The Canadian Football League is a haven for those in search of a second chance after the National Football League deems a player unworthy.
Football players with varying degrees of success come up north to either prolong or resurrect a career that may have held much promise but never quite reached its full potential. Usually these players are former college stars that were simply overlooked the first time around and are eager for the chance to shine on a professional stage.
But occasionally, you will find a former superstar that was given every chance to become that household name, only to squander it away and be forced to accept reality and come to Canada to reclaim that fleeting glory.
Johnny Manziel is the latest of those particular football players. He came into the CFL with much hype and fanfare, just as he has at every football stop since winning the Heisman trophy in his freshman year. After saying all the right things and doing what he could to prove to the football world that he was contrite about his squandered opportunities, Manziel eagerly awaited his opportunity to play in Hamilton. Aside from a limited number of snaps in the pre-season, that opportunity never came in his first CFL stop.
Thankfully for Manziel, there was a team out there that was just as desperate as he was. The Montreal Alouettes and their never-ending quarterback carousel would surely be just what the doctor ordered for Johnny’s foundering football hopes. By trading some star players and a pair of first round draft picks to Hamilton for his services, the Alouettes pretty much told Manziel what he needed to hear; We want you. We want to give you every opportunity to succeed at quarterback. This will be your team to lead.
The ink was barely dry on Johnny’s paperwork when he was thrown into an Alouettes uniform and shoved out onto the field to lob the ball around in practice. That simple gesture sent many Montreal fans in a tizzy and in a dash to the souvenir stands to snap up Alouettes jerseys with Manziel’s signature #2 on the back. The team itself did nothing to suggest that Manziel wouldn’t be a part of that ensuing game, only to happy to rake in the extra revenue that seems to come along with the former NFL first round draft pick’s name.
Manziel stood on the sidelines of that first game, helmet on and hoping for the nod from the head coach to go in. That nod never came despite the Alouettes losing by a considerable amount. That only served to draw the ire of those fans who just shelled out hundreds for game tickets plus that new jersey because they now realized that they were taken for the suckers they truly were.
Cries of “WE WANT JOHNNY!!” filled the summer air, over and over to the delight of the opposing team’s players who had a front row seat to the circus that played before them. Real football fans in attendance cringed, knowing that inserting a quarterback that had only a handful of practices under his belt would be just as disastrous as the game they saw being played already.
In essence, the Alouettes lost a lot that night but the real trainwreck was coming ’round the bend, full steam ahead.
Fast forward past Manziel’s first start (which was as horrific as one could have possibly imagined it would be when you insert a quarterback that doesn’t know the playbook at all) and the concussion he suffered during his second outing all the way to the Alouettes’ return from their bye week:
This is a far different Alouettes team than the smoldering wreckage that Johnny Manziel was a part of during his first go-around as QB1. With Manziel going through concussion protocol, the Alouettes had repatriated a young quarterback named Antonio Pipkin who had been let go during 2018 training camp. Injuries to the other QBs forced Montreal to bring back this young signal-caller as he knew the system well enough to lead the team.
And lead Pipkin did, as he managed to guide Montreal to TWO of their three total wins this season. With a cannon arm and the ability to remain calm under pressure, Pipkin was able to do something no other starting Alouettes quarterback could do; he was able to command the huddle and look like a leader for this once-proud franchise.
As the bye drew to a close and the Alouettes reported back to work, many wondered if there would be a quarterback controversy in La Belle Province. Would the Alouettes stay with Pipkin, who actually won games for the team? Or do they go back to Manziel, the guy they paid a king’s ransom to go get?
At first, the controversy was settled quickly. The practice sessions were led by Pipkin while Manziel was not even on the field for most of the week, felled by a supposed stomach flu. With each passing day, the same scenario played out that Pipkin was leading the Alouettes and Manziel had a bad tummy, allegedly far too bad for him to attempt throwing a football.
Yet somehow Manziel was able to record his weekly podcast, leading to further speculation about the severity of his illness. While recording a podcast isn’t as physically taxing as playing football, it certainly seemed that Manziel wasn’t nearly as ill as initially presented by the Alouettes.
Perhaps realizing that the jig was up, Manziel did take the practice field for the team’s walkthrough and then spoke with the media afterwards. His comments were not exactly what you’d wanted to hear from the now-backup QB. Johnny suggested out loud that he didn’t expect to lose his starting job due to injury and was disappointed that the team traded a lot to get him only to not use his talents as they should be.
This set off a firestorm of online activity and got the talking heads going, as a great many folks felt that Manziel was out of line and showing his privilege. Instead of being a team player and supporting the team that finally looked to have turned a corner for this season, Manziel’s comments came across as inflammatory and self-serving. This team was starting to come together in a positive way before the bye week, but that didn’t appear to be good enough for Johnny Football.
The biggest fear for Alouettes fans was that when the Pipkin bubble started to deflate, the vociferous and mostly uneducated Manziel fans would turn and demand that Manziel be given back the starting job. Because they only come out to see him and to them, Johnny Football = wins.
As Pipkin and the Alouettes fell to the BC Lions last Friday, those same chants of “WE WANT JOHNNY!!” rang through Percival Molson Stadium. Disregard that Manziel hadn’t practiced nearly all week and he even appeared to be caught on camera laughing on the sidelines as one of Pipkin’s passes was intercepted for a touchdown.
For the record, I haven’t seen any concrete proof that Manziel was laughing aside from some still frames that look more like he was cringing, but even that alone is a very telling sign. There’s a big part of me (and many others who follow this team) that believe these were all calculated moves on Manziel’s part to revert the spotlight back on him so that he can get his “Comeback SZN” back on track.
In a normal world, such aberrant behaviour would earn you a demotion at the very least. Football is a team sport and ideally, no one player is bigger than the team. But the Montreal Alouettes have proven to be far from normal when it comes to their decisions, both on and off the field.
It was announced this past Monday, after the first practice of the week was done, that Johnny Manziel would indeed be the starting quarterback as the Alouettes face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Friday. Sometimes, the squeaky wheel does get the grease.
Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman stated that the decision to start Manziel wasn’t based on that media outburst last week. I want to believe that but quite frankly at this point, this football team’s leaders could all tell me that 2+2=4 and I would break out a calculator just to be sure. It was easy to not play Manziel when he was going through a concussion protocol. Now that he’s healthy, his presence on the sidelines would unfairly hang overhead like the sword of Damocles of whomever is the quarterback.
But instead of giving Manziel a dose of humility by benching him and showing that no one is above the team dynamic, the Alouettes’ coaching staff are instead rewarding Johnny’s bad behaviour by allowing him to start in Winnipeg. I can’t imagine his fellow teammates being too impressed by this turn of events.
I certainly can’t imagine Antonio Pipkin is too pleased either at losing out at his post for having one bad day at the office. But football is not the playground for the fair. There’s potential money to be made if Manziel can finally find success. Thus the Alouettes seem to have no choice but to go down that road and hope that the pot of gold will truly be there at the end.
This is how I see it; It’s been 41 days since Johnny Manziel last participated in a football game. In that amount of time, along with the 20 additional days that he’s been a Montreal Alouette, Johnny Manziel better have the offensive playbook down to a science. If he’s the gamer and fiery competitor that his fans paint him to be, then he better be more than prepared to go out and win handily this Friday.
Because as far as I am concerned, he hasn’t done anything to earn the benefit of the doubt any longer. No more excuses. I’m weary of hearing about the “potential” that Johnny Manziel has to be a star in this league. He’s been given far more opportunities in football than many others that are more deserving have; it’s time to see some actual results from this alleged superstar.
If Johnny Football doesn’t start winning, he can kiss his already fading NFL aspirations good-bye permanently. Already, I have a hard time believing that any of the NFL’s 32 head coaches would tolerate such shenanigans from any of their quarterbacks. I also can’t imagine any NFL scout or general manager reading up on Johnny Manziel in 2018 and saying, “Man, we have GOT to get this guy here!!”.
Like it or not, the Alouettes’ slim chances for success now lie on the shoulders of this still-young Texan and barring injury, that’s where they will stay, warts and all. Johnny can talk a good game when you shove a microphone in his face; now let’s see if he can back it up where and when it counts; on the football field.
I said it before and I will say it again: Good luck, Johnny. You’re truly going to need it.