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COLUMN

Johnny Football takes broken night, jukes and scores

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For more on the NFL, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Manziel heading to Cleveland with a chip on his shoulder

Friday, May 9, 2014 - 4:53 am

Bravo, Johnny Football. You stayed true to yourself. You didn't flinch. You didn't sulk. You waited patiently. At long last, Cleveland called and you embraced the Browns.

Quality move. Smart move. Winning move.

Bravo, Johnny Football, you're smart enough to know how this thing works, that slipping down the NFL Draft charts doesn't have to be a mood killer. In fact, it can be a motivator. You don't have to falsely inflate the old “everyone doubted me” cliché. Everyone did, or does, doubt you.

You watched as Blake Bortles took the glamour slot at No. 3. That's “glamour" in a manner of speaking, since no one's mistaking Jacksonville for Hollywood. Everyone else passed on the quarterbacks, whether you or Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr. You kept a calm demeanor. No storming out of the room, searching for a private place to rant.

Finally, the Browns called. They passed on you early, trading down to No. 8 and taking a cornerback (Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert) that left casual fans muttering “Who?” But they traded back up from No. 26 to No. 22 and submitted “Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M” for the commissioner to read, and you hit the stage smiling, rubbing those fingers together and exuding a good-time vibe. It didn't look like you were faking it. You looked, dare I say, happy to be joining the Browns.

In a way, you're still the No.3 pick.

Stick with me here.

The Browns picked Trent Richardson with the No.3 pick in 2012. Then they traded Richardson last year to the Indianapolis Colts for their first-rounder this year. Then they took that No. 26 pick and traded it to the Philadelphia Eagles for that No. 22 pick and called your name. So, in a roundabout way, they traded Richardson to get you. As Nicolas Cage (Andy Samberg version) would say, “That's high praise.”

You nailed it, Johnny Football, when, in your first interview, you mentioned how you “truly believed Cleveland is where I was supposed to end up,” and then you gave a shoutout to the “Dawg Pound,” telling them you're on your way.

The TV interviewers asked you what you bring and you said a lot of heart, a lot of passion and a winning attitude. You were convincing.

The Browns don't even necessarily need you to start right away, with Brian Hoyer back healthy and no one expecting Super Bowl. Or playoffs. Or .500. The Browns, after all, won the first day of the draft when they dealt the No. 4 pick to the Bills and picked up another first-rounder for next year.

You can go in and compete this training camp, and if Hoyer is further along in the pro game – which he should be with five years experience – then you can start out No. 2, take it slow and learn. Of course, we know you take nothing slow, so you'll probably push Hoyer from Day One. Browns fans, eternally and blindly hopeful, will cheer you on.

Bravo, Johnny Football, for realizing how great a fit Cleveland can be for you. Let's face it, no team is doubted more than the Browns. No team is expected to underachieve or fail to achieve or simply make all the wrong moves more than the Browns. They haven't hit it right at quarterback for any length of time since Bernie Kosar was running the show. As recently as last season, they changed their minds on the coach who was supposed to change it all.

So Cleveland is doubted, and you're doubted, and the only way to change the perception is to get on the field and make it happen.

You could be part of the Browns renaissance as the organization continues a bit of an overhaul, stockpiling draft picks for the future and building toward respectability.

Yes, there will be pressure, because fans are both impatient and fickle. If you don't progress fast enough or produce numbers flashy enough, the fans who are cheering you now, rooting on your newly minted underdog (under-dawg?) story will turn into loud, irritable critics. But maybe you never see those days. Maybe this is one instant where the Browns end up being smarter than the rest.

Maybe they took you, Johnny Football, because they know the measure of a quarterback is often as much about heart and desire as it is height and 40 time. Through all of your off-field shenanigans, most of which can be filed under “college kid,” there's never been a question about the passion you bring to the field.

You only need to be beloved by one city to make it as an NFL quarterback. Cleveland wants to be that city for you. All you have to do is deliver the goods.

Bravo, Johnny Football, for your draft-night enthusiasm. You took a tough night and made it seem as if you were just waiting for the Browns all along. No one can say you don't know how to read a situation and call the perfect audible.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.