Heisman Trophy voters took an unprecedented leap last December when they elected Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to ever win the award. For decades prior to Manziel’s win, voters were hesitant to consider, let alone select a freshman for the most prominent individual award. The attention its first freshman winner has received could restore electors’ reservations about choosing a first-year player again in the near future.
Almost immediately after hoisting the trophy, the media attention that propelled Manziel onto the podium at the Downtown Athletic Club morphed into a paparazzi-like obsession. Personally, I don’t enjoy keeping tabs on the hysteria, but would be remiss if I didn’t.
Now, that doesn’t impact Manziel’s play. His game speaks for itself, but lately is drowned out by the chatter of pundits, paparazzi and Manziel himself.
Whatever the reason and no matter who is to blame, all the unusual focus on the quarterback brings similar exposure to the award, to a point that it almost feels like the Heisman was awarded to Amanda Bynes. That’s likely not the kind of attention those associated with the trophy want.
Hardly a week goes by this off-season when Manziel isn’t involved in some mini-controversy, the most recent of which were cryptic tweets about his frustrations with College Station. Each new Manziel headline rekindles an on-going debate between detractors and apologists.
Los Angeles Times college football reporter Chris Dufresne gave this take:
The Johnny FB tweet is what keeps college coaches up later at night than their Heisman trophy winners.
— Chris Dufresne (@DufresneLATimes) June 17, 2013
Predecessors Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III were able to turn their post-Heisman focus on the NFL draft. Maybe returning for another year of college would have brought similar off-field attention to them as Manziel is drawing. Manziel cannot pursue the professional ranks until 2014 at the earliest. Thus, he doesn’t have the welcome distratction of the combine, OTAs and assorted other football-related outlets.
Manziel isn’t the first player to come back with a Heisman en tow, however. Hardly: from 2007 through 2009, every winner returned for another season. While 2007 Heisman recipient Tim Tebow generated considerable buzz, the attention paid to him while at Florida was largely devoted to his philanthropic work. Since is a whole different story, but that’s a whole other topic.
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford flew under the radar in the 2009 off-season, as did Alabama running back Mark Ingram the following season.
Manziel’s youth is an oft-cited factor when discussing his off-season attention, yet Ingram was younger by two weeks. Ingram also played for perhaps the most followed program during the social media era.
So what makes Manziel so different? Answering that question is difficult without actually knowing Manziel. NBC Sports college basketball writer Raphielle Johnson points out that even though social media might give the impression of knowing and understanding Manziel, it’s a superficial insight.
So I guess my point is this: regardless of how much we watch these guys on TV and follow them on social media, we don't know them.
— Raphielle Johnson (@raphiellej) June 17, 2013
He’s 100 percent correct, though that won’t stop some from assuming they know a whole lot more than they actually do. Going off this very limited scope, there is a characteristic that makes Manziel different from every Heisman winner before: he was a freshman. Fair or not, Manziel sets a tone for other potential freshmen Heisman recipients as the first. Heisman voting has proven to be a knee-jerk reactionary endeavor, and in this case, the reaction could impact how first-year candidates are perceived.