There’s a little fellow in Cleveland who hopes the law of attraction is more cliché and less physical law, because if “opposites" do attract, Johnny Football may become Johnny No More Football on Sunday. The hype that is Money Manziel hasn’t translated into money in the bank just yet, but you can bet that Big Money Charles Johnson will be looking to cash in anyway. If the two opposite forces collide, Little Johnny will have to pay up.
It’s an interesting match-up, Money Manziel vs Big Money, one that captures so much of what is great about the NFL—an interwoven meeting of sport and story. The two are truly polar opposites on and off the field. Rookie and veteran, offense and defense, extrovert and introvert, flash and force, the two are so different, but both help make football great. The differences between the two stars are distinct and can be seen in near every aspect of their lives and play.
Manziel comes from an affluent family, whose wealth dates back to the Texas oil rush. Manziel’s great-grandfather struck it rich after securing a $700 loan from Jack Dempsey (they had been boxing opponents at one point) to purchase land in hopes of cashing in on the Texas oil boom. He struck oil, and the family has reaped the riches since. Their family story hasn't been without it's intrigue either with stories of high-stakes gambling, bribery, and run-ins with the law—all before Johnny Football's time—could easily making a racy Dallas spin-off TV drama.
Charles Johnson's story is a little more mundane, well if you take away the part where a small-town Georgia boy made it to the NFL and is now a multi-millionaire. Johnson comes from single parent home, anchored by a mother who worked in a nursing home to support Charles and his brother. In contrast to Manziel, Johnson was estranged from his father and clearly assumed the role of patriarch. Johnson, who isn’t an open book, has mentioned publicly that he desires be different than his father, shown as he rushed at the opportunity to become the family provider. In a rare remark about his personal life and his mother, Johnson noted “The day I got in the NFL, that’s the day she retired.” Overall, he's worked diligently to lead a very personal life that from the outside looks rather unassuming.
Their personality differences are also particularly stark. Manziel’s fame hasn’t simply come from his privileged beginnings. He burst on the college football scene, becoming the first freshman to hoist the Heisman trophy. Manziel represents the millennial football star, one who understands the power of publicity and is willing to gamble at the tables of social media. Perhaps even more powerful than his actual football success, Manziel captures attention on and off the field by showcasing his bigger than life personality. His youthful energy often results in shenanigans, poor decisions, and a lack of personal restraint; nevertheless, Johnny Football has a knack for complimenting the shenanigans with a forgiving youthful innocence . For every damning social moment, Manziel finds equal ways to endear himself publically. Whether delivering the Top 10 List on David Letterman or hanging with Nolan Ryan before tossing out the first pitch a Rangers game, Manziel counters the taunting opponents and snowy nights in Las Vegas bathrooms images with an ear-to-ear grin that displays a type of likable naiveté.
Grading much differently on the Myers Briggs, Charles Johnson keeps things much closer to the vest. He has a cautious demeanor that coach Ron Rivera describes as “kind of aloof at times because he doesn’t want you to think he cares.” Many thought the 76 million dollar deal Johnson signed, giving him the nickname Big Money, would force him to assume a more vocal role in the locker-room. He’s avoided the cameras and interviews without any annoying antics that suggest he’s disinterested. There haven’t been any Marshawn Lynch “yeah” moments. Instead, he’s convinced fans and the media that he respectfully prefers to conduct his business on the field.
He’s almost been a little too good at avoiding the spotlight. The national football audience hasn’t noticed him as they cast their Pro Bowl votes, anyway, despite some dominant seasons with Pro-Bowl worthy stats. He’s an imposing force on the field, but off the field, Johnson prefers the solitude of deep-sea fishing trips over the media spotlight.
Sunday's match between Carolina and Cleveland makes football great. It’s bigger than just sport. It’s a contest of personalities, attitudes, and styles, which plays out in the game of football. Johnny Football made his debut start last week, and struggled mightily. Charles Johnson has had a quiet season, but as usual, he’s really turned it on over the last five weeks without much fanfare. The media light will certainly shine on Johnny Football Sunday, and Charles Johnson will surely focus his attention on the rookie quarterback.
Sunday’s battle is why fans invest so much in their favorite teams, their favorite players, or even developing a near hateful disdain for individual players. It’s more than a game—it’s very human story. These deeper characteristics may be a little easier to see when Money Manziel, the flashy, high profiled, sheltered from adversity quarterback, looks across the line to see an intimidating, determined, businesslike Charles Johnson, but similar narratives are there every week in some form or fashion. There just happens to be lot of money on the table in this match, and rest assurred we’ll be watching anxiously to see who cashes in. I'm sure it will make for a great story.
By Tony Dunn aka "the Professor"