We’ve heard about “changing the culture” of the Cleveland Browns so often through the years that we’ve become numb to it.
Our cynical side can’t help but surface, because invariably the culture and the team end up staying the same. And when the NFL Draft arrives, the Browns are picking near the top … and another round of culture-change discussion begins.
But today is different.
Today, there has been a legitimate shift in the entire mentality of the Browns and of Cleveland and of all of Northeast Ohio.
Today, the Browns have Johnny Manziel, the biggest thing to hit the NFL since … well, I don’t know when, and I’ve been covering this game through four decades.
There is no denying the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M has the greatest potential of any player the Browns could have acquired – short of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady – to cause a seismic shift in the culture of his new team and his new address.
He will do it, first, through the sheer enormity of his brand. The Browns became significantly more relevant the instant they chose Manziel to put a giant cherry atop an amazing first night of the draft that saw them maneuver to acquire the top-rated cornerback of the college crop (Justin Gilbert) and pick up a first- and fourth-round draft pick in 2015 along the way. Thousands of ticket orders came flooding in Thursday night, and more seats and merchandise and sponsorships no doubt will be sold in the coming hours, days, weeks, and months.
Manziel embodies excitement, and the Browns haven’t had anything resembling that in a very long time. Now, there is something to make you leap from your seats BEFORE Josh Gordon catches the ball.
Quarterbacking, Johnny Football style demands attention because it’s like watching a spinning top. He’ll run left and right, forward and back, around and around, until he finds the ideal time and space to throw the ball for a big play. Or he’ll just keep running, keep zigging and zagging around and between defenders, for a long gain.
Manziel also embodies winning. He is brash. He is cocky. He is supremely confident in his ability to do what it takes be successful on the field. Not only for himself, but for everyone around him.
He will make no apologies. He will take no prisoners.
Time and again, we have seen Manziel literally will the Aggies to victory. That competitive spirit is contagious. His new Browns teammates will embrace that. So will so many others who root for the team and live in a community that, for a variety of reasons, has taken its share of body blows.
Cleveland needed Johnny Manziel. It needed the tremendous momentum that he brings, the palpable boost of energy inspired by the incomparable highlight reel that has been his college football career.
It needed the sort of thing I’ve been experiencing since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he was a Brown. Any number of football journalists at Radio City Music Hall started coming up to me to say, “Good for you! Good for the Browns! This is going to be fun! This is going to be amazing!” Similar sentiments have been coming my way via texts from many others in the football world outside of the Browns – from current and former players, from club and league executives, from agents, from friends, from relatives. Arriving at the gate for this morning’s flight from New York to Cleveland, TSA workers and fellow travelers acknowledged the transformative nature of the Manziel pick and the overall high marks the Browns merited for the first round.
Even our pilot got on the public-address system and offered hearty congratulations and talked about Browns eventually winning a Super Bowl.
It’s also fair to say that Johnny Manziel needed Cleveland.
He needed a city that finds itself in the place he has been his entire football-playing life: with something to prove. Manziel has taken more than his share of shots from people who say his game doesn’t translate well to the NFL … who say he is too small … who say he relies far too much on improvisation … who say he won’t be able to run away from defenders as easily as he did in college … who say he no longer will get away with merely heaving up passes that his towering target at Texas A&M, Mike Evans, was able to consistently pull down.
I have been among those critics. I am more than happy to be totally wrong.
There is no telling where it all will lead, which would have been true regardless of whom the Browns drafted.
But the fact remains that a true culture change is about to take place with the Browns and Cleveland, and we’re all aboard for the ride.
>>This Road to the Draft Feature is driven by Liberty Ford.
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