I lived about a quarter of a mile off Route 329 in upstate New York as a kid. Our dirt driveway made its way into a pack of thick woods where our house was. Every Sunday, I’d walk up that driveway to the house at the other end of it — my grandfather’s — to read the newspaper.
Sundays in the fall and winter were the most memorable. As I entered the house, the smell of Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco smacked me in the face. I loved it. It was coming from my grandfather’s pipe that he was smoking as he sat in front of his T.V. watching football with a jar of peanuts and a can of Milwaukee’s Best. He was wearing his old fishnet-style Cleveland Browns trucker hat. I’m not talking about the new, fashion friendly fishnet trucker hats you get nowadays for $20 or $30. This was the old cardboard brimmed, foam structured kind he likely got for free. That didn’t matter. Gramps rocked it on Sundays like he paid a grand for it.
He loved his Cleveland Browns. He loved watching Bernie Kosar sling the ball around the field to guys like Ozzie Newsome and Webster Slaughter. Long before that he loved Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. It likely broke a small piece of his heart when local legend Ernie Davis died before he could play for the Browns. I’ll never know for sure, as my grandfather passed away back in March of 1996 — the offseason before his beloved Browns left Cleveland and became the Ravens.
If he wasn’t watching a Browns game, he had his T.V. tuned to whatever game John Madden and Pat Summerall were calling. My grandpa loved John Madden. Football was a fun game to watch, but John Madden made it even more so. The words and phrases we’ve all come to know Madden for made my grandfather laugh louder than he ever normally did. It was all about fun.
Football is all about fun — at least it used to be.
Nowadays, it seems like football forgot how to be fun. All we hear about are player suspensions, players in trouble with the law, PEDs, contracts, holdouts or how long it’s been since a certain person or team won a championship — if ever.
Think about the two most famous players in the game today — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. When is the last time you can remember watching them play and seeing a close up shot of either of their faces looking like they are having fun? I can’t remember.
The fun is gone. Every year, the NFL puts more restrictions on touchdown celebrations. Think about that for a minute. This is a business where young men in their mid-twenties make millions of dollars playing a game — a game that is supposed to be fun — and yet the powers that be are telling them to tone down the fun when they score a touchdown. I’ve played football. There are few things as enjoyable as scoring a touchdown. The only limit there should be when it comes to celebrating scoring a touchdown is time.
We’ve done our part to kill the fun. I meet more and more people all the time who play the Madden video game with Madden’s voice turned off. “He’s annoying”, they say. I meet someone new every day who hates Chris Berman. “Obnoxious” is a word often associated with Berman.
I love both. I love both because they add more fun to watching football or shows about football. Their enthusiasm is infectious — to me anyway. And it’s fun.
I guess this is why I find myself rooting for Johnny Manziel. He’s everything every football coach (including my own father) taught us all not to be. He talks smack. He taunts. He celebrates like a madman after pulling off an on-field stunt few others could pull off. Regardless of whether or not you like him as a person (and we’ll get to that in a second), you can’t watch him play football without being entertained. You are entertained because he is having fun. The sport is about being entertained. That’s why they started putting bleachers next to football fields.
So you don’t like him? I get it. I’ve been a die-hard Tom Brady fan since the day he took over at quarterback for my Patriots. I’ve watched his collection of haters grow through the years, mostly out of jealousy. He’s better looking than all of us, is married to a super-model, wears the craziest and most metro-sexual threads we’ve ever seen and lives in a castle with a moat in, of all places, California. Of course you hate him.
And of course you hate Johnny Manziel. He won the Heisman as a freshmen, hangs out with Lebron James and Drake, shows up at high-profile events in seats you could only afford if you didn’t pay your mortgage for six months and parties like a rock star. He does all of this and STILL pulls off video game numbers and highlights you couldn’t recreate no matter how hard you mashed the circle button on the controller.
You got angry when it looked like he sold his autograph to a memorabilia broker. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. Either way, someone was willing to pay him for it because others were willing to pay them for it. Who’s at fault for that?
You scoffed when he filled his schedule with online classes. When is the last time you took an online class? Try taking four of them in the same semester.
And then we got angry when we saw the kid partying and drinking beer at college parties — GASP! –while he was in college!
Gimme a break. If those are the kid’s character issues, sign me up.
Johnny Manziel never punched his girlfriend in an elevator. He was never involved in a back-alley murder. He never ran an illegal dogfighting ring. He was never accused of sexual assault and he’s never been accused of being a racist.
Johnny Manziel is guilty of enjoying life to the fullest while exploiting his own talent to add even more enjoyment to life. All he wants to do is live, laugh, party and win.
Who DOESN’T want that?
And now, Johnny Manziel will take that love of life and football he has to the Factory of Sadness in hopes of adding to the legend of Johnny Football while pulling a storied franchise from the ashes. I can’t wait to see it.
I am, however, sad to know that I’ll never be able to sit next to my grandfather and smell that pipe while I listen to him laugh as he watches John Madden try to chase down Johnny Manziel with his chalkboard on a replay where he juked half the defense en route to the end zone.
Instead, if and when Manziel does just that, I’ll just smile, look to the sky and imagine my grandpa grinning ear to ear with that Browns hat on his head and that pipe hanging out of the corner of his mouth.