Whether you wanted it to happen or didn’t, it’s now Johnny Football time in the 514.
The Montreal Alouettes sit at 1-5 and despite a valiant effort from quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. last Thursday, the team is pulling out all the stops in order to get back into the win column. This Friday versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Als will feature their fourteenth starting quarterback since Anthony Calvillo played his last game for the team.
The latest who will be tasked with getting the W for the Alouettes is none other than Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman trophy winner and former NFL first round draft pick. The much ballyhooed quarterback started this 2018 CFL season as a member of the same Tiger-Cats that will be in the house on Friday, but a major trade brought the former Texas A&M star to the Birds of Prey.
Now Manziel will face his former team, who never allowed him any regular season snaps during his brief time in the Hammer. Despite Hamilton head coach June Jones proclaiming that Manziel would be among the greatest to have ever played in the Canadian Football League, the play of veteran pivot Jeremiah Masoli ensured that Manziel would stay on the Tiger-Cat sidelines.
The Tabbies saw an opportunity to unload the enigmatic signal-caller when Alouettes GM Kavis Reed came calling, desperate for a quarterback that will jump-start the lacklustre Montreal offense. So desperate was Reed that he shipped two of his better off-season acquisitions in Jamaal Westerman and Chris Williams along with the first round picks of the 2020 and 2021 CFL Draft to Hamilton in order to acquire the services of Manziel.
The hype that has surrounded this young man’s career is immense and his arrival in Montreal has only fanned the flames of those desperate to see Johnny Football get his career back on track. Despite only participating in a couple of practices, Manziel dressed for the game last Thursday and the football world waited with bated breath for him to take the field against the Eskimos.
It was not meant to be, as Manziel once again stood on the sidelines to wait his turn. Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman stated that he was not willing to put Manziel in a situation to fail by inserting him into last week’s blowout to Edmonton. After practice concluded this past Tuesday, Sherman declared that Johnny was now ready to lead the charge and that he would indeed face his former team as Manziel’s first real test in the Canadian Football League.
Do I think Johnny Manziel is ready to lead this Alouettes team? I’d be lying if I said that I had no doubt in his abilities. I’m very much of the opinion that you would have to be an incredible student of the game in order to master a CFL playbook in the relatively short time that Johnny has been a member of the Alouettes.
I also believe that based on his performance last week, Vernon Adams should have been given the chance to start another game before turning in desperation to Montreal’s latest big-name signing. While Adams was far from perfect, the team certainly had a different feel to it with him under centre compared to previous weeks with other quarterbacks.
But perhaps this coaching staff saw what happened as a result of not playing Manziel and the ensuing madness that came from “fans” vociferously demanding to see the superstar in action. And as a result, the best thing would be to let Manziel finally see the field and either succeed or fail on his merits. If Manziel plays exceptionally bad or gets injured, then the team can re-insert Adams as needed.
Is it fair? Certainly not. But when has the game of football ever prided itself on being fair to any of its participants?
I’m also of the opinion that the league and TSN have put incredible pressure on the Alouettes to start Manziel, as he truly can get people talking and watching the CFL, regardless of whether you like him or not. This game will be featured on ESPN2 and I expect the ratings for this game to be at an all-time high. People who would not have normally given the CFL the time of day will now be tuning in solely to see Johnny Football take his first professional snaps since late 2015.
Naturally, Alouettes Nation is divided by the decision to bench Adams in favour of Manziel this Friday. Many feel that Adams was disrespected and that this team will play more for Adams than they would for Manziel. Others have bought into the hype and feel that Manziel can turn himself around and get Montreal back on track, especially as he plays his former teammates.
I’m personally of the same opinion of former Alouette and future Hall of Famer Nik Lewis, who tweeted this out after last Thursday’s game:
I’m not about to jump on board the Manziel hype train solely on his name alone. That matters not to me. What I want to see is this still-young man live up to these lofty expectations and in the short time that he has been in Montreal, I just can’t see that happening right away. Remember FOURTEEN other QBs have come and gone through this black hole known as Alouettes football and none of them were the answer.
Of course, none of them had the buildup and mystique that Johnny Manziel does. I’m skeptical that he will magically pull it all together and be the elixir that this football team needs to redeem itself. But stranger things have happened before. We all remember the debut of one Rakeem Cato in a game that no one expected Montreal to be competitive in and he rocked everyone’s socks off.
If Manziel can come in and do the exact same thing this Friday against Hamilton, it will certainly be a major shot in the arm for everyone involved. It will also fuel the fire of those who have been thumping their chest on Manziel’s behalf; they will feel vindicated in their belief that their hero was exactly what Montreal needed to win.
At the end of the day, I think Alouettes fans want desperately to have something to cheer about. Winning is awesome. And if Johnny Football can deliver a win for the Alouettes in his CFL debut, we just may see a major change in the mood of this fleeting football town.
That’s all for now. For all of this hype and buildup, I sincerely hope that more than 16k will bother to show up. This organization took it on the chin when Manziel didn’t play despite the marketing team hyping last week’s game as his debut.
Now that Johnny has been declared the starter, that same marketing team has kicked things into overdrive in regards to promoting this game. Folks will surely be tuning in across the continent. I’m willing to bet that even more Manziel #2 jerseys will be sold at Percival Molson Stadium this Friday.
But will all this buildup translate into a sold-out stadium? To me, that will really be the test to just how much worth Johnny Manziel has for the Montreal Alouettes. They’ve mortgaged the future to bring him on board. Now to see if the juice was worth the squeeze.
Enjoy the game folks, regardless of where you watch it. And best of luck to you this Friday, Johnny……suffice to say, you are going to need it.