Sunday, December 9, 2012

Johnny ‘Football’ To Johnny Heisman: Manziel Wins Heisman Trophy

He’s Johnny Heisman now. There is a lot to like about Johnny Manziel, and our universe has been infatuated with everything he’s done in his breakthrough season. His last name rhymes with iconic actor Denzel Washington, he was a backup quarterback and a YouTube sensation at one point.

It finally was a moment when Manziel arrived at Texas A&M, where he made a statement and cemented his Heisman status with a signature win over Alabama that swept over the nation, as it created enough buzz in college football. From there on out, he was mentioned in Heisman conversations, credited for leading the Aggies to an unthinkable victory. Unnoticed as a redshirt freshman, as people in Aggieland mispronounced his last name, Manziel ultimately revealed that he’s the finest quarterback in the nation.

The quarterback position is, without question, the toughest position of this more popular sport, which benefited in Manziel’s favor. But not to take anything away from Manziel, he was definitely well deserving of the prestigious award and had been presumed the frontrunner since the highlighted win over Alabama. It’s not all that difficult for the country to realize that he’s compiled Heisman-like numbers, it’s not all that difficult for the nation to discern that he’s the catalyst for lifting an accomplished program out of mediocrity.

The stiff-armed trophy, rightfully so, went to Manziel, a high-school hero, a household name at Texas A&M. The Heisman winner of 2012 must be a role model to a slew of kids in Texas, as well, after a high school student in Kerrville was sent home a few weeks ago for a haircut of the freshman phenom, and Manziel’s “Johnny Football” nickname with the Texas A&M logo shaved into scalp.

When Manziel was named the winner of the 78th Heisman trophy, on a historic night for college football, his mouth was agape, he was stunned and he was grinning. A night of emotion and jubilance illustrated that he’s indeed the nation’s top quarterback, and by winning an honorable prize that a bevy of players never had an opportunity to win or take the stage, he rose to national limelight. After his humble speech, he raised the trophy and kissed it, he refused to let it go. He cradled the trophy, smiling and speaking eloquently, as his father, Paul, was in tears.

A few days removed from his 20th birthday, Manziel spent Saturday night in New York and celebrated proudly with his family. What’s most important to Manziel, however, is winning games, but as gifted and sound as he was this season, he was worthy of individual accolades as well. He’s proven to the world that he’s the best athlete in college football and he’s marveled by many, specifically to those at College Station, where folks gave him the generic nickname Johnny “Football,” which he’s grown attached to over a period of time. But he is exactly what college sports should embody, and is what the game needs amid an age of greed and financial robbery that has sabotaged the significance of college athletics.

He grew up in Texas, hurling passes to his father, working hard each day to emerge into a high school star and an eventual star quarterback at a university, where he’s transcended to greatness as a freshman sensation. The hard work and imitation of idol Doug Flutie has paid off, a clear understanding to the effort he’s put in to reach a pinnacle in his lustrous career. The story of the season is Manziel, and ever since Texas A&M upset No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, he’s been the candidate for Heisman, captivating voters’ eyes following a victory that determined the welfare of his candidacy.

The national chatter came when he pleaded his case for the award, becoming a primary factor for the Aggies’ impressive season, in a year when it might have been the toughest decision. Heisman winners are commonplace at the quarterback position, so it’s not surprising that he won the trophy. It’s not the first time we’ve been embroiled in Heisman controversy, and certainly not the first time a quarterback has been bestowed the award. If we’ve seen Carson Palmer hoist the stiff-armed prize, Matt Leinart raise the bronze statuette, Tim Tebow lift the piece of hardware, Sam Bradford hold up the trophy, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III take indelible pictures while holding football’s most monumental award, we now can see Manziel with the trophy as well.

He’s the kind of guy everybody wants on their team and in their conference, and Manziel represents the ethics of the SEC, a conference with arguably the top players in the country. And realistically, after throwing for 24 touchdowns and running for 19, he was the most outstanding player in the nation, regardless of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finishing the season ranked second in the country with seven interceptions, and regardless of him leading the unbeaten Irish in tackles (103), passes broken up (11) and fumble recoveries (2). My guy all along, because he was most important to Notre Dame’s monstrous defensive front, was no one other than Te’o.

It could be we simply felt for him, a man who overcame so much adversity with faith and a spiritual background. Te’o helped direct the Irish to the BCS national title game on Jan. 7, while playing with a heavy heart due to the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend to illnesses on the same day. But by the same token, we saw one of the most dramatic seasons, including a mammoth upset that centered Manziel, which makes perfect sense as to why he won the Heisman by a landslide. Even though some felt Te’o would take the stiff-armed trophy home easily, Manziel was anointed and appreciated all over the college football world.

We know it’s true because he has been by virtue a team leader for a Texas A&M program that has returned to prominence, and he piloted the year’s biggest, massive upset, maybe one of the best in ages. Granted, he’s on pace to become the game’s most dangerous dual-threat quarterback ever, throwing for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. The numbers speak volumes, he’s a humble kid, very mature for his age, very charismatic and conducts himself as a well-behaved man who is passionate and finesse. He’s versatile, knowledgeable and fun to watch, bringing excitement and intensity to the game, with fans all over alarmed and hypnotized by the star of football these days.

The truth is, he had the best chance of winning the Heisman than Te’o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. One can argue that Manziel was good enough to win and lock up the Heisman when the Aggies defeated the Crimson Tide. The truth is, college football is an offensive-driven sport, and with a dual-threat repertoire, it was a no-brainer that he was worthy of stepping onto the stage to accept an award for such success this season. In his role as quarterback, he was consistently spectacular and unstoppable. Dominating in the SEC, where every football program rules and builds a legitimate powerhouse to likely contend for a national title, was primarily another reason he prevailed on the biggest night of his life.

When he showed he could stand his ground against SEC competition, with magnificent numbers he tallied, Manziel right then and there proved to everyone that he was the nation’s frontrunner for the Heisman. Its no wonder the last-minute talk surrounded Manziel. Impressing everyone largely at Texas A&M, a school that has its hopes high for football each season, was Manziel’s keys to the trophy. As a freshman, with the presence of A&M coach Kevin Sumlin who is all about philosophies and tremendous effort, Manziel excelled with a new coach, a new system.

There’s plenty of potential, plenty of promise for Manziel. Nobody saw it coming. It’s not every day we witness a freshman master greatness, especially when he’s still adjusting to a new system, especially when he’s making the transition from high school to college. But something different transpired in football this year. These days, great athletes grow fast and emerge over night, just like Johnny, becoming the first freshman and fifth player ever to record a 3,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing season.

More impressively, Manziel amassed 4,600 of the Aggies’ 6,628 yards of total offense — to be more specific 69.4 percent. He’s had more of a stronger impact on the game than Te’o. There’s no doubt in our minds that he is the paradigm of the modern-era, versatile quarterback. He can run, he can throw, he’s mobile and fearless, a typical quarterback in today’s game. All season long, he was durable and potent in Sumlin’s high-octane offense. All season long, he was a surefire Heisman winner, when nobody ever came close to snatching it away. He was not, however, perfect early in the season, and like everybody else he struggled against Florida and LSU elite defenses, which were understandable when the Gators led the nation in pass efficiency defense and when the Tigers ranked in the Top 10.

That still wasn’t stopping Manziel from becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman, not when he manhandled and steamrolled No. 1 ‘Bama for 345 yards of offense and threw two touchdowns with no interceptions, in what was the best game of his football career. For the record, he received 474 first-place votes, 153 more than Te’o. As for the Notre Dame senior, he finished runner up.

Johnny Football was remarkable. He was at the top of my Heisman Trophy ballot. If he weren’t the best story of college football this season, then I don’t know what was the feel-good story.