December 4, 2012

Johnny Tebow


Looks like we’ve got another Tebow situation on our hands. It’s still too early to tell for sure how bad this one is going to get, but so far it’s not looking good.

With the real Tim Tebow — maddeningly — wandering the lands of Football purgatory simply because he’s terrible at his job, what are the good, kind folks at ESPN to do? Apparently the plan is to whip up a new Tebow from scratch, like some Capital One-funded Frankenstein experiment: take an SEC quarterback, add some scrambling ability, toss in some Jesus, and top it all off with a meaningless, unearned, but easy-to-remember nickname. Voilà!

My first run-in with Johnny “Football” Manziel was their mid-October matchup with Louisiana Tech, a game that A&M squeaked out 59-57 when Tech missed a 2-point attempt with 38 seconds to go. Back then, nobody cared that he was Johnny Football; the announcers even chuckled a bit at the ridiculousness of such a nickname for a kid who’d done exactly nothing in his college career to that point.

The thing that stood out about Manziel in that game? Not a lot, actually. Leading your team to 59 points in a college football game isn’t exactly front-page news these days, and it’s not like he out-played Colby Cameron, the Louisiana Tech quarterback, who passed for 450 yards himself. Cameron, by the way, finished the season with more than 700 more yards passing than Manziel, which you could dismiss because he’s not facing SEC defenses, except that Texas A&M is an SEC team, and against them he threw for his second-highest yardage total of the season.

Big wins matter too, though, at least when they’re against Alabama. Big wins don’t count as much if you beat Kansas State or Oregon. (Remember these teams? ESPN doesn’t.) A&M’s win over the Crimson Tide was — without a doubt — the first time most of the blowhards on TV ever saw Manziel play, and immediately he became the Heisman front-runner. Why? Well, Matt Barkley, who had won the Heisman in the preseason, was having a bad actual-season, and then Geno Smith, who had won the Heisman in the first half of the season (seriously, there were countless iterations of “Geno Smith has already won the Heisman” floating around), lost it because the defense he plays with is the worst in American Football history. Then Colin Klein was the frontrunner for a minute, since he was the quarterback of the number one team in the country, but nobody really wanted to vote for him because he’s boring.

Smith is an excellent example of how ridiculous the narrative around the Heisman is. Seven or eight weeks into the season, not only was Geno the consensus front-runner, nobody could even come up with a second player to consider; it wasn’t even close. Wow, he must have really fallen off the face of the earth then? Decide for yourself. Season stats: 4004 yards, 71.4 completion percentage, 40 touchdowns, 6 interceptions. Not bad in my book, and I do actually have a book.

So Manziel beats Alabama and becomes the best reason to not vote for Klein. In fairness, last year nobody knew or cared who Robert Griffin was until Baylor beat Oklahoma in, again, the third-to-last game of the regular season, and all of a sudden the Heisman was his to lose. Of course, the argument could at least be made that Robert Griffin was actually the best player in the country last year. Manziel is most definitely not.

What the Heisman has become is just a perverted version of a college football player “power ranking,” and whoever is at the top of the list when the season ends is the winner. Power rankings have become de rigueur lately since they’re easy to write and they give sports websites a built-in column to run every week — which is fine if all you’re looking to do is generate page-views, but I was under the impression that the Heisman trophy still carried some prestige, that it was about more than who the most popular player of the last month-and-a-half is. Next thing you know, we’ll be putting players into the Hall of Fame based on how many Twitter followers they have.