August 27, 2014

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(UPDATED) Browns: Johnny Manziel expects madness as he embarks on NFL career

Browns head coach Mike Pettine, left, and general manager Ray Farmer, right, pose with the team's first-round draft picks, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine, left, and general manager Ray Farmer, right, pose with the team’s first-round draft picks, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel.

BEREA — Johnny Manziel sat at the podium and looked like any other draft pick. He wore a big Browns hat that didn’t match his suit and tie and politely answered questions.

But Manziel, aka Johnny Football, is unlike any previous Browns player. He’s part-celebrity, part-playmaker and he’s all Cleveland’s after being selected Thursday night with the No. 22 pick. It’s a whole new world for the Browns and Northeast Ohio.

“I think I’m Johnny Manziel,” he said Friday at his introductory news conference at team headquarters. “Johnny Football is what I am in the media and what is out there. I’m very accepting of it.

“At the same time, I know who I am. I’m Johnny Manziel from Kerrville, Texas. I don’t let that get to me too much or let all that weigh me down or ever make me lose sleep at night.”

Fans waited for the team shop at FirstEnergy Stadium to open Friday morning to get their No. 2 jerseys. They lined up along the black fence at Browns headquarters to catch a glimpse of Cleveland’s newest star on his way to the airport. They bought 2,300 season tickets since the start of the NFL Draft, which had the sales bell ringing nearly nonstop upstairs at team headquarters.

Manziel, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Texas A&M, arrived in Northeast Ohio a little before noon Friday. The storm isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“It means a lot to me, obviously,” he said of the ticket and jersey sales. “I’ve gotten a lot of support already, but there’s work that needs to be done. There’s things that need to be done to really create that demand.

“So I’m very excited to be here, very excited to be a part of this organization.”

The fans fully enjoyed the pick for about 19 hours before reality struck. And it bites.

All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon faces an indefinite suspension for failing a drug test for marijuana, ESPN reported about an hour before the second round started. If the report is true and the suspension sticks, Gordon wouldn’t be eligible to apply for reinstatement until after the 2014 season.

Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards last year in only 14 games after serving a two-game suspension to start the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. For almost a day, Browns fans dreamed of Manziel-to-Gordon connections for touchdowns. They might have to fix their fantasies.

But they still have Manziel, and he generates enough electricity by himself to light up the Terminal Tower, Key Tower, BP Building, Progressive Field and FirstEnergy Stadium.

Cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was picked No. 8 overall, had already left New York City’s Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night when his mom told him the Browns had traded up to draft Manziel.

“So I let down the (car) window and started screaming, ‘Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Browns, we’re here,’” Gilbert said. “I’m excited he’s here. I expect nothing but the best from him.”

Manziel was thoughtful and in control while fielding a variety of questions. He even checked himself out on the TV hanging from the wall in the media room that was carrying the 30-minute news conference live.

Just 12 hours earlier or so, he was hanging out with hip-hop star Drake and reportedly Cavaliers All-Star Kyrie Irving at a club in New York. TMZ.com posted pictures of Manziel drinking from a giant bottle of champagne and behind the DJ booth.

“I’m 21 years old,” Manziel said. “It was a time to celebrate. A lifelong dream of mine had been fulfilled and to go and go out with my family and spend time with them and come so far since Tyler, Texas, and the days in Kerrville, it’s been a long ride and we’ve worked really hard to get here.

“So to go out and do that with my family and friends and people that have been along this ride with me for so long, I feel like it was very warranted and there wasn’t a thing wrong with it in my eyes.”

That ride has taken him to a number of memorable places with a lot of famous faces. He’s friends with LeBron James – but doesn’t think he can get him to re-sign with the Cavs — dates models and has been to many of the biggest events in sports.

“Those guys have been awesome to me,” Manziel said of his celebrity pals. “I’ve reached out to them and they’ve reached out to me. We’ve kind of had friendships and developed friendships over the past year and a half — guys that treat me really well. I don’t look at it as celebrity or star or anything like that. I look at it as guys that really care about me who are friends that happen to be in a bigger spotlight.

“I know I love being involved in sports, so guys like Kyrie and LeBron are great athletes and I love watching basketball. Any guy in our position loves listening to music and Drake is a guy that makes great music. I think it’s extremely cool and I’m very glad to have them in my corner.”

The off-the-field questions surrounding Manziel aren’t limited to his love of a good time. He was arrested in a bar fight, suspended for a half for signing autographs and dismissed as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy for missing assignments. Manziel said he was honest and didn’t shy away from anything when the Browns asked before the draft.

Manziel is used to the scrutiny from his two years as a starter at Texas A&M and thinks that has prepared him for what’s to come in the ultimate spotlight of the NFL.

“I’m going into this expecting it to be multiplied,” he said. “I don’t think it can be more than what I have imagined in my head. Going into it expecting madness. If it is, it is, and if it’s not, we’ll handle that in stride.”

NFL coaches want their starting quarterback to be the first guy in the building in the morning and the last to leave at night. Manziel wasn’t known for that in college, but has declared himself dedicated as he turns professional.

“The main thing in my life right now is football and trying to be as good a quarterback as possible,” he said. “Everything else is just extra, and really there’s no time for it right now. I’m very committed to expanding my knowledge of the game and getting better as a quarterback. That’s my focus right now.”

Pettine declined to call the Manziel Madness a problem, but added “it’s something that we’ll have to address and have a plan for.

“When he gets inside the building — we talked about it at length when we visited with him — what accompanies him isn’t really him,” Pettine added Thursday. “He’s a competitor. He’s a great teammate. He loves to get in and he’s passionate about football. What follows him for us was not a big factor in the decision.”

But the buzz is already impossible to ignore.

“The shot in the arm that I would rather give this organization is in the fall,” Pettine said. “Talk is cheap, hype is exactly that. We’re thrilled that the city of Cleveland is abuzz about football, but we want that feeling to persist and we want it to go deep into the fall.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

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