wasn’t very smart, and that’s why he didn’t go back in the game,” Sumlin said. “I hoped that at this point he’d have learned something.”
Keep hope alive, Coach. He hasn’t learned anything from his offseason of controversy, and he hasn’t learned anything from his half-game suspension, and he isn’t going to learn anything from being pulled from a game the Aggies have well in hand.
Sumlin is an enabler, and it’s hard to feel sorry for him, but it’s unlikely Aggie Nation — not to mention the TV networks — would support the notion of benching Manziel for a game to teach him a lesson. Besides, Sumlin probably has reached the same conclusion many of us have: Manziel is unteachable and maybe unreachable.
Even without the Manziel headaches, Sumlin has what appears to be a troubled program. Four players — linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive lineman Gavin Stansbury, defensive back De’Vante Harris and wide receiver Ed Pope — were suspended for violating team rules right before the Rice game for the first two games of the season. The three defensive players would have started the game.
Defensive lineman Kirby Ennis was already suspended after being arrested on gun charges. Safety Floyd Raven was suspended for one game and cornerback Deshazor Everett was suspended for a half after each was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of criminal mischief.
Then Everett was penalized during the Rice game for targeting, a 15-yard penalty that carries an automatic ejection for one half. If the penalty comes in the first half of a game, the player sits out the second. If it is called in the second half, the player also sits out the first half of the following game. So going into the Alabama rematch Sept. 14, Everett will have played three quarters of football and been suspended for four.
The cherry on Sumlin’s sundae was the ejection of freshman Daeshon Hall on Saturday for throwing a punch. So Manziel wasn’t the only Aggie who wasn’t very smart Saturday. He was just the most visible.
The “air autographs” and the “mo’ money” signs weren’t very smart, either, although Manziel made the money sign last season with far less fanfare — because he hadn’t then been accused of taking a lot of money for his autograph. The Aggies dodged not a bullet but a cannonball when Manziel was suspended for half a game after accusations he received cash payment for signing large volumes of items that were then sold by dealers. After the quickest investigation in NCAA history — Mark Emmert has taken more time to find his car keys — the penalty was imposed and the matter dropped.
Manziel obviously feels no shame or remorse for all of his offseason behavior, none of which reflected well on him, his family, his coach or his school, which has long had great college football traditions such as the 12th Man. But tradition doesn’t make money; winning does. And college football is all about the money.
In fact, Manziel may be on to something. Instead of flashing the old, tired “We’re No. 1 finger,” players, coaches, announcers and fans should all be making the “money” sign. After all, it is, er, right on the money.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.