In front of a cold high school football stadium crowd Saturday, Johnny Manziel threw his first meaningful touchdown pass in 832 days. The former Heisman Trophy winner played two quarters’ worth of ball in the Spring League opener, completing 9 of his 15 pass attempts for 82 yards and the above score. He was also sacked three times as his side fell, 11-7, in Austin.
Afterward, Manziel expressed some frustration with the lack of crispness permeating the sloppy debut.
“It’s disappointing, some of the things that happened,” he said, “but nevertheless, it’s a huge step for me. I put pads back on. A lot of people wrote me off just to even get to this point. I’m definitely emotional about it. I’m definitely happy about it. This isn’t the end goal for me, but I’m having fun again. I have a smile on my face.”
“The message that I’m sending is showing up every day and going to meetings,” he said. “Being engaged in everything that is going on during practice and in the game. I can’t control what is going on [with NFL teams’ interest], and I don’t know what’s going on in NFL meetings. If that’s the case, if the NFL is something that pops up, cool. If not, I’m going to work until I get back there. We’ll see how things play out.”
The bright side for Manziel is that he’s found a place to showcase what’s left of his game, and NFL teams seem at least moderately interested. And he didn’t look totally lost there — at some points showing flashes of his former brilliance against lackluster competition.
But anyone watching Saturday was struck by just how far Manziel appeared — both physically and symbolically from the NFL, or even CFL. One couldn’t help but wonder what insight front offices can take from his on-field performance and if it matters at all.
Right now, Manziel is humbling himself on the lowest rung of the ladder. Maybe that’s the point — to show that he’s serious about the comeback and will do whatever it takes. Considering his past, it’s a necessary step.
If there is to be a redemption story, the first couple of chapters will not be glamorous. Again, perhaps that’s the point.