CLEVELAND — It's a big night in The Mistake By The Lake and Johnny Manziel is nowhere to be found. The LeBron James Cavaliers just finished trying to put on a show for another packed crowd and it's time to hit the town.
As the people pour from the arena into the cold night, a smaller crowd waits for LeBron to finish up his interviews and get the night started.
"You're not going to see Johnny out tonight," a man who only identifies himself as "part of LeBron's crew" says. "He doesn't really go out when he's in Cleveland.
The emphasis is needed because the claim doesn't jive with anything the public thinks it knows about Johnny Football. Where are the pictures of the Manziel surrounded by a bevy of buxom coeds at a Ohio City dive bar? Where are the money shots of the Texas A&M legend sloppy faced and grinning?
They're not here. Not in Cleveland. This is where Johnny Manziel works.
Brian Hoyer is a nice story, but he's no more of a true franchise quarterback than Ryan Fitzpatrick is.
He goes about his business with a serious focus that's gone largely unrecognized. For the first time in years, Johnny Manziel is not courting attention. He's no longer college football's version of Kim Kardashian. Don't look now, but Johnny Manziel is doing a serious impression of a responsible grown up.
If Manziel's not exactly under the radar now, he's at least showing a sense of awareness during his NFL wait. When Cleveland starter (for now) Brian Hoyer struggles against the Houston Texans, completing just 40 percent of his passes and air mailing the Browns out of first place in the AFC North, Manziel quietly slips out of the locker room without talking to reporters.
Johnny Football knows anything he says will only inflame things and make both Hoyer and his coach Mike Pettine uncomfortable. It's never a good idea to annoy the boss. Manziel seems to be realizing this. He'll play the humble solider even if he isn't really one.
"If you lived under a rock and you didn’t know who he was and you just kind of spent some time around the building, he’s just another guy on the team," Pettine says, debunking more Johnny Football myths. "There is nothing in the way he carries himself that you would think that there are any diva like qualities . . .
"He’s humble and he’s a worker."
He's also a temporarily hidden star who doesn't figure to be waiting much longer now. The sudden love for hometown Hoyer (he grew up in the area) in Cleveland is cute and sort of comical. Brian Hoyer is a nice story, but he's no more of a true franchise quarterback than Ryan Fitzpatrick is.
The return of Marijuana Man Josh Gordon this week seems to represent Hoyer's last, best chance to hold off Manziel. But the ultra talented receiver will only further expose what the Browns are missing at quarterback.
Still, the snow chilled people of this town almost desperately cling to Hoyer. Anything to get their minds off the daggers LeBron's already staring into David Blatt's back?
"Brian Hoyer's a real guy, a hard worker," a waiter in the Warehouse District tells me. "I'd much rather root for him than that Celebrity Quarterback."
Is Texans coach Bill O'Brien secretly related to this guy? I kid, because there's no reason for Manziel to fret.
Johnny Manziel's Perfect Vigil
Johnny Football's somehow landed with the one quarterback questioned team that would make him wait. If he'd been drafted by Minnesota, Jacksonville, Oakland or — let's face it — the Texans, he'd be chucking the football all over the field by now. And maybe struggling.
For the first time in years, Johnny Manziel is not courting attention. He's no longer college football's version of Kim Kardashian.
Instead, Manziel inadvertently draft day cold calls himself into a rare modern day chance to sit and learn the NFL game. He's in no danger of finding himself locked on the bench for years like Ryan Mallett. He'll be in soon enough. And in the meantime, he gets to prove to his teammates that he really doesn't need to suck all the oxygen out of every room he enters.
"There’s been enough drama around me and my life for a couple of years now,” Manziel tells reporters in Cleveland this week. "I’m just staying in my own lane, just trying to get better."
This brief flirtation with normalcy will serve Manziel well once he is swaggering into the huddle for good. The immediate expectations on Johnny Football have been immensely lowered. There are even idiots now suggesting that Mike Evans "made" the historic Heisman winner.
It's all setting up the perfect lift off situation for Johnny Manziel. For the first time in forever, Johnny Manziel's been able to quietly improve.
"His game has come a long way since the beginning of the season," Pettine says.
Last Sunday against the Texans proves to be just a tease with Hoyer stumbling around after taking a big hit, with Manziel immediately yanking on his helmet. Hoyer won't go out though. Heck, he'd try to stay in if his arm hung half off. The future journeyman quarterback knows he is just a good Manziel quarter away from being Wally Pipped.
No matter. It won't be long now. If it's not next week against Buffalo, it will be Dec. 7 in a matchup with Andrew Luck or Dec. 14 vs. the Bengals.
Time — not to mention, the surprising cover of lowered expectations — is on Johnny Manziel's side.
So no, Johnny will not come out to play with Cavs or any of the city's other young players. You won't find him at Touch Supper Club — or much of anywhere else.
Manziel is working. No diva in sight. Just a future game-changer making the most of some unexpected time.