ATLANTA – No more football for Johnny Football unless it's just for kicks.
After a self-destructing pro career that never came close to fulfilling his enormous potential, Johnny Manziel says he's done with the game that gave him his catchy moniker — even as he's dabbling in a fledgling, fan-controlled arena league that was set to begin play Saturday night in suburban Atlanta.
This is simply a fun little sidelight, Manziel insisted, giving him a chance to take a few snaps in an intriguing new venture and perhaps help some up-and-comers get a look from the NFL.
“This is not my redemption tour,” Manziel said in an interview with The Associated Press
These days, he's more interested in working on his golf game than prepping for another football comeback.
The gridiron is firmly in his rearview mirror.
“If I got an offer to go back to the NFL ... or any other league that plays serious, competitive football, I have zero interest, zero desire,” Manziel said. “My heart's not in it anymore. I don't love football the way I used to love football. Over the course of the last year, I've come to peace with that.”
It's not like he had a bunch of folks knocking at his door, anyway.
His glory days at Texas A&M, where Manziel was one of college football’s most electrifying dual-threat quarterbacks, seem like several lifetimes ago, though he's still just 28 years old — an age when he could have been entering the prime of his career.
Asked if he'd like a chance to turn back the clock, somehow find a way to make people forget all the antics and arrogance and immaturity, Manziel said he's moved past that stage of his life.
“I beat myself up about what could have been and what should have been and what I did wrong," he said. “I had a very promising football career, but it all got bungled by the perfect storm of everything that happened and what my life became. It clouded my judgment of who I was as a person. I almost resented myself a little bit. Now I'm good with myself and good with what happened. I'm at peace.”
For a fleeting couple of seasons, Johnny Football had the world by the tail. The first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. A memorable upset of mighty Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Enough highlight-reel plays to fill a feature-length movie.
But when Manziel entered the 2014 NFL draft there were questions about his size — a smidgen under 6 feet tall — and more serious concerns about his arrogant antics and whether he was willing to put in the work to develop into a top NFL quarterback.
After plummeting to the 22nd spot before he was finally selected by the Cleveland Browns, Manziel vowed to prove his critics wrong.
He only wound up confirming their worst fears.
Manziel made an obscene gesture on the field, faced constant gripes about his immaturity and lack of commitment, did a long stint in rehab and essentially finished off his NFL career after just two seasons by reportedly partying in Las Vegas instead of getting treatment for a concussion in Cleveland.
He played only 15 games with the Browns, including eight starts. When no other NFL team would give him a shot, Manziel attempted to reboot his career in both the Canadian Football League and the short-lived Alliance of American Football. Neither panned out.
He looks at his latest league, Fan Controlled Football, much differently from his other stops. This time, he's trying to help others get the sort of opportunities he squandered.
“I told everyone here, ‘If I can come and still have a chance to play a little bit, and that brings eyes to the league and gives you guys a chance, a better chance, to go on with your careers, that’s something I want to do,'" Manziel said.
The upstart league, which is trying to bring a video-game spin to a real-life sport, is certainly glad to have him.
“He brings an audience of people who follow Johnny and want to see Johnny,” said Sohrob Farudi, the league's co-founder and CEO. “He's the type of player we want in this league. The simple fact is he's electric.”
Even with all his newfound clarity, Manziel remains an enigma.
He talks of wanting to do other things in his life, but is vague on details. He mentions coaching, but would certainly face questions about how he'd be able to guide others when he had so much trouble handling himself. He seems to get most excited when the subject turns to being out on the links.
“My goal is not to go play professional golf or anything like that,” Manziel said. “I want to be a good amateur golfer, go gamble with my boys on the golf course.”
Even as he vows to move forward, there are indications he is still living in the past.
“I can still go back to Texas A&M and know that I am a legend at A&M," Manziel said. “I can go back to my high school and know that with the career I had, I can hold my head high."
To some degree, it seems, he'll always be Johnny Football.
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