Fear not football fans, there’s plenty of pigskin on the horizon. With the NFL season concluding after a thrilling Super Bowl Sunday night, the newly launched XFL aims to expedite the nation’s yearly dose of football fever. The startup league will kick off this coming weekend, however, as Vince McMahon continues plotting the rebirth of his football child - which by all accounts was a demon baby the first time round in the early 2000’s - there’s a big piece of the puzzle that’s missing.
For years the NFL, NBA, and MLB have been driven by star power. The Lebrons, Peyton Mannings, and Derek Jeters of the word have helped single-handedly drive the ratings and revenue for their respected employers.
This begs to question as to why a startup Spring football league would turn their backs on one of the most polarizing and iconic athletes of the 21st century. Of course, I’m referring to none other than Johnny Manziel. After climbing out of the physical and emotional depths of substance abuse and fame, the former Heisman trophy winner has actively campaigned for a shot at playing professional football again on U.S. soil.
Unfortunately for the captivating quarterback, the interest has not quite been reciprocated. After a few flashes of success during his lone season in the CFL, along with a brief two-game stint in the failed Aliance of America Football, the XFL appears to be the troubled signal caller’s last shot at proving his skeptics wrong.
One of his biggest critics to date has been former Dallas Cowboy legend, Daryl Johnston. As an AAF GM Moose refused to sign Manziel last Spring and spoke out this past Fall saying you could expect the same after accepting a similar position with the XFL’s Dallas Renegades. The former Super Bowl champ held no punches when talking to the press, questioning the Aggie legend’s character.
“For me the chemistry in the locker room is critical, and especially the quarterback position. He kind of sets the tone for the whole team” Johnston said. “I haven’t seen that from Johnny on a consistent basis that I would feel comfortable committing to him.”
The question now is, how does the rest of the league feel towards the troubled signal caller? And better yet, are McMahon and company really that comfortable with Landry freaking Jones being the face of their company?
That is literally like Brad Pitt hitting up Universal studios saying “yo guys, I’ll work for free. Just put me on the big screen” and the execs saying “We’re cool Brad. We’ve got Brendan Fraser and one of the Twilight vampires headlining our summer movie”.
The revenue, TV ratings, and buzz created by the triumphant return of Johnny Football is a marketing team’s dream. The AAF’s audience rating soared during his two game stint and there were rumblings prior to the league’s demise that the Alamo Dome was preparing for a near sell-out crowd in what would have been Manziel’s season finale in San Antonio.
From a football standpoint, the former All-American has made strides since his abysmal start in Canada nearly two years ago. Despite battling injuries and the learning curve of a new game, Manziel finished his time up North completing nearly 65% of his passes while averaging over 200 yards of offense per game. Although a very brief sample size, he also appeared to have made major strides mechanically in terms of ball placement, footwork, and decision making.
To be fair, signing any player with a reputation like Manziel’s deserves a diligent vetting process. With a track record of immaturity and at best questionable decision making, an organization has every right to question where #2’s head is at prior to signing him.
However, in a world where the likes of Greg Hardy, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Marshall, and Ray Lewis can all receive a second shot at redemption, Why can’t Manziel? Are his indiscretions - which consist mostly of drinking four lokos on bye weeks, punching a bar tender on sixth street, partying in Scooby Doo outfits, and an alleged domestic dispute which was later dismissed in court - any worse than those guys?
The counter argument here, is that all of those players previously mentioned were perennial pro bowlers. My response to that is you do not throw for 375 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, run for 115 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and lead the league in touchdown passes over 50+ yards if you don’t have talent. Athletically #2 has proven he’s ready for a return to the gridiron. If his behavior off the field can match it - which appears to be the case judging by his actions the last two years - then what are we waiting on?
The XFL will kickoff their season February 7th, 2020. If they plan on avoiding the previous disaster of their predecessor, it might be time to pick up the phone and find JFF a new home.