Netflix dropped the latest episode of "Untold" today: "Johnny Football". Spoiler: it's awesome.
And it will be one of TV episodes that will written about for weeks. There's so much in it. Say what you want about him, but the man (still) pushes headlines. Netflix knew exactly what they were doing with this. Numbers galore. I mean his ex-wife was casually name dropping him on the new season of Selling Sunset - one of the most popular reality TV shows right now - for a reason. People care about Johnny Manziel.
This isn't a recap blog because 1. Nobody wants that and 2. You should just watch it. It's a well done and fascinating documentary. Plus it follows a very obvious timeline. It opens with his A&M HOF induction in 2022, and travels down the road of his childhood growing up in a Friday Night Lights town, his recruitment to A&M, his epic rise and, ultimately, his downfall.
And let's get this out of the way, there will inevitably be the
idiots people who consistently comment, tweet, whatever at me "you alwaysssss talk about Johnny and A&M" that will say I'm biased after reading this blog. And to those people I will say again: yes, I'm biased. I graduated from A&M. I love A&M. I was at A&M when Johnny was playing.
Johnny creates a lot of mixed opinions. But the universal one that will always be asked is "what if!?" While I won't pretend to be close with him, I do call Johnny a friend. From our days at A&M all the way to doing a little podcast called Barstool Sports' Comeback SZN together (throw back!), he's always been good to me when we interact. Johnny is a good human who has done some bad things. And yes, he addresses those things in the doc. There are some tough moments. So I do get a little, well, sad when I see how this all panned out for him.
But ultimately, I think theres so much more to him that just "being a bust". I want to paint a picture of the documentary that's not the stereotypical "what a loser this guy is" that mostly get thrown his way because it's a lot more complicated than that.
1. Johnny did something that nobody had ever seen in college football before. He parlayed being a college quarterback into a level of celebrity that is actually hard to fathom. IN LESS THAN SIX MONTHS.
This man went from being able to walk home from a game completely unnoticed to partying with Drake in one semester of college. He went from sports analysts mispronouncing his name as "Manzeel" to being on the cover of Time Magazine in one regular CFB season.
AT NINETEEN YEARS OLD. That's CRAZY. I'm not sure we will ever see that level of chaos again.
Let's role play, shall we? Close your eyes and go back to when you were a teenager in college away from home for the first time. Imagine being seen as a nobody to a gigantic celebrity in half a year. Imagine having all the hottest co-eds on campus (in underwear at Halloween!) dancing on you (as Scooby Doo!). Parties, private planes and entertainment at your fingertips. Imagine guys like Drake suddenly want to hang out with you. Imagine being the BEST at what you do even when you're shit faced or hungover. If you can actually say you wouldn't have acted like a complete asshole and done whatever you want whenever you want, I can tell you that you're a liar.
Are we supposed to act surprised a 19 year old kid with international celebrity friends and unlimited money isn't going to act like a 19 year old kid with international celebrity friends and unlimited money?? Get real.
2. The NCAA is, has and will always be the WOAT.
This episode just doubled and tripled down on why the NIL is the best thing for "student"-athletes (and why it should've happened a LOT sooner). Imagine the NIL existed in the era of Johnny Manziel? Guys like him, Tim Tebow, Reggie Bush… would RAKE. It's insanity we didn't have it in place before.
Some, not all, of the numbers thrown out:
- The A&M Foundation raised $740.6 million in the year after he won the Heisman ($300 million more than any year prior).
- A&M was estimated to get $37 million in free press just from the Heisman tour alone.
- Adidas sold 45 million #2 A&M jerseys (which by the way, A&M used to ONLY sell #12. You could never buy a single players jersey before Johnny).
As TexAgs' Billy Liucci (hi, former boss) said "I dont' know if there's been a more impactful athlete for a university than Johnny Football and Texas A&M. Everybody was along for the ride… and benefitting." Everybody. Kevin Sumlin, Kliff Kingsbury, A&M, College Station and anybody who was attached to him in any way got elevated.
(Even me. I got my job at ESPN when I got thrown on live national TV at SEC Media Days to talk about A&M mania. I happened to do well and the rest is history. I don't know if I would be at Barstool if it wasn't for that perfect storm trajectory. So once again… thanks, Johnny!!)
But really, can anybody blame him for looking around and thinking "what the fuck" and then ultimately creating a profitable business with his best friend… off his own NAME?? So once again, I ask you to imagine that you see all this money getting made off of you and you're handed an opportunity to make money too (with a fall guy in place who will make up whatever story he needs to protect you). Imagine grown ass men are giving you cash to sign autographs, flying you on PJs all over the country, giving you whatever you want just to sign your own government name. You wouldn't do it because it's against the rules!?? L.O.L.
3. As everybody already knows, Johnny had the entire world at his finger tips and, sadly, threw it away. But it was a lot more complicated than him just being a brat. It was true self sabotage to the definition.
There will always be people who mock mental health, especially with a guy like Johnny. "OH WHAT DOES HE HAVE TO BE SAD ABOUT?" (I loathe those people entirely). Sure, mental health is talked about loosely a lot these days. That doesn't make it less real for people. Not in the least. I'm sure there are plenty of yall reading this that have way less on their plate that can resonate with a completely unavoidable struggle. Mental health doesn't discriminate.
The spiral was written on the wall from the beginning. Think about it! He had freedom and money he never had before. He was able to perform at the highest level while partying at the highest level. Add it to surrounding himself with people who are doing the same stuff he was doing every day (aka mutual bad influences), all the alcohol + hard drugs he could possibly want AND a real mental health diagnoses? Disaster waiting to happen for anybody.
The story about how he planned out his suicide has already been written about by Karim. It's a sad, sad story. Good for Johnny for being so vulnerable. But the most haunting part to me wasn't the story itself, but his dad's quote at he end of the doc: "We're blessed he's still with us."
A father openly admitting that there was a real possibility his own son would be dead in his 20s because of his own life decisions. Horrifying. That alone should tell you how bad it actually got. Those days - in his own words - he sees "in black and white and I don't know why I couldn't see sunny days."
Thats really, really sad. And anybody who has felt that way understands that darkness. It's awful, especially if you feel like nobody actually cares if you live or die.
Now does that completely EXCUSE how poorly he handled the NFL? How he actively tried to get cut from the Browns? How poorly he botched his professional career post-NFL? No. Does it excuse his situation and relationship with Colleen Crowley? Absolutely not. His unwillingness to change time and time again? Nope. But it certainly helps explain it.
And Johnny is the first person to tell you that he is full of regrets. I'm sure if you gave 30-year-old Johnny the opportunity to redo it all, he would do it differently 10/10 times. Unfortunately, thats not how life works. And let's be honest, it SUCKS that we never got to see what Johnny Football would actually look like in the NFL if he just… cared to play in the NFL.
But what will never change? How much Johnny means to college football. He was a superstar. He put A&M on the national map in their first year in the SEC. It'll never change that he means so much to A&M. Not just as the Heisman winning QB. Not just as the guy who made it cool to be an Aggie. Not just as the guy who beat #1 Alabama. Not just the guy who made people who didn't care about A&M tune in to every single Aggie game. But as the guy who changed the way it felt to be an Aggie football fan. The guy who made every Aggie proud. A talent unmatched to anything Aggieland had ever seen. And the human being who now says "ya, I made a less of my life. But I made it out."
Maybe you love him. Maybe you hate him. Maybe you resent somebody throwing it all away. Maybe you're a little jealous. Or maybe you're a human being with compassion and empathy for how life can get out of control. But no matter what you think about him… you can't write the story of college football without Johnny Manziel. Both the flawed human being and the legend that will never die, Johnny Fucking Football.
PS - GASP, he wanted to go to Texas!?! Ya, no shit. Trust me, anybody our age growing up in Texas wanted to go to UT unless you had a tie to A&M. Texas was cool. A&M wasn't. Yet.
PPS - I won't ever stop talking about Johnny or A&M. EVERY SINGLE PERSON talks about their school and team more than any other. It's kind of the point of being a college football fan. Thanks and Gig 'Em!