HOOVER, Ala. - This was Johnny Manziel's schedule for interviews on Wednesday at SEC Media Days:
8:30 - 8:40 TV1
8:40 - 8:50 TV2
8:50 - 9:00 SEC Digital Network.
9:00 - 9:10 ESPNU
9:10 - 9:40 Main Room
9:40 - 9:50 ESPN Gameday
9:50 - 10:00 ESPN.com
10:10 - 10:20 Fox Sports South
10:20 - 10:30 Sirius/XM
10:30 - 10:40 CBS.com
10:40 - 10:50 SEC Radio
10:50 - 11:00 Comcast Sports Southeast
11:00 - 11:10 Radio/Internet
So a provocateur asked a Texas A&M functionary, "Could I have the 11:11 to 11:12 slot for one question?"
"No," he said.
"Not one minute?"
"He has to get to LAX," he said.
"In one minute?"
"Change into tux, ESPYs, red carpet," he said.
This is the summer of contentment for Johnny Football. From redshirted obscurity to Heisman Trophy winner and all-eyes-on-him national celebrity in a year, he has become college football's Zelig, showing up everywhere doing everything.
On with Letterman and Leno ... at courtside for NBA games ... chatting up LeBron ... hanging with Drake ... Mardi Gras! Beads! Silly purple hat! Goofy grin! ... throwing out the first pitch for the Rangers ... making birdie at 18 to shoot 79 at Pebble Beach ... dating a model, flirting with movie stars (Megan Fox, Anne Hathaway), taking the sun with mostly nekkid co-eds at Cabo San Lucas ... sitting in a bar, champagne bottle in hand ... not to forget the tempests of the last week: 1) he plead guilty to the teenage stupidity of thinking two fake IDs are better than one, and 2) as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, he left camp early after stiffing not just one Manning but both Peyton and Eli, and Archie probably wasn't thrilled, either.
Wednesday morning, I got a taxi.
"Where we going?" the driver, Ishmail, said.
"SEC thing, at the Wynfrey."
"That man is wired for sound. Wired. For. Sound."
Long ago, the SEC did media days differently. Twenty-five or 30 of us climbed into a tin-can DC-3. We called ourselves the SEC Skywriters. We flew to each town. (Air traffic control in Starkville was a guy in bib overalls standing in the bed of a pickup truck. He had binoculars. I swear.) A team's status in preseason stories often depended on the imagination of its sports information director. Auburn did well because its SID, David Housel, met us on the tarmac with beer in an iced cooler.
Ishmail delivered me to a glitzy hotel in suburban Birmingham. You'd have thought a Super Bowl had broken out. Down the center aisle of the Wynfrey lobby, there was Radio Row: 37 radio stations doing sports-talk shows that included: "Southern Pigskin" and "The Sports Animal." A Knoxville reporter said, "Ten years ago, they had 500 media registered. This week, 1,200." The television network, Comcast Sports Southeast, did a 90-minute show from the hotel every day. ESPN built a "Gameday" set.
This was not football season. This was July 17. It was 212 degrees outside. But this is Alabama, this is the SEC, these people are nuts.
So I asked somebody, "Where's Manziel?"
"There." He pointed to the "Gameday" set.
Manziel was being interviewed live. Behind the set, maybe two dozen TV cameramen focused on the back of Johnny Football's head. He had a nice haircut, trimmed straight across at his collar. That's all I could see, and I could hear nothing. Another camera guy shot those camera guys. Yes, live shots of live shots of live shots -- when there came this authoritarian voice, "Back! Back!" The authority in her voice suggested she might have a whip and a chair. "Back, behind that line!"
I listened, amused. Riff-raff to one side of the line, ESPN to the other.
"You," she said, "back."
Me, she meant.
"This has officially surpassed Tebow-mania," a Florida guy said.
Some people had wondered if Manziel would show up at all. There had been the guilty plea Monday after the weekend thing at the Manning camp. It became a thing when the "Rumors & Rants" website reported (in either a rant or a rumor, I'm not sure which) that Manziel missed a camp counselors' morning meeting because of a hangover.
He showed up for his Media Days sessions well dressed in a dark, tailored suit, a white-checked shirt and classy striped tie. He came in fresh, relaxed, and in full command of talking points that, if he went to them once, he went to them a hundred times in his two and a half hours.
1) I'm a kid, 20 years old, a college student.
2) I'm having fun, I love life, I live life to the fullest.
3) I own my mistakes, I take responsibility, I'm learning from them.
As for the Manning thing ...
I tagged along during each 10-minute Manziel interview (or until meeting that lion-taming woman again). In the TV1 room, he dismissed "rumors and other things that are not really true." In TV2: "I'm just living a normal life." In SEC Digital: "My goal is to perfect the art of the quarterback.
On any one of those quotes, we could have talked for hours, Johnny Football and I. But here he was gone in 10 minutes and, besides, everyone wanted to know how he'd use all the new weapons Texas A&M has this season. Questions collided in the air as SECophiles sought to learn the future from Manziel -- the most FAQ: "What are your expectations this season?"
I was writing all this down when I heard that voice.
"You with 'media'?" she said.
I showed her the credential.
"'Media' can't be here," she said. "Network people only."
She pointed to the door. Then she pointed down the hall. As I left, I believe she pointed toward Portugal.
So I may have missed one or two Manziel quotes on the Manning thing. But here's the best one: "I overslept." His phone wasn't charged. He didn't set an alarm. It was a mutual decision that he would leave camp early and go home. No truth to the rants and rumors that he'd been asked to leave, he said. Nothing to do with the night before His story: "I was extremely tired from traveling." He was happy that the Mannings, Peyton and Eli, asked him back for next year. "I will be there," he said.
OK, so the good questions would have been: What time did you go bed, when were you due to be awake, why didn't your roommate, the Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron help you out, and why did your father say you came home because you were sick and "dehydrated?" (An ESPN anchor did ask Manziel if he'd been drinking the night before. Manziel said he didn't want to "go into the details." So, yes.)
Then he overslept. Fine. As long as he keeps being Johnny Football, he can sleep 'til noon Monday through Friday and 'til an hour before kickoff on Saturday. Missing a meeting with the Mannings is a scandal? He didn't show up for kids who pay millionaires for lessons on throwing a football -- if that passes for scandal, scandal's in a bad way in America. A couple weeks ago, in Brazil, fans at an amateur soccer match became so enraged at a 20-year-old referee that they dismembered him and decapitated him. You can find the pictures on the Internet. THAT, my friends, is a scandal.
I buy in when he says, "I'm a football player, I'm a college kid, I'm 20 years old, I'm just enjoying life. I'm not going to change. I've made mistakes, I have to adapt and learn from them. But I'm going to live life to the fullest."
There once was a Texan quarterback named Bobby Layne. He may have been the best ever at the University of Texas. He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A famous carouser, Layne said he knew the secret to late nights and early wake-up calls.
"Sleep fast," he said.