May 9, 2014
BEREA — Johnny Manziel held up his new brown No. 2 jersey and flashed a smile that beamed to Texas. With whirring cameras providing the soundtrack, he was welcomed to his NFL home.
Johnny Football arrived.
Cleveland may never be the same.
Humble, confident and charmingly comfortable in handling any question, Manziel was introduced Friday by the Browns, who positioned themselves perfectly in the first round of the draft to select the polarizing Texas A&M quarterback with equal amounts of skill and swag.
Sitting alongside fellow first-round pick Justin Gilbert, a cornerback from Oklahoma State taken 14 picks ahead of him, Manziel said he’s stepping into a life he believes will be even crazier than his college days.
“I’m going into it expecting madness,” he said.
Manzelmania hit Cleveland like a spring thunderstorm Friday. As of 6 p.m., the Browns had sold 2,300 season tickets — renewals and new purchases — since the start of Thursday’s first round. In the hours after Manziel was chosen with the No. 22 overall pick, the team’s sales staff struggled to keep up with phones that barely stopped ringing.
At the team’s gift shot in FirstEnergy Stadium, fans waited in long lines to buy Manziel jerseys at $150 a pop.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner took all the attention in stride. He’s used to it, having had his every move on and off the field chronicled since the first time he scrambled out of the pocket and made a magical play for the Aggies.
“It means a lot to me, obviously,” Manziel said about Cleveland’s hyped reaction. “I’ve gotten a lot of support already, but there’s work that needs to be done.”
Manziel said he doesn’t carry the burden of being Johnny Football, the kid who turns giant stadiums into his personal playground and the one who occasionally hangs out with rap stars and LeBron James.
“I’m Johnny Manziel,” he said. “Johnny Football is what I am in the media and what is out there. I accept it and I’m very accepting of it. At the same time, I know who I am. I’m Johnny Manziel from Kerrville, Texas. I don’t let that get to me too much or let all that weigh me down or ever make me lose sleep at night.”
As he spoke, Gilbert quietly took it all in as he sat next to his famous teammate. Gilbert confessed to getting caught up in Manziel’s selection while he was in New York.
“I was on my way back to the hotel and I think my mom or somebody told me that we had Johnny Manziel so I let down the (car) window and started screaming, ‘Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Browns we’re here,’” he said. “I’m excited he’s here. I expect nothing but the best from him.”
The Browns have been waiting for someone, anyone like Manziel for years.
The team has started 20 quarterbacks since 1999, a roll call that begins with Ty Detmer and includes first-round busts like Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden.