Monday, June 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Manziel mania? Browns say nothing to see here

The circus is in town. The Cleveland Browns do not want you to look.

They are dousing water on whatever excitement has come to town. They are drawing their shades to the interested. They are closing the door on relevancy.

Yeah, they have Johnny Manziel, all right.

And, by golly, they're going to keep him a secret.

This is how the Browns have responded to one of the biggest stories in the NFL. They don't want anyone to talk about it. They have banned the national media from attending this week's rookie minicamp. They are making the locals jump through hoops to cover it.

Shhh. For goodness' sake, you wouldn't want to get anyone overexcited, would you?

It's a silly thing, of course. The Browns say they don't want a Tim Tebow-type reaction to Manziel in camp. But it isn't as if Tebow was the last sensation to enter the NFL. The Colts' Andrew Luck managed just fine, and he was replacing Peyton Manning. So did the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, and he captivated the nation's capital.

Granted, there are times when the story grows bigger than just the sport. And, often, teams have to reassess the way the athletes involved are presented. That's understandable. But while Manziel may be Elvis (in the words of Dallas owner Jerry Jones), he's still just a football player. He isn't the first gay player in the NFL. He never had a fictional girlfriend. He never shot a dog. He isn't charged with obstruction of justice.

Compare that with the way the Rams have handled the NFL's other giant draft story in Michael Sam. The Rams were careful in who they let into Tuesday's news conference, but everyone got in, including the cameras from the Oprah Winfrey Network. There were more than 100 media members there, including 25 camera crews. Sam answered 28 questions in a session that lasted 14:18 minutes.

It was civil. It was productive. And it was painless.

By handling it this way, the Sam story is less in size today than it was yesterday. Sure, Sam will still be a big story. When he goes on the field for the first time Friday. When training camp starts. When he either makes the team or does not. When he is active for the first time. When there is the promised protest by the Westboro Baptist Church.

But Sam has said he won't be going on Good Morning America. He won't be speaking at banquets. He'll be as close to a seventh-round draft pick as possible. And, over time, his story will fade.

Sports has these kinds of stories every now and then, issues that lift the playing field into something more. Tebow. Manti Te'o. Michael Vick. Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Ray Lewis. Ben Roethlisberger. Bountygate. Spygate. Tiger Woods and his affairs. Lance Armstrong and his ban. LeBron James and his televised decision.

When he was with Denver, and to a degree with the Jets, people couldn't get enough of Tebow. For his first practice, there were 32 rookies and 47 reporters, and most agreed that Tebow threw the ball fairly well.

There has rarely been a figure who was as polarizing as Tebow. His fans believed the former Gator had a gift, that his intangibles, and his character, would lift him above other quarterbacks. His critics thought he threw a lousy football and that he was only a piece of Denver's winning season.

But if Tebow was in the center ring, then Te'o was barely in the circus at all. Oh, Te'o talked a lot about how he was duped — and yes, how he embellished the story afterward — during the scouting combine.

He was hardly the most popular player in the league when he went to San Diego. The local newspaper ran a cartoon with Te'o walking on the beach, his arm around an invisible partner, while saying "We're going to love it in San Diego.''

But the Chargers hid Te'o when he got to town. He didn't do any interviews in the offseason. He did talk on his first day of training camp, for 17 minutes to 41 reporters, but by then the story seemed dated.

There have been other stories. Vick and dogfighting. The Saints had Bountygate. The Patriots had Spygate. There were the sexual abuse accusations against Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback.

And now, you have Manziel and Sam.

The thing is, the Browns can only isolate Manziel during this week's rookie minicamp. Eventually, the national reporters will return. It seems like a more prudent decision to control them with limited access, to be honest.

The thing is, the Manziel story is bound to last longer than Sam's because more is expected of him. As a seventh-round draft pick, Sam may or may not make the team. Manziel will play a prominent role in Cleveland. Eventually, the Browns won't be able to handle him with a cloaking device.

Cleveland's approach is amusing. The entire town is juiced beyond belief. The team has sold some 1,500 season tickets. Manziel's jersey sales are ahead of everyone's, which is impressive for the No. 22 pick in the draft. Manziel has the "it'' factor, and fans pay attention when he walks.

And the team's reaction? First, it went out of its way to tell Manziel that he was the backup. Then it reminded him that Cleveland wasn't Hollywood. Shocking, I know.

Eventually, once they stop blocking reporters at the airport, Manziel will be a big story.

Or he won't.

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